Have you ever hated God?
Growing up, I used to spend a month or so of every summer visiting with my maternal grandparents. I now understand that it was a practicality — a time to give my single-mom what I’m sure was a much needed break, but I always assumed it was just a special time for me to experience a “real family” [which equalled unbroken and religious to my young mind] and to enjoy 24/7 unconditional love and affection from my deeply religious grandmother. It was a tradition that I cherished and always looked forward to — including the “churchy” part because I’d enjoyed the wonderful bonds of friendship that I’d formed with my grandparents’ church family. As I got older, the amount of summer-time spent with my grandparents decreased because, well, I was a teenager. Still, the tradition continued until the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore high school years when my mom took me aside and explained that my summer sabbatical was going to be put on hold because my grandparents had separated.
Mind you, my mother had been married three times in the course of my life. In fact, all of the important adults of my life at the time had experienced the ravages of divorce. As far as I knew, my Nonny and Papa had been the Last of the Happily Marrieds in my entire circle of influence. They had been the pillar of their church community, a solid bedrock of “happy marriage and family,” and, in my mind, the two were intrinsically connected.
I was shielded from most of the gory details of the impending divorce, but Life (and strong feminist influence) had taught me that it was likely something my grandfather had done; the lines had been drawn and I told my mother as much. “I’m spending my summer with Nonny,” I declared. “Make it happen. She needs me.”
Yes, I was that cocksure at the ripe ol’ age of 14. My precocious maternal instincts kicked in and I knew that I needed to be there for my grandmother. Besides, I didn’t care about the details because it was quite obvious to me who the real culprit of this devastation was. It was God. And it was my job to nurture my Nonny and just hold on to a cheery disposition for the week I’d be with her. Which I did. For about eight hours.
As I began my bedtime ritual on the first eve of my visit, Nonny kissed me goodnight saying, “Sweet dreams; don’t forget to say your prayers.” I confessed, “I don’t pray anymore.”
Her shock was genuine, “Why not?”
“Because I have nothing to say to Him. Nothing nice anyway. I’m not speaking to Him because I’m afraid of what I might say. Like ‘How could You let this happen?'” I paused because, well, this was my grandmother after all. But I gritted my teeth, “You’re an asshole and I hate You!”
All of my anger and anxiety and the years of pent-up resentment with all of the men in my life who’d ever left their loved ones behind and the overwhelming fear of abandonment came flooding out of me. I was crying so hard that I couldn’t breathe. Nonny just held me and let me vomit my vitriol until I was too exhausted to say anything more.
She confided that everyone at some time in their lives, and for some people many times in their lives, find it difficult to pray. Knowing she couldn’t actually fix my broken heart, she shared that whenever she herself didn’t know what or how to pray, she simply sang the children’s hymn Jesus Loves Me to let God know that she was thinking of Him. And, to remind her own spirit that He was in fact listening to her … with perfect love.
Yeah, I thought she was cuckoo, too. Until she began to sing the song and I actually experienced some relief of the burden in my heart. The simple words “they are weak, but He is strong” soothed my soul. The juxtaposition of my weakness and exhaustion with His strength and eternal love mattered so much in that moment. And in many others since.
Ultimately, my grandparents reconciled and the dreaded “D” word was avoided. I’ll never ever be grateful for what my family had to go through at that time in our lives, but I am forever grateful for the simple and profound lesson my Nonny taught me that summer.