Last week, in the midst of my usual packed days of appointments with students/staff/faculty, I had two conversations that have stuck with me. Both were with folks who came to chat with me ostensibly about “coping mechanisms” for traumatic events they or a family member had encountered. One was a staff member, one was a first year student. In both cases, we talked for a while about practical concerns: their need to see a professional counselor and the other resources available to them. But nothing seemed to connect. And then, in both cases, I said, “You must be really mad at God.”
That did it. Both individuals broke down, talked with great passion about how hard they were trying to stay faithful, how angry they were when they tried to pray… And so together we talked. We talked about the idea that sometimes keeping the faith means raging at God, how that means we refuse to give up on the idea of a God who loves us, we demand that God pay attention to what is going on.
They each left my office – and I have been left with their conversations. Sometimes, in this position of campus chaplain, I feel like I act as triage for Counseling Services. I am the person who helps folks get through until they can see someone else, or the person who walks with them and helps them process what is going on with the team of professional therapists and psychiatrists assigned to them. Yes, there are also faith conversations (more on that in a later entry!), but often when people arrive in tears, I am a holding place until we can get them an appointment elsewhere.
So last week was a good reminder that in those situations, the spiritual questions are as big as the emotional and mental pain. I have been remembering that healing includes being honest about our anger at God, never mind at anyone else, and that can be really scary – so the support of the priest or chaplain is essential.
And I am grateful – for a university college (Renison) that ‘gets’ that (despite the fact that we are not a religious school and have no seminary or department of theology), and I am grateful for a church that even in the midst of tremendous uncertainty, continues to financially support campus ministry.
And perhaps most of all, I am grateful for a legacy of faith that says raging at God is not only OK – sometimes it is the only acceptable response.