I thought I had God all figured out, at least for the most part, until I came closer. I’ve heard it said, “Everything looks perfect from far away.”
For most of my twenties, I worked abroad as a missionary. During that time, I also became an ordained pastor. I started a college ministry, helped organize and lead youth camps, worked tirelessly in a church office, mentored young women, studied the Bible with fervor, prayed and interceded for everyone, everywhere, and served others with a smile of satisfaction.
Back then, if you would have asked me anything regarding my faith I would have told you boldly about what I believed to be true and tried to whip up some answers without, hopefully, a hint of uncertainty.
However, when my husband and I returned to America with our brood of children, I started noticing some dangerous undercurrents. Now that I was no longer busy with my God projects and religious services, I became aware of some questions and experiences that I had stuffed down through the decades in order to fulfill my role as a missionary.
I had some space to not only admit but to sit with some of the unresolved tensions and complexities of life for more than a minute. In the stillness, I began to feel a precarious pull away from what felt familiar.
Perhaps the most perplexing part of this whole journey was how much I began to enjoy the conversations I was having with my husband about these previously off-limits topics. Being curious, thinking critically, and looking at God from different angles and perspectives was opening me up to a world I didn’t know existed.
It felt like I was being carried out into a vast ocean, but I continued to surrender to the undertow of curiosity.
I took my cues from my young children, whom I never scolded for needing to stop and marvel. There was always room to explore and to be inquisitive.
My son in particular had an ever-growing interest for insects at the time (to this day it has not faded). At age 4 he was already spending hours with his face plastered to the driveway or his body hunched over the garden soil, analyzing ants and wondering about worms.
For the first time, he was discovering his interconnectedness to another more-than-human world. Fascinated, he followed his curiosity which always led him closer towards the earth and the creatures. It seemed the sea was wooing both my son and me out together.
Naturally, he began to inspect, examine, and watch the ground beneath him with great care and awe. I too bent down towards what I didn’t understand and began to see my flat, crisply ironed-out answers for life were wrinkling and fraying around the edges. My once strong, impenetrable, perfectly constructed belief system wasn’t what I thought it was now that I had time to look.
Maybe, I didn’t know everything there was to know about this Universe and my existence .
I realized, thanks to my four-year-old nature-loving boy, there was quite possibly more to the world than what I saw from my comfortable corner. Over the course of the next couple of years, it felt like my heart rapidly expanded and made room for more diversity. The world became intriguing once again. My own life took on a new purpose. Other faith traditions shimmered with the sacred. People amazed me; I wanted to hear their stories.
Webster’s dictionary defines “undertow” as a current beneath the surface of the water that moves away from shore while the surface water above it moves toward the shore.
I am starting to think that God, this great mystery, this ground of all being, might be what’s tugging us to come out into the vast ocean. But we decline the continuous invitations because we dwell on the danger and unpredictability of it all.
Where will it lead? Will I drown?
When I feel the urge to stay put on the sand, standing aloof from another world I know little about, I try to picture my son hovering over the earth watching the bugs. Then, I too, let my curiosity carry me into this unending exploration of love. There’s no end in sight. The closer I press my face against the unknown, the further I swim, the more connected I feel to everything and everyone.