My ex-boyfriend went on a rant in the car one day when we were still together about how praying in the wake of a tragedy is useless and an opiate and a false comfort--an action that does nothing.
As a human who is marginalized by her faith and mental illness and the survival of sexual assault, I find the most meaningful way to do life is to stand by other marginalized humans; in this case, my LGBTQ family.
As an emulator of Christ, I find it best to clarify why we #PrayforOrlando. So let me be clear. In all matters of hate, assuredly in my own life, I pray to invoke the power of the God into matters of horror. I can think of nothing mightier--not even the hatred which we see so often.
Let me be clear. We pray to usher in the comfort of Christ. We pray for people to understand those who they once looked upon with hatred. Let me be clear. This is possible. The answer to hate is understanding. I have seen it.
Let me be clear. We do not pray for a magician to make everything better, easier to stomach, more bearable, so that we are not disturbed from our pulpits and high places. No. We pray, I pray, from the bloodied trenches with guttural moans, asking God, "Do You see this?" -- and He does.
Let me be clear. Prayer is not an opiate. Prayer is the only. It is the only way I understand and see and view and make meaning out of suffering. It is the first step to healing. It is coming up for air. It is reliance on the only solution I have ever really believed in. We do not #PrayforOrlando and go on about our lives, a one-time sacrament. Let me be clear: we pray for Orlando with every breath, because if we have ever needed God to show up, it is now. Prayer is step one.
Father, please come swiftly. We don't know what to do, so we pray. We pray for you to come. Do not bring tolerance, bring radical love. Do not bring calm, bring Your entire reserve of peace. We beg this of you because our loveys are dying and we are so angry. We beg this of you because we want everyone to feel loved and safe and held. We pray because if we cannot fix this today, we CAN place our knees on the ground and ask you to use us as instruments of your peace and love. We can only ask. Who are we not to? It is step one.
So first, we pray. Alright. It sounds like a nice idea. Well, what about the rest of it? What about all the death and destruction? What about the suffering that is left? What about when all the prayers do not immediately fix things? What about when people do not want to hear platitudes about the comfort of Christ, thank you very much. Well, I wish I knew what to tell you. I don’t. I know that’s what you all wanted to hear. Let me go back to the part where I am not God and my knowledge has a few gaps, to put it nicely.
Someone wiser than me once said that you like to believe in the promises of God in the light, that it is easier, safer, but that you need to know if they are true in the dark.
I know a thing or two about the dark. (Read: a thing or two – not everything.) I have a rap sheet to back it up. Emotional abuse as a child, an eating disorder, the murder of a close friend in college (no, not Maggie, and yes, it happened twice), a condemning mental illness diagnosis, getting unceremoniously kicked out and then un-kicked out at both of my academic institutions because of said diagnosis, Maggie’s murder, more emotional abuse, the whole rape ordeal. Then my dog Smudge died last summer, which came up on my Timehop today, as if I needed to be reminded. And there’s the part where I do not like thunderstorms, but they keep happening anyway, despite my pleas to God to discontinue them indefinitely. Whatever.
And I sit here, and I am not bitter. Overall. Some days, I feel bitter, but I decided that I do not want to put bitterness on like a second skin. I cannot figure that one out, to be quite honest. I should be bitter, shouldn’t I? Don’t I have every reason to be bitter? One of my mentors in college taught us that we should always try to live in a posture of forgiveness. This has saved me many times. It is a tricky thing, this forgiveness.
One of my former students (read: now besties, which is so fun), asked me a question the other day. One of the things I’ve always told her, in regard to how to deal with people, is that we are all just doing the best we can. It has apparently kept from punching a person or two in the face, so I stand behind it. But she texted me yesterday and said,
“Are there really bad people in the world, or are the people that we consider ‘bad’ just people who make bad choices while doing the best they can with what they know how to do?”
Well, there’s a question.
I know it’s crazy, but I think all people are inherently good at their cores. I don’t think anyone is irredeemable, unworthy of love, etc. I think everyone has good inside, somewhere. I also think that there is a powerful force of evil the world. I cannot explain it. I just believe that it exists. I do not know why or how, and I do not know its motives, I do not know if it was not hugged enough as a child; I do not know.
This is what I think, unchallenged. Well, now it has been challenged. See: rap sheet. See also: the news.
Now, there are people who commit great acts of hate and evil, like my rapist or Maggie’s murderer or the Orlando shooter. So what do we do with them? This is a big thing. I firmly believe that judgment is God’s job and not mine. I don’t want that to be my job. He will take care of that when the time comes. Even if an Earthly punishment does not come swiftly, or at all, God promises us that He will attend to eternity for those people, and that is between them and God.
This takes the pressure off immensely. It is the only way that I am able to have peace, not live in anger. I think people make bad choices. I think I am one of those people. I don’t believe that people are bad. I think that even the people who have made the worst infractions against the world can make a turnaround if they’d like, if they feel enough love and grace and safety.
“People are doing the best they can” is not the same as people are always doing what is right; it means they are doing what they believe is right. It does not mean that all things people do is permissible; it means that people have reasons and justifications behind the actions they commit. Sometimes that reason is terrorism, allegiance to a faith, obedience to an impulse. Unchecked mental health difficulties, identity, hunger, lust, all kinds of things. Whatever it is, it makes sense to the person at the time, I believe. Sometimes they are acting out of a deficit, for survival, because of desperation. I don’t think people do things that they cannot justify. I think that is why people are able to do the horrible things we see in the news and are compelled to cry out to God about. Doesn’t make it okay.
I know there will be people who think I am wrong about this. That’s okay. There are even some people who would venture to call me stupid. Well, okay, and thank you for sharing. This is not about who is right and who is wrong, it is about how to navigate these things that we never wanted to encounter.
How do I do life without Maggie? Who is my maid of honor supposed to be now? How am I supposed to feel toward the person who took her from us? What about my rapist? Was he doing the best that he could when he assaulted me? Everyone is talking about the Orlando shooter and the Stanford rapist, but I’m using these two men because I have more of an iron in those fires. Do I think that those men are bad people? This is a hard one. Normally, I would ask if their wrongs could be rectified. Well, nothing’s bringing Maggie back, so there’s your answer to that one. And I suppose I could report my rapist, but let’s all just take a gander at the system that I would have to go through for that. I have made a personal choice to pursue extensive therapy, which is annoying and expensive, but better, I think.
So how do I navigate living in the pseudo (thank God) presence of these two people, who have taken so much from us? My objective is to find peace. Well, I couldn’t find any peace reading Maggie’s police reports and talking to the FBI investigators about things in our text messages or being harassed by opposing counsel, so I took steps to stop all of those things and wrote a letter to her instead. And I found no peace during Self-Medication-A-Thon 2016, at the bottom of all the wine bottles or nightclubs I gallivanted around on the weekends when I was trying to numb myself from rape guilt and flashbacks.
So I decided to try therapy and Diet Coke and prayer instead of, you know, all the booze. If you’re me, you have to test out all the things that do not fill your void before you can find the things that do fill it. We see what we need to see when we’re ready to see it.
So after all that research, I still stand by what I said about everyone doing the best they can. We all have blind spots and deficits. I am not trying to paint a pretty picture here; it is a horrible picture, still. It is a fraction of the whole, though. I think the big picture that God is creating for us is overall a reflection of His glory. I think he is showing off, overall. I think He can bring good out of pain. I can’t, but He can, so He is my #1 go-to on this. God gets a lot of mixed reviews, you know? But I think He knows what He’s doing, and I think that He loves us—allllll of us. And if He does, who am I not to. I would like to make more of an effort to follow His lead, rather than thinking I know the way. I think that is step two.