Finding Comfort in the Unknown

largeI’m always inspired by how easily wonder and mystery comes for little children. Their eyes get big as they believe in the impossible, or they might gasp in awe at something that to them seems like pure magic. For them, it’s so simple. They’re so full of belief, so curious, and so easily excited by discovering the things that we, as adults, think of as mundane.

Growing up, there was a certain degree of magical wonder in our home. We believed in fantasy characters like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and even the Tooth Fairy for as long as our young minds would hold onto them. I remember one Easter in particular my parents went to special lengths to make the Easter Bunny believable by using powdered sugar to make bunny prints on our carpet leading us through our home to our Easter baskets. For a woman like my mother who was a meticulous housekeeper, that was sacrifice!

As the years passed, the Tooth Fairy faded and belief in the Easter bunny gave way to the simple giving and receiving of Easter baskets. However, at the plea of my inner child, my dad continued to dress up in a red suit and visit us each Christmas Eve until I was well out of college. It was one of my favorite magical Christmas moments every year.

But wonder and mystery were not as acceptable when it came to our faith. Growing up conservative, evangelical Christians, there was not as much wiggle room in regards to exploring the awe of Christ. Rules, expectations, and appearances took precedence over wonder, mystery, and awe. We seemed to find comfort in a God we could place in a box–a God we could understand. Black and white answers and principles that were either clearly right or clearly wrong were foundational to the functionality of our faith. We needed to know. We needed to have it all together. We needed to be right.

This theology of course, was very harmful to me as I got older. Unable to openly question my faith, I was trapped into believing in a very small God. This became especially complicated when I began to question my sexuality. Doubt was seen as a form of weakness and fear was believed to come from not centering yourself in the truth of Christ. Therefore everything was supposed to be “cured” by simply praying harder and believing in God more.

But this theory failed me when I realized I was gay. Being gay did not fit into the black and white theology I was raised on. As a result, I believed that God did not love or accept me because of this fatal flaw.

This version of faith failed me again when I came out to my parents, family, and friends. With very few exceptions, almost all of them followed their allegiance to their need for certainty and belief in what they thought was right, rather than being willing to confront what they did not understand and face their fear of the unknown out of love for me. As a result, I lost everyone I loved the most. What I learned, is that the need for certainty can be deadly. It can kill relationships, it can kill faith, and it can even take lives.

But over time on my journey of refocusing, I rediscovered wonder and awe. It’s not as scary to me now as it once was. Don’t get me wrong, I struggled for a long time to let go of my need for certainty. But what I learned was that certainty didn’t require any actual faith at all.

If you know everything already, what need do you have for God?

As with most people, the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. But rather than allowing that to frighten me, I’ve come to let it inspire me. It pushes me to discover and learn more. And my not knowing (or my questions, or my doubt) drive me to have an even deeper faith. Because believing in God, in the midst of my doubt and questions, is what faith is really all about to begin with.

So I’ve become comfortable with not knowing. I’ve become okay with not having all the answers worked out to all the big theological questions. I’ve learned to accept, and in fact, find comfort, in what I don’t know. It leads me to a greater place of mystery, and wonder, and awe of who God is. And in fact, it leads me to peace, because I’m free from the weight of having to have all the answers.

downloadI don’t know what comes to mind for you when you think of wonder and mystery: perhaps it’s the phenomena of space and the time that you saw the milky way on a dark, starry night; perhaps it’s the recollection of your wedding day or the day you brought a child into the world; perhaps you think of creation, or even evolution.

What you do not know or understand may provoke awe in you, or it may provoke fear. But today I encourage you to work towards a faith that allows space for your questions. Give your heart permission let go of your need for certainty and leave space for the unknown.

IMG_0642

Allow God to expand your understanding of what you don’t understand, and in turn create room for wonder, mystery, reverence, and awe.

Then, let it live inside of you every day.

 

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

4 Reasons Why Every Christian Should See “The Shack”

Last week, my wife and I went to see The Shack. Despite its controversy among many Christians, we were eager to view the film version of a book that had meant something personal to both of us.

The Shack is the story of a man named Mackenzie Allen Phillips (fondly called Mack) who is wrestling with guilt, shame, and grief over the abduction and murder of his youngest daughter, Missy, while on a family camping trip. Evidence of his daughter’s murder was soon found in the Oregon wilderness at an abandoned shack. Mack is shell-shocked and devastated. Feeling responsible for her death, Mack beats himself up emotionally and struggles to move on from this place of utter pain, sadness, and despair.

When Mack received a letter signed by Papa (his wife, Nan’s, nickname for God) inviting him to that same shack for the weekend, Mack is all at once perplexed, outraged, and intrigued. Wondering if perhaps Missy’s killer is looking for a sick way to lure him back to that place, he is unable to get the mysterious note out of his mind. With the rest of his family away for the weekend, Mack sneaks away to the shack, expecting to face his biggest enemy.screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-12-38-10-pm

But instead of meeting his daughter’s killer, what Mack experiences upon arriving at the shack, is an encounter with God. The figure of God, who is portrayed as a black woman (Octavia Spencer) exudes nothing but warmth, love, and compassionate understanding. Jesus (portrayed as a Jewish man) and the Holy Spirit (portrayed by an Asian woman) are also of key importance, each of them playing a significant role in bringing healing to Mack’s festering heart.

The film’s 132 minute journey takes you through both grief and healing; through the pain of loss, and the hope of restoration. Despite the arguments some may pose about the underlying theology represented in The Shack, here are four reasons why I think every Christian should see this film.

1. We’ve all experienced a Great Sadness.

No matter where we’ve come from in life or what roads we’ve walked, the chances are, we’ve all experienced a Great Sadness in some form.  In the story, Mack’s Great Sadness was the loss of his daughter, Missy. It overshadowed his life, shackled him to pain, and colored the way he viewed both the world and God.

“We’ve lost so much already, I don’t want to lose you too,” Mack’s wife, Nan, says to him one day. Mack is slowly slipping away into his grief and she feels helpless to prevent it.

The Great Sadness is a universal theme we can all relate to: grief so strong that it threatens to suck us under into total darkness, pain from loss or despair so great that every day is a struggle. Our own encounter with the Great Sadness allows us to identify with and join Mack on his journey through pain and likewise, through healing.

2. We all have questions.

Once Mack starts to wrap his head around the fact that he is in the very presence of the Trinity, he begins firing off questions.

“Why did you bring me here?”
“Am I dead?”
“Does (Missy) forgive me?”
“Why would I (trust) you? My daughter is dead!”

His head spins as his mind struggles to comprehend what is happening–or why God would allow this to happen to his beloved daughter. Throughout Mack’s questioning, all three of the Trinity exude nothing but patience, kindness, and love as he processes the answers he is given. It’s quite comforting, actually, to see the grace with which God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit interact with Mack, despite all his doubts and obvious anger and pain. It portrays a safe space where we too can bring our own questions, feelings, and fears before God. It shows a dimension of God that loves our questions rather than despises them, because it creates an opportunity for us to know God better and draw closer in relationship with God.

3. We don’t know everything about God

The dialogue between Papa (God) and Mack reaches a convicting moment when Papa looks at Mack with complete love coupled with complete honesty and gently says,

“The real flaw in your life (Mack), is that you don’t think that I am good.”the-shack

Oh, how often I’ve been guilty of that. Raised with the misconception that God loves you if you are good, but is angry if you are bad, so often I’ve expected punishment from God rather than love, rejection rather than acceptance, and abandonment rather than embrace. That then poses the question, “How many other misconceptions about God do I have?”

This film challenges some of those misconceptions and paints a picture of a more understanding, loving, and embracing God. Who doesn’t need more of that?

4. We all long to encounter God.

It’s wired inside us. We look for God everywhere and when we can’t find evidence of God’s presence, we turn to other things: work, exercise, busyness, denial, suppressing our emotions–essentially, we become numb to our pain.

But what if we slowed down and sat quiet long enough to actually encounter God? What if we actually opened our minds to the possibility that some of the beliefs that we hold about God just might be wrong? What if we allow space for a God that heals, that loves, that restores, that accepts, and that embraces to come in and breathe life back into our souls?

I believe that we’d find peace beyond compare.

Maybe you’re not actually able to just stop your life and sit in complete silence until God shows up. I know when I try that I often end up just staring at the wall or obsessing over my “to-do” list. If you find yourself doing the same, let this movie guide you there. Allow yourself for 2 hours, to quietly sit beside others in a theatre and open your heart to encountering God.

This film is full of concepts that will make you think–about your own life, about your beliefs about God, and about your pain. When I sat in the theatre, tears and sniffles were heard all across the room as we sat in a space that felt full of the comforting presence of God. I could easily count on one hand the number of movies I’ve ever seen twice in the theatre. But after viewing The Shack this past week, I have found my heart longing for more, longing to return, longing to see it again and soak up the richness of God that is seen and felt throughout the film. There were so many concepts that I found so comforting that my heart is continuing to process them a full week later.

I urge you, let go of your need to be right, and open your mind to what God may teach you through this fresh perspective that just might bring healing to your wounded soul.