Embracing Awkward

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  • Flannery O'Connor and the Bigness of God

    Last night I couldn't sleep so naturally I turned to my iPhone. As I swiped through apps, looking for somewhere to rest my mind, I nestled up to my Kindle app, specifically Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor. I've been working my way through them for almost a year now.

    Few writers combine wit, depth, insight and to the point-ness, like Flannery O'Connor. And last night I almost sat straight up in bed (technically three sofa cushions laid on a basement floor. Long story) as I read the following line from an undated letter to Louise Abbot in 1959:

    "A God you understood would be less than yourself."

    Just 8 years before she wrote that, O'Connor was diagnosed with a devastating case of lupus. Her father died at an early age from it, and it led to her eventual death at the early age of 39. Suffering wasn't an occasional acquaintance, but a lifelong friend. This adds weight to her words. "God's ways are not our ways" wasn't cliche to her, but heart-resting, hope-giving truth. Truth is like a pillow. Somewhere you can lay your head at night.

    Show me what someone does with suffering and I'll show you their theology. It's hard to imagine picking up a Joel Osteen book after being diagnosed with cancer. Flannery's short stories, on the other hand, make a faithful friend. Especially "Revelation" and the joy you feel when the college-aged Mary Grace starts choking the quietly self-righteous Mrs. Turpin.

    A God who's bigger than you've constrained him to be is also a God who's better than you've imagined him to be. This is why O'Connor said that at the heart of all her writings is the idea of grace, God turning things upside down, humbling the proud, exalting the humble. Pride always makes God smaller and harsher than he really is.

    The beautiful thing about having a God bigger than you can understand is it means he must have purposes and reasons that are beyond our understanding too. He sees things we can't see. Knows things we don't know. Gives what He knows we need, takes what He knows we don't.

    This is why one of the verses I go to in my mind most often in a season where I have no idea what God is doing is Psalm 138:8. "The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me." Not MY purpose for me, which is more narrow and selfish than I'd like to admit, but HIS purpose for me, in all it's self-giving, other-loving, God-glorifying width and depth.

    As I write we're driving from Waukesha, WI to Lincoln, NE. We've gone 4 hours and still have 4 more to go. If I've realized anything this trip, it's that the USA is big, too big to take in all at once.

    And in a similar, yet more profound way, so is God. He's too big to always understand exactly what he's doing in our lives, and yet too good not to rest in. He has purposes beyond our ability to conceive, yet woven into those purposes is the fabric of His grace.

    I like to think this is why Flannery O'Connor had a strange love for peacocks, and kept them as pets. They were a daily reminder to her that the God who made these wastefully beautiful birds who don't fly was her God too.

    After all a God you understood would be less than yourself.