Terms and Conditions


I’ve spent the last few weeks avoiding coming to terms with my trust issues. The simple exercise of writing a list of those I trust turned into ten days of me either avoiding my journal entirely or staring at a blank page and then walking away.

With the start of Lent, I have found myself thrown back into the same emotional grist mill where I spent all of Advent. I kind of expect the teary moments this time around and that’s okay. I can handle those. That sounds like such a simple thing. To be able to cry and be okay with the tears. But the reality is it has taken a long time for me to get to this point. To stop believing the lies that crying over things that hurt is a sign of instability or weakness.

What has been so much harder to come to terms with has been my anger. This time of year always sits like lead. The end of January to the end of March is always haunted by memories of my father’s last weeks. The one place, the church,  I often turned to for solace has become so tainted that it is no longer a sanctuary and the church I have moved to is still too unfamiliar to be completely comfortable. I’m angry that I have been driven out of my refuge. I deeply resent being betrayed and abandoned by people I trusted, most especially my pastor and confessor. Every time those tears come because I’m feeling adrift, the anger comes raging up behind the tears.

So here I am. Second Sunday of Lent. A blank page in my journal staring back at me. Trust. Who do I trust? There is a list. It has more people on it than it used to. But is a very gradational list. I trust only up to a point. And that point depends on the situation and the person and our relationship.

Am I on my own list? No. Or maybe a better answer would be: Not yet.

Is God on my list?  Cautiously, yes.

How is that God, who loves me unconditionally, is so hard for me to trust? Because too often what I’ve known as love has always been conditional.

Conditional love can be defined, broken down, and understood. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. Expectation and reality. That makes it strategic. That sets up the conditions that are the rules of the game. They’re a pattern, a puzzle to be figured out; terms to be agreed to. I can learn how to play that game. What risks to take. What strategy to use. And when the stakes are too high, to walk away.

Unconditional love is a total unknown. There is no game and therefore no strategy. There are no terms and conditions to agree to. Unconditional love just is. Which means there is no control. And that is terrifying. Things beyond my control have a nasty way of coming back to hurt me.

I know enough of God to know God doesn’t work like that. More than ever before, it seems like Lent for me means working through who God is not. The tears, the anger, the resentment, the betrayal and abandonment, the broken trust: none of those came from God. But if I can hand them over, God will take them.

If… for two little letters that’s a really big word.



The List


Several years ago I went on a retreat for divorced, separated, and widowed people. One of the questions that came up during that retreat has been rattling around in my head again lately.

Who do you trust?

Given 45 minutes to make up a list of who I trusted, I was done in under a minute. I spent the next 44 minutes staring at the mostly blank page. Notably absent from the page were God and myself. Of the three people who made the list back then, one has decidedly and rather emphatically been crossed off and one I don’t really see anymore.

Why this exercise suddenly came back to me after all this time, I really don’t know. But the fact that it came back to me right at the start of Lent is most likely not a coincidence. Who makes the list now? I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t written it yet. And I’m sure you can figure out that I haven’t written it because I don’t want to see it staring back at me.

There’s been so much going on here lately and it’s so much easier to lose myself in the papers and reading of three classes than it is to take an hour and write a simple list. It’s easier to go online and bicker religion and politics than it is to write a simple list. It was even easier to get up a 5am to write a five page paper on the discernment process than it has been to write this one simple, stupid list.

Because it’s neither simple nor stupid.

And so on this frozen first Sunday of Lent, when I’d like nothing more than to keep myself busy and distracted, I find myself way ahead on my reading for all three of my classes. I have no papers due this week. My kids have commandeered the television to watch NASCAR. My friends have taken to social media to either document their celebration of Valentine’s Day or to revel in their jadedness. Which leaves me more or less alone with a blank page, a pen, and a voice that won’t leave me alone.

And I suspect what appears on this list – or doesn’t – will be what shapes my Lent this year.