Are You There God? It’s Me, Joanie

The first time I tried to talk to God I was 15.

I had gone to the movies at the mall with a boy I had a stupendous crush onto see Hitch, one of my favorite Will Smith movies. It was St. Patrick’s Day. In New Jersey, you can find a mall about 10 miles in any direction, and this one was no more than 15 minutes from my house. I waited in the cold for my dad to come pick me up, my mom was out of town and I couldn’t drive yet, and I urged the boy to leave me until he got there. Part independence, mostly embarrassment. I knew my dad was only ever late for one reason.

When my dad got there, I could tell from the way he pulled up he was drunk. We had gone to a parade in my hometown and I had left him there, hoping I could fulfill some teenage dream of a first date without having to worry about being a parent. As he stammered trying to ask me about the movie he tried to drive us back to the highway, slamming his breaks and weaving in and out of the lines of the parking lot. It was late, but not late enough for there to be no one on the roads. As we pulled onto the highway I finally convinced him that it was time to pull over, reminding him that he was “tired”, not “drunk”, which never would have convinced him to give up the wheel. I drove the rest of the way home in silence, barely reaching the brake pedals, and hoping that a cop wouldn’t pull me over for clearly being underage. He passed out in the passenger seat and I left him there.

When I got in my room that night, I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling. I said hello, and then bawled my eyes out as I told God how much I didn’t want to have to be a parent anymore. I wanted to be a kid. I wanted to go on dates, be independent, and make mistakes. I wanted to be able to be free; to not have to worry about the condition my dad would show up in. I wanted him to go away.

The first day I talked to God, he didn’t answer.

The next morning I came downstairs to my dad doing yard work, oblivious to the happenings of the night before, with a Budweiser on the counter next to his headphones. It was the fourth empty on the counter.

I wasn’t a religious person. My parents had chosen to not have me baptized, much to the chagrin of my paternal grandmother, who believed it was a sin to even go outside without being blessed. I didn’t go to church or join all of my friends in catechism classes (more on that later). I celebrated Christmas and Easter with presents and jelly beans, and hadn’t been in a church except for a funeral or a wedding.

I spoke to God that evening because I felt like I was out of options. I think a lot of us “non-faithful” do the same: we find him as a last resort. We pray because we feel we have exhausted every other plausible avenue. We reach out because we have hit some sort of rock bottom, whether physical or psychological, and we need answers. We need help.

The “non-faithful”, as I’m calling this time in my life, do not actually expect an answer. We would probably fear it if we did. Our last ditch efforts are also riddled with insecurity and doubt. Why would God help us? Why would God accept us? Why would it be any different than any other day?

Throughout the years, I would occasionally lay in bed, looking up at the ceiling, and start talking to God even though I wasn’t sure I believed he was real, and even though I knew I didn’t expect anything to change come sunrise. I see-sawed between religions (more on that later), so the “God” I was speaking to was not always the Christian one. But I looked up and begged him to fix my life. To create change. To make my family matter. I gave him my hopes, fears, and tears…and got very little in return.

The moral of this story may be hard to see. I am not Joan of Arcadia. I am not a prophet. God never spoke back to me. God never gave me the change I wanted to see. Sure, years later, my father would get sober. I would get to be a self-sustained adult. I would get my freedom. But I didn’t ask God to help me when it finally came to fruition: it happened all on its own.

But, those conversations with God led me to accept the life that had been given to me. You see, no, those talks never made me more faithful. They never solidified God for me. But they gave me an outlet. I was able to allow those conversations to seep into my bones, to cleanse my spirit, to release every pent up emotion I was building inside. You see, I had spent so much time trying to appear “ok”, that it was only in those hushed moments between me and a higher power that I let the guard down. It was during those talks that I was honest with myself, and honest with him. I was free.

I don’t honestly think I’d be where I am now without those moments. I wouldn’t have gotten through. I would have broken down more times than I could count, probably in front of people, maybe somewhere I couldn’t take back. I would have ruined relationships and maybe even my life. I would have drowned in my feelings and insecurities. As things got better, the talks slowed down. I stopped reaching out. I healed on my own.

Maybe he answered after all.

-Joanie

 

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