Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More Questions than Answers

I was baptized at the Wesley Foundation at the University of Central Arkansas in November 1999. I joined a church for the first time, First United Methodist Church of Denton, Texas, on February 23, 2003. I felt a call to ministry and was recommended by our charge conference on December 17, 2004. I started seminary at Perkins School of Theology in the fall of 2005 and graduated in May 2009. I was commissioned as a provisional elder in The United Methodist Church in June 2009 and was appointed back to First United Methodist Church of Denton. This past summer, I was ordained as an elder in full connection.

I list my credentials only to say that I feel like I should have solid answers. So, to my surprise/chagrin, I’m sitting in church this past Sunday morning, singing a hymn and I find I’m having trouble with the theology.
Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you;
beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you.
Chorus: God will take care of you, through every day, o’er all the way;
he will take care of you, God will take care of you.
Through days of toil when heart doth fail, God will take care of you;
when dangers fierce your path assail, God will take care of you.
All you may need he will provide, God will take care of you;
nothing you ask will be denied, God will take care of you.
- UMH #130 “God Will Take Care of You”
At the late service, I actually leaned over to my fellow associate pastor and said, “I’m having trouble with this one.” Sure, I believe that God takes care of us. In fact, I believe that God is creatively breathing into each and every moment, sustaining us like a mother holding her toddler’s hand each step of the way. But I don’t know where I stand on “all you may need, he will provide.” I know for a fact that there are many of God’s beloved children who do not have all provision for all their needs. So I find myself questioning this doctrine of providence. Of course, this is a perfectly comforting sentiment to sing, but what does it mean that God provides?

There wasn’t time to linger on these questions in the moment. But as I started my day today, I thought about how very much I don’t know when it feels like I’m supposed to know. Even as, or maybe especially as, a newly ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, I’ve filled reams of paper with my “answers” on doctrinal matters. I have acted like I’ve known.

There’s really a lot I don’t know. During a difficult time for dear friends who are also clergy, this is a portion of the prayer I was able to find words to offer:
Dear God,
I’m a pastor but that doesn’t mean I know how this prayer thing works. Sometimes I wish it was Christmas lists or vending machines, but somehow I know it’s more and better than that. Thanks for listening to us. Thank you for your presence with us. Thank you for your love that never lets us go, no matter how we cry out and struggle. Lord, do what you do when we pray. You are our God, we are your people. Amen.
I love language, so I know I could have been fancier, more eloquent, but in the rocky, real parts of life, I think you can just be yourself with God. I believe it’s better to just be yourself with God.

So, with more questions than pat answers, I know I’m at home. I don’t belong to a church that claims to have all the answers, we don’t ask you to sign a doctrinal piece before you join, and often we readily admit that there’s a lot to the mystery of our God.

What I do know, and what has made all the difference, is that I know God loves me, loves all persons, loves all creation. And God will bear with me, with all of us, while we ask our questions and toddle along the way that leads to life eternal.

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