The first part of 2018 has looked very different from my past few years as a full-time writer. As a writer, I spend most of my days alone typing at my computer, with the occasional phone call thrown in. But this year, I’ve had several speaking engagements that have required preparation and travel. I’ve been writing, but I’ve been writing talks and sermons, and I’ve spent a good deal of time in my living room reading over them and timing myself. My vocal chords are adjusting to what are typically quiet days.
While I’ve enjoyed these opportunities to craft and deliver a message in a new way, I have always felt a bit uncomfortable with the posture speakers must take. Standing on a stage, behind a podium, in front of an audience, with a microphone to amplify her voice. As if she is so confident. As if she is so certain. When really, I feel little of either. I paint my nails. I wear eyeliner. I think carefully about my hair and outfit. But I am probably doing these things to compensate for my lack of confidence and certainty. I want my outsides to match the environment—the stage, the mic, the podium—even if my insides rarely do.
The majority of these speaking engagements have been in church settings and, therefore, the majority of my talks have been on biblical topics. This makes assuming the speaker’s posture even more difficult for me. My faith is ever evolving and with it, so am I. How I understood God two years ago is very different from how I understand him today. And the older I get, the less certain I feel about how I’ve always believed things to be. I am so consistently proven wrong. I can no longer hold truths as tightly as I once did. And I become acutely aware of this uncertainty in the place I feel I am expected to be most certain: the podium.
Another setting in which I often become so acutely aware of my uncertainty is in conversations with people of other faiths. I had one of these recently with a friend who had good and thoughtful questions about Christianity. Many of my responses were along the lines of, “That’s a good question. I’m not sure.” Historically, my lack of answers would have been unsettling for me, but this time felt different. I sat more comfortably in the tension. I tried to hold both of our faiths’ in my hands, rather than clinching my fists around mine.
To me, the humility of uncertainty is the mark of growth. The grasping for certainty is the mark of a fear of growth, a resistance to what is uncomfortable in the moment but could teach you so much in the future. The older I get, the more wary I am of others who claim to be certain and the more drawn I am to those who can admit they are not.
That being said, let me now (hypocritically) say this. In the midst of all of my uncertainty, there is one experience I continue to feel great certainty in: Through the life and teachings of Jesus, I have felt loved by God, and this love has changed me.
This is what I felt beneath my uncertainty when having that conversation with my friend. I felt uncertain, but I also recalled this feeling of being deeply loved—something so difficult to articulate but probably the only thing that has kept me here in this faith for so very long.
You cannot fabricate the feeling of being loved. Trust me, I’ve tried. You probably have too. Remember that boy you loved who didn’t love you back, but each time he looked at you or said “hello” in passing you read into his tone and his body language and convinced yourself he was in love with you too? You made up thoughts he had about you. You told yourself he was just holding back from expressing his love until the proper time.
And remember how hard the crash back to reality was when what you knew all along deep down was finally proven true: He did not love you. He was not just holding back for fear of exposing his true feelings. When he waved in passing and said hello, that’s really all he was doing—waving in passing and saying hello.
No, you cannot fabricate the feeling of being loved in a way that is meaningful and life-changing. It is a hollow dream. An illusion that turns to vapor and leaves your open hands empty.
This has not been my experience with the love of God. I have not yet crashed to the reality of my fabrication of being loved by him. In fact, I seem to be falling deeper into the awareness of being loved by him. The longer I live, the more I mess up, the more loved I feel. How is this possible? Perhaps a psychologist could explain, but I think I’ve experienced enough unrequited love to know the difference by now. I’m at a point where I cannot help but succumb to the reality of being loved by this being I cannot see but can so deeply feel.
This is what I come back to when I know nothing else. I feel loved in the moments that I should not feel loved. I feel loved as someone who has done very little in life to deserve such a love. In spite of it all, I feel loved. This love has changed me, and it is through this lens that I now see the world, and it is so much more beautiful than it was before.
This knowledge of love allows me to say things like, “That’s a good question. I’m not sure.” When I am unfeeling of, or unaware of this love, I feel the need to clinch my fist and prove my point. The more I feel loved, the more I can open my hands and let myself sink into uncertainty. It sounds backwards to feel more loved by God even as I confess I know less and less about him. But I am beginning to think a lot of this Christian faith is very backwards, and I should just get used to that.
So if you see me speak somewhere this year, know that I will say a lot of things, and I will feel varying amounts of certainty at various times about those things. I will be wearing eyeliner and I will have painted my nails to make myself look put together and like I know things, but really, all I know is this: I am loved in a way that I cannot help. I am loved in a way that has changed me and continues to change me. It is the great mystery of my life. It is the great truth of my life. And even though I will keep talking for around 45 minutes, when it’s all said and done, that is really all I have to say.