As I approach fifty, I find myself in a constant struggle to cover my gray hair. It truly is a battle of light versus darkness, of good and evil, me against my aging hair. I color my dark brown strands and another white patch pops up somewhere else.
It’s quite the flip flop from my teenage years when my haircolor of choice was an orangey Sun-In. That was back in the day, when our youth pastor taught us there was only light or dark in the spiritual world, and asked which side were we on? There was no gray area, no in- between, and it sure seemed like there was more dark than light. “Abstain from all appearances of evil,” we were admonished at Youth Rallies. We burned record albums with questionable lyrics or beats. We had books banned. We didn’t swim in mixed company, or even wear shorts. We avoided homosexuals like the plague. All in the name of keeping ourselves holy. “It’s black or white, that simple,” we were told as the pastor slapped the cover of his Bible.
I left the church eventually after two years at a Christian college where they would give you demerits if you didn’t go to Sunday night worship service (they took attendance with a Scantron). I came back to my faith after my first son was born, although I returned to a kinder, gentler version of my denomination, a grayer shade. I remained happily ensconced there for twenty years. I was even director of Women’s Ministry for a while. But these days, even the gentle version of my faith is often too harsh for me to accept. At times, I find myself in the dark about a lot of things.
I am in a different place from when I was a young woman, and so sure of my faith.
The black and white answers are not so easy anymore, the older I get. I think it is because I’ve experienced grace when I shouldn’t have, seen loved ones make mistakes that begged for mercy, and encountered problems of social justice that are not resolved by Bible verses. There is a vast swath of gray that covers my hopes, my doubts, my fears, and my intentions.
When I visited Asia recently, I noticed how devout many Buddhists were. “So you don’t celebrate Christmas.” I absentmindedly uttered to my tour guide, Som. Som looked at me like I was a Martian. They were as devout as I was about my own western religion. And I got to thinking, who do I think I am? I know it goes against the very thread of my faith, to accept that there may be other approaches to how we seek God, but when you travel 8,000 miles from your bubble, you realize what a big world this is, and what a big God we serve.
I’m slowly realizing that in my five decades of organized religion, I’ve barely scratched the surface of who God is. I hold a tiny patchwork of a very large quilt that makes up God and how He relates to the rest of the world. I’ve only learned the portions my religion spoon fed me.
“Shall We Gather at the River” is a song sung in my western church. I’ve been singing that song for years, but now I’m swimming in that river, head barely above water, and things are growing a little murky. What has been a gray place of faith for me has at times grown very dark. Are we really supposed to take the entire Bible literally? Did God really ask Abraham to kill his son? Can I really not, as a woman, teach a group of men? Is it ok that my kids don’t want to attend Sunday School because as hard as they try, they just can’t put their finger on why they don’t want to go, but maybe it’s because they just don’t see the relevance. Or maybe they are turned off by being talked down to or given only two choices: dark or light. Or maybe it’s that they can’t find someone without a fake smile. Is faith really greater than works?
Are we going to get to Heaven one day and realize that we should have attended less Women’s Ministry luncheons where we ate rubbery chicken and drank watery ice tea when we should have collectively spent more time out on the street taking care of the homeless? These are my questions as I stumble around in a dark place. I take solace in the fact that God’s feelings are not hurt by my questions. He is bigger than that. But I am willing to fumble around in the dark, and wrestle with my doubt, until I have my answers.
Rhonda Wilson is a wife and mother to four children, ages 23, 18, 16 and 12. She works as an immigration paralegal, and her first love is to write. Now that her kids are getting older, her time, along with her mind is allowing for more space to write! She lives in Houston, Texas and loves Jesus, Diet Coke, reading, and running by the many bayous in Houston.