faith, personal

Clumsy Erin

There’s a question that’s been going around and around in my head lately, and it’s a doozie. Before I get to it, I will give you a little background. Two weeks ago was the gospel story where Jesus comes back to all of the apostles but poor Thomas is missing in action. He doesn’t see Jesus come back, and when the others tell him, he says, “I won’t believe it until I see him myself and touch my hands to his wounds.”

And bam. Thomas is branded as Doubting Thomas for the rest of eternity. I think about this all the time. I pray that we aren’t all defined as our worst quality or our worst moment, and I hate that St. Thomas has been. I certainly don’t want to be remembered as Lazy Erin. Or Mediocre Erin. Aside from the fact that we have this beautiful and wonderful God who redeems us beyond our worst flaw (be it skepticism or laziness), it’s also a bad rap for someone who did what most of us probably would.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of my late mentor and friend Fr. Bill Kottenstette. Fr. Bill was a profound leader of the faith who was in many ways the face of Christ to me. I learned much about the love of the Trinity through my friendship with him.

And if someone came to me tomorrow and said, “I just saw Fr. Bill. He and I had lunch and it was really great!” My first reply wouldn’t be, “Where is he? I want lunch!” it would be, “Kottenstette? The one that’s dead? Nope.” First, because it’s outrageous. But mostly because it hurt so much when he died that I wouldn’t want to get my hopes up for nothing.

And I know that’s sort of the whole point. That we are meant to hope in the Lord and hope in a big way. But the thing is, more often than not, we aren’t the disciples that are like, “Yep. Okay. I’m on board. Tell me more, Jesus. I’m 100% convinced and ready.” More often, at least for me, I’m the Doubting one that’s like, “Who me? Nah, you got the wrong guy.”

So back to the question at hand. I was talking with a dear friend and she was recounting a conversation she’d had with a struggling colleague. The struggling woman has a heart that deeply desires a child and after months of not conceiving, she defeatedly admitted to my friend, “I’ve been faithful to the Lord. And now he is not being faithful to me.”

When my friend shared that, I was overcome with sadness. My heart broke for this woman! What a difficult (and dangerous!) place to be, to be so hurt that you’re testing God. God has promised us nothing in this world, but salvation and supreme happiness in the next. Who are we to say what God should or shouldn’t do for us? It’s tempting to see religion as a tit-for-tat system. We are surrounded by it everywhere else. You read the pages, you get an A. You pay the money, you get the product. You wait in line, you get the service. And that’s when this voice in my heart said to me:

Erin, aren’t you waiting for things that you feel God “owes” you? How are you any different?

Harsh, heart.

Harsh but true. I have often felt, like the brother of the Prodigal Son, that I’ve paid my dues. I held up my end of the bargain. I go to Mass, I tithe, I’m a good friend and listener, and I say I’m sorry when I do wrong. Now where’s my paycheck?

And that’s the question that’s been making laps in my head for weeks. Why do I live like I’m waiting for God to make his move? I am Thomas, waiting for God to prove it to me. Thomas says, You rose from the dead? Show me. I say, You have a plan for me? Prove it. And when I feel that tug of helplessness, I lean into it and use it as a vessel for my sadness or my laziness. I thought I’d be married by now, or in love, or have children, or be a traveling presenter on a retreat team, or a best-selling author. And since I’m not, I’ll just bide my time until the payoff.

What a selfish, dangerous way to live. And yet, it’s where I’ve set up camp.

So much of my life up to this point has felt like ends and beginnings coincidentally butted up against one another. But what if God wants more for me? And for you? What if what he wants isn’t for us to just be open to the next thing, but so unabashedly enthusiastic about it that we charge headfirst into the unknown until we get it right?

Like Mary’s “yes” to carrying Jesus. Her fiat. When I imagine it, though the story says she was afraid, I imagine it was that kind of fear that presents like courage. The Joan of Arc “I was born to do this” style courage that triumphs the doubt. I imagine Mary saying, “Yes.” before the angel even finished his proposition. Mary didn’t need to read the terms and conditions or ask a boatload of follow up questions or talk it over with her friends. She heard God call her name, and she rose instantly to run toward it, paying no mind to the obstacles between who she was and who God was calling her to be.

I’ve been blowing through mistakes left and right lately. These questionable decisions are punctuated by profound moments of truth and understanding. I told my friend Ashley, “I am so tired of falling. You’d think at some point, I’d see the stumbling places up ahead and just pick a different path already.” But as I’ve reflected on my heart lately, and Mary’s courageous yes, I think it’s actually not possible. My heart was so moved by the idea of pursuing God’s plan instead of waiting for it to happen to me that I think I’ve just been running as fast as possible forward. I keep tripping and getting back up and my knees are scratched up and there are rocks in my hands but I’m moving faster and farther than I ever have.

If I took slow steps and I used a map and calculated my trajectory, it’s true there would be a smaller margin for error. But what I’m learning is how to dress my wounds and how to avoid the same booby traps when I come across them again. What if Doubting Thomas isn’t called that because he was defined by that doubt but because he’s defined by his divine triumph over the doubt? In that case, you can call me Clumsy Erin. Because there’s no doubt that when I finally get to the pearly gates I will have dirty hair and a lot of scars and dried blood on my shins and palms, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m headed that direction. Because I can hear the call of the finish line. And it’s my name.

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