When I attended the Q conference, “Women and Calling,” in NYC last November, Kate Harris said something particularly startling. I scribbled it in the blank journal Q had given its attendees. “Our calling is rooted in our griefs.”
For those whose lives have been relatively pain-free, this will seem a strange statement. But for those who, like I, have known loss, even known it early in life, this will make enormous sense. It is our griefs, our losses, our pain and betrayals that seem to have the greatest capacity for our life’s good.
A friend confirms this in an email she sends to me this week:
“It has struck me recently that some of the best work--best meaning vulnerable, life-giving, encouraging to others, and truthful--that I've done in the past two years has come as a result of pain and disappointment. It's not that I believe there was anything punitive about this pain, just that God is working all things together for our good. His goodness is being worked out in our lives.”
Caryn Rivadeneira’s unvarnished stories in her newest book, Broke, describe the grief of the near-bankruptcy her family suffers after the collapse of her husband’s business, a season of unemployment, and a series of significant uninsured medical events. They go broke. And there is for Rivadeneira, as there usually is for most people who grieve, anger at God’s silence in the midst of their struggle.
I’d been . . . reminding God about how dire our situation was becoming. About how much more work either I needed or my husband needed if we were to keep paying the mortgage or to pay these bills. I reminded God about that third child he’d surprised us with, and how we trusted that he would help us cover yet another hospital birth without maternity insurance – and yet how the debt from that was mounting even as our income was sinking. And I prayed again that my husband find a different job, if that was God’s will. Or that his business would find its feet again, if that were. I reminded God that I had a couple of books in print—he could send a few hundred thousand folks out to buy copies.
How hard would that be for God? Not hard at all. And how good would that be for us? So good.
She chides God as if he were a child who has neglected to clear his dishes from the table.
And prayer, at least in my experience, can so often feel like this.
Do your job, God, and take care of me!
Rivadeneira writes her way skillfully through the stories of going broke. There is lament without despair. There is gratitude without sentimentality. And there is something beautiful and bold about the humor of the book.
“As our financial crisis moved from bad to dire, my prayers become more specific. Send a job already! Send me work! Kill some distant relative for whom I’m the secret heir!”
(I’ll never cease to admire writers who can craft funny.)
Whether or not you’ve known financial struggle, this book can make some sense of God’s goodness in your own particular darkness. It doesn’t suggest pat answers, and Rivadeneira admits her own love of mystery. Though God can’t be explained, though we are often left wondering what he can be up to in our lives, we can hope in him.
What is the best way to grow your soul? a friend asks Rivadeneira.
“If you want to grow our souls, to develop spiritually, to mature in the faith, the only way to do that is by traversing some rough road of life. I wish it could happen more easily. I wish that when I prayed that God would “increase my faith” he could’ve done it by lavishing on me nonstop happiness and riches and bestselling books to “prove” how faithful he is. Instead, I got stress, near-bankruptcy, and well, let’s just say this: thank you for reading this book.”