"Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt, but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." From the 20th chapter of John's Gospel
For the past few weeks I have been wearing a St. Thomas medal quite a bit. I'm not entirely certain why, or even what I expect to get from Thomas, but I feel a kinship with him. When I first began to experience a renewal of faith, life and love, Thomas seemed to be my guide. A man who most of us only think about when talking about his doubt or his lack of faith has become a symbol for me.
Doubt is an awfully frightening thing. It tends to isolate us in many ways, and sometimes even paralyzes us. Who among us is eager to admit we doubt God or Jesus or the resurrection or even smaller parts of the story like Noah, Moses or the whole virgin birth thing? After all, it seems like a slippery slope. Once you start doubting parts of the story, the whole narrative is called into question. And what does life look like if none of it is true? For someone who has grown up in the church, it looks pretty damn scary, I can tell you that much. But, what if?
How would my life, and the way I live it, be different if Jesus really was executed, and never rose from the dead? If Jesus was simply another hero of another time that I read about...how would my life be different? Quite honestly, the question isn't a fair one, or even one that I can possibly answer. I've spent the better part of 30 years believing in God, Jesus and the story. To try and undo my history of believing is nearly impossible. Jesus's story, my story, they are part of one story. I cannot imagine one without the other.
Thomas's story has always moved me, because I can see myself very clearly in the story, I'm fairly sure I'm that guy. I'm the one who wouldn't know what to do with it all. I can very easily picture myself as that overwhelmed, frightened, slightly angry man. It reminds me of a time I was sitting in a political science class in college, and I was being told in very clear terms that in many ways, it was all hopeless. Our political systems, parties and way of doing things would never accomplish what we hoped it would. Our leaders would fail us, our ideals would give way to the campaign dollar and our dreams of a just and merciful society were just that - a dream, not a reality that could be attained. I remember my frustration at being told all this, and my exasperated expression to the bearer of the bad news, "Then, what the hell is the point of all this?" She smiled at me, and gently said, "That's what you need to work out for yourself."
As I continue to work out what Thomas's story means to me, and how his story is mine in many ways, I am led to wonder what about all of this doubt business? What is it good for anyway? How does it help me? And then I recall the lesson I've learned this year.
I've always been an end game kind of girl. I want to know why we're doing whatever it is we're doing. Why does it matter? What is it good for? At the end of the day, will it matter? If not, then I have a hard time investing myself fully in whatever it is. It's not that I'm all about results, and not one to believe the journey can be worth something, but I want to believe that what I'm doing makes some difference, to someone. I don't have to believe I'm achieving world peace, but I want to believe that what I do matters to someone besides me. But, like Thomas, sometimes I'm not so sure. I begin to want to *see* the happy endings. I want to know for sure that the decisions I'm making ultimately lead to something good happening, at least in the end.
This past week a friend posted a status on facebook that caught my attention - his question, can we ever really resolve the traumatic events of life? It was at that moment, the epiphany finally reached my heart. (I never said I was a quick study)It's really not about resolving the past, it's about learning what we can from it in a gentle way, and then allowing it to be our past, and not our present or future.
Certainly I'm not thankful for the experiences that I had as a child and young adult that were hard and painful. But, I know who I am, my ability to be a healing agent, a loving person, were at least partially shaped by those experiences. And, so it's not about resolving those events or changing what happened, because that really isn't possible. We can go around or through or into those moments, but the truth of the matter is, they still hurt. And trying to deny the hurt and damage only lands us in deeper water. Just as Thomas acknowledges, when confronted head on with a recently risen Jesus, "My Lord and my God" - acknowledging the hurt is important. But, that's not where we stop. No, we must move forward, and we must be able to see the beauty all around us. Lest our pain define us to the point of destruction rather than transformation.
I'm glad to be walking alongside Thomas. Only someone who has expressed his profound doubt, really understands how I feel. My heart aches because it is full with the love and pain of being all too human. Of experiencing both the incredible presence of God and the desperate absence of God. Our stories remain intertwined.