Sunday, April 24, 2011

I didn't give anything up for Lent

Jesus sign

I didn't give anything up for Lent this year.

Some of my older friends are probably surprised that I give up anything for Lent, ever, because I'm kind of not a very good Catholic most of the time. I'm pro-abortion (actually, I feel like I shouldn't have a say in it at all, because it's not a choice I'll ever have to make, but I support the right of women to make that choice for themselves), I'm gay, I believe in evolution, I've been known to wear a rosary as a fashion accessory, and I only go to church if someone is getting married, buried, or I want to take pictures of the inside. When I was little, my mom called the people who only went to church on Christmas and Easter "C&E Catholics", but I don't even make it that far, since those people actually got dressed up and went to church twice a year. I do pray every night, though, and I skip eating meat on Fridays during Lent, so I'm doing something.

Last year, I gave up Pop Tarts for Lent, because I was inspired by my many friends who give things up for Lent and wanted to support them. People in the office give up things like soda, bread, cable TV, and eating out, and that requires a tremendous amount of dedication. My friend Bryan went to church every week, and he carefully followed all the Catholic rules, and he gave up a tremendous amount of stuff for Lent every year, like eating meat and watching TV and going to the movies all at the same time.

And then he died, and this year I didn't feel like giving up anything for Lent.

You might think I'm just angry at God, but I'm not. I already had that phase a really long time ago, when I was in my twenties, but it started in my teens. For a while, I prayed every night that I would miraculously turn cute, like cheekbones and abs cute. It never happened, but I kept praying. Then at the end of my teens, there was a lot of praying that I would miraculously turn straight. A lot of praying. I really, really didn't want to be gay, but you are what you are and that's what I turned out to be. Then when I was resigned to that, there was a lot more praying that the guy I thought I was in love with more than anything would love me the same way, and he didn't. After years and years of praying, all I had was depression, frustration, and tremendous disappoint, and I figured that if that was all I was going to get from God then I didn't want any of it.

Jesus, in my opinion, could shove it.

It wasn't until many years later that I read that God answers all prayers. It's just that sometimes the answer is "no".

Even though that's not very comforting, it's better than nothing, right? It certainly sounds at least a little bit better than, "God has a plan. The Lord works in mysterious ways," because, really, when has that ever made anyone feel better? It's not very comforting to hear about a plan when you don't know what the plan is or even if it's one that you'll like. When Bryan was in the hospital last fall, lots and lots of people were praying that he would get better, and when he didn't someone tried to comfort me after his memorial with, "God has a plan for everybody." I know they meant well, but what good is a plan that doesn't seem to benefit anyone and makes everyone sad?

You could argue that the plan is just so long range that maybe, sometimes, you can't see it, and you just need to be patient. For example, last fall I was sitting my evening shift in the Resource Center when a student came in to look around and talk. This semester, Pizza Night happens during my shift, so there are lots of people there, but last semester there was no Pizza Night and I had what we will charitably call "low traffic" on the Thursday night shift, but this night I had a visitor so I put my book away and chatted for a while. After a half hour or so the student had to go to a meeting, so I let him know about some of the upcoming programs and asked him to be sure to stop by the center again, and I figured that was it and went to mark him on my visitor tally sheet for the night. After a minute or two, though, he popped back into the doorway and thanked me for being there and keeping the center open.

"You're the only out, you know, adult male I've ever met, and I just wanted to, you know, say thanks. For being here."

I told him he was welcome, and advised him again to stop by more often, because he could meet a lot of out gay people that way, and then he popped out of the doorway again and was gone. Now, I wasn't doing anything special. The center has a lot of volunteers, and he just happened to come by during my shift when all I was doing was sitting there, but it could have been any of us. It wasn't anything special for me, but it seemed to be for him, and it wouldn't have happened if I got what I prayed for back when I was twenty. If God miraculously turned me straight, like I wanted, then I might have still been sitting at the center (I like to think I'd still be an ally, even if I did like girls) but I wouldn't have been an adult out gay male.

Do I think God had a plan all along, and I can draw a magical dotted line from twenty year old me in 1996 praying as hard as he could that he'd turn straight to older me in 2010 who's gay and fine with it?

No. I'm not ready to say that. I may never be.

But is it possible?

Well... maybe.

And in thinking about that, we come back to my friend Bryan, and how we prayed that he'd be ok, and instead he died. Does God have a plan that includes that? Are any of us going to look back someday and think that it makes more sense, and seems maybe not so bad? I don't know. Most of me doesn't think so. But is it possible? Maybe, I guess. Maybe God does have a purpose, and a plan, for everything. Maybe not. The truth is that I can't say, but what I can say is that if there is a plan, I don't always like it.

So when Lent rolled around, and God wanted me to sacrifice something, I didn't feel like it. God took my friend away, and I could have just walked away again, and washed my hands of God. I've done it before, although it doesn't seem to take, so I could probably do it again, but I chose not to. I guess, instead, I have a little bit of faith, or maybe just of hope, that this happened for a reason and someday I'll understand it.

I gave up my friend, apparently for God's plan, and that seemed like enough sacrifice for one year, so I didn't give anything up for Lent.


Jess said...

You are so good with words. I've laughed at the things you've said so many times. And now... I think this may be the first time I've cried while reading a blog post. Beautiful.

Miss F said...

Thanks for sharing Joel...very beautiful indeed!

Rod said...

Great blog post.

Elizabeth said...

This is a great post. It made me cry too. It really upsets me that I didn't have you and Bryan over last Easter and now I'll never have another chance to have Bryan for Easter. But I'm glad you came.

katiejane03 said...

This is beautiful, Joel. Thank you. You are wonderful for many reasons, only one of which involves your fully stocked candy bowl. :)

Mariah said...

I started of laughing because I could imagine you telling this story. But I ended in reflection about my own beliefs. Thanks for sharing your views and experiences. I think everything happens for a reason, whether God did it or not. :)