I had lunch the other day with a friend. Over soup and salad at Panera, she told me about the unexpected suicide of a family member on Christmas. Then, she told me about the subsequent conversation she had with her Christian college roommate after she returned to school for second semester.
“How’s your walk with God?” the roommate asked, and as my friend told me this, I found myself rolling my eyes so far back into my head that it gave me a sudden rush of headache.
“It sucks,” she told her roommate that day – the most honest answer she knew how to give in the face of the tragedy that had split her life into two distinct parts: Before the suicide. After the suicide.
But the Christian college roommate leaned in, armed with a litany of suggestions masked as questions. Questions that she had heard, I’m sure, from years of churchgoing and youth group, years of Christian college classes and Bible studies and conversations. Are you spending enough time in the Word? Are you praying? Are you remembering that God IS Goodness?
She was, I suppose, trying to help in the way she knew how, but hours after I drove away from that lunch, that question kept niggling at the back of my mind, bothering me for reasons I couldn’t quite articulate.
How’s your walk with God? It’s a question that I’ve asked others hundreds of times in my life. A question that I’ve been asked more times than I can count.
It sounds like an open-ended question at first blush, but it feels to me heavy-laden with expectation. There is aright answer to this question. It seems almost clinical – something your physician might ask when charting your health. Something along the lines of How is your diet? Or Are you exercising?
It’s a question that wraps around you like a blood-pressure cuff, and the way you answer it tells you something about your failure or your success.
How is your walk with God? If the answer is “it sucks,” then it stands to reason that you must be doing something wrong.
Let’s figure out what that is. Let’s get this thing back on track.
Ask me about my walk with God these days, and I mostly hem and haw. I don’t know what to tell you about the state of my faith, which seems to ebb and flow with the seasons and the hours and the moments of my daily life.
While I recognize the importance of the spiritual disciplines of prayer and quiet and Scripture reading, I no longer believe that they correlate directly to that vibrant, heady spirituality that I used to frame as “success.”
I’m not even sure that “walk” is the truest metaphor for my particular spiritual journey. So many days it doesn’t feel like I’m moving anywhere – forward or backward. Rather I’m just here, still – waiting for something like faith to grow inside of me.
It seems truer to talk about my faith life as a tree – so dependent on the soil and the weather and the rain and the sun. Dormant during long stretches of the year, but reaching ever toward a hope I can’t fully understand. My faith is not a movement – a walking toward. The growth is so slow and quiet that you’d never even notice that it’s happening.
Out of curiosity this week, I Googled questions that Jesus asked. I wanted to know if this How’s your walk with God business had any biblical grounding, and so I read through several lists compiled by pastors and bloggers and theologians.
Reading through Jesus’ questions, so odd and beautiful, so simple and complex, I was arrested by him all over again. I found myself in quiet awe of Jesus who asks:
Who are you looking for? (John 20:15)
Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:13-15)
“Why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26)
This is the Jesus who doesn’t, in the end, ask How’s you’re walk with God. Nor does he ask How’s your prayer life? Are you doing your devotions? Are you in the Word? Are you plugged in to a church?
In fact, none of his questions seem posed to assess the spiritual performance of the people he’s talking to. Instead, they reach deeper, toward desire and identity.
His questions reach into the hidden places, the unwell places, the broken places – not to suggest that we get it together, but to show us that he is holding it together for us.
He is asking: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32-22)
He is asking “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)
In one of her most famous columns, Cheryl Strayed (as the Rumpus’ “Sugar”) responds to an inquiry that says very simply:
WTF, WTF, WTF?
I’m asking this question as it applies to everything every day.
“Sugar” (aka Strayed) responds to this seemingly throwaway question with a moving account of her own sexual abuse as a child and about the way we have to press into the terrible things in life in order to finally kill them.
She concludes the column by encouraging the writer to “Ask better questions, sweet pea,” and that line has stayed with me.
I hear it in my head sometimes, when I’m skimming the surface, when I’m careening into my own cynicism, when I’m slammed against the unfairness of life. Ask better questions, sweet pea. Because in the end, the answers we get depend on the questions we pose.
I think about Jesus’ questions – the best kind – that cut through the performance and the religion and the rightness and into the broken, beautiful heart. What do you want me to do for you?
I think of that earnest Christian college girl, of all of us, so eager to help each other in the walk. Ask better questions, sweet pea. We need it on a bumper sticker, on a whole fleet of bumper stickers.
We need it to remind us it’s not our job to fix anyone. Our work, despite the mixed messages from our DIY culture, is not to give one another spiritual health assessments and then offer 10 steps toward better faith.
Rather, our work has to do with making space for Christ, with making space for healing, with offering grace and mercy, kindness and love.
Ask better questions, sweet pea. Ask them to yourself. Ask them to one another. Ask that which you cannot answer and then be quiet.
Wait for the whispering of God’s love to fill in all the gaps.