Q: I don't understand how people can talk about a "Loving God" and all the other positive descriptions that are given. When I was born, it was with multiple birth defects, which have led to me being ridiculed, laughed at and all the not-so-nice things humans do and say to each other. I have been told repeatedly by my church friends who have invited me to their churches, "God loves you." Really? What kind of father (your word, not mine) does this to his child? I have suffered physically and emotionally for the things my "father" gave me. I am told to be "thankful" for what I have. Thankful is not what I feel nor will I ever. I have never gone to their churches as I feel this would be hypocritical. What is your answer to someone like me? -- From L A: I am so sorry for your pain and I write not to convince you of anything, but only to tell you that I am sorry you feel that your burdens have far exceeded your blessings. I could have tried to explain away what you feel in an attempt to save the belief in a loving God, but I believe that this loving God whom you cannot yet love is more than capable of surviving your rage and patiently waiting for you to find God. Let me tell you how I have handled my own birth defect. I was born with a sunken chest. I had a deformed breast bone called pectus excavatum that was pushing on my heart. When I was an early adolescent I had an operation that was both primitive and only partially successful. It left me with a large scar on my chest. I was, like you, ridiculed by other boys who saw it. I was so embarrassed by my scar that I showered separately after gym class and never took off my shirt to play "shirts vs. skins" basketball. My scar made me shy with women. The first woman who said to me, "I like your body," I married. Now I have reached a place in my life and my faith where I can actually thank God for my scar. I understand that whatever compassion I have for others who are broken or ridiculed or abused comes from knowing how they feel. I know that my scar may seem like a minor burden -- easily hidden and not grave in any way, but it was very grave to me. I faced the choice you face now. I could have used my scar to justify my anger against God or fate or the world or everyone. I chose instead to understand my scar not as a gift (that is too positive), but as an opportunity. My scar was an opportunity to hang onto the goodness of my life and to give thanks for the good that my scar had enabled me to do with my life. I am not alone, and you need not be alone in choosing to surmount your challenges. Helen Keller wrote of her blindness: "I thank God for my handicaps for, through them, I have found myself, my work and my God." My friend Hank Viscardi who helped enact the Americans with Disabilities Act and was severely handicapped was seemingly always happy. I asked him how he did it and he said to me, "You know, Marc, nobody is really disabled. It's just that some people are temporarily abled."
We often grow more in spiritual depth as the result of our burdens than we do from our blessings. People with scars are more interesting than people without them. I know. I have one and I am damn interesting! Your anger is understandable, but your anger is also a choice. Whoever told you that the only possible proof of God's loving nature would be for God to give you a body, a life and a soul without defects of any kind? God never promised anyone a perfect life. God's promise is that God will accompany us through our imperfections. That is the ultimate promise of a loving parent, and that is the ultimate promise of a loving God. You must know the famous story of another angry person who blames God. He dreams of seeing two sets of footprints on a beach, but then, after his trauma, only one set of footprints. He cries out to God, "When I needed you most you abandoned me!" God replies, "When you needed me most, I was carrying you." I pray that you might try -- just try -- to let God carry you for a while. Then, at the end of the beach, you can get down and walk on your own -- grateful for your blessings, thankful for your scars and ready to be loved.
AUTHOR: Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.) (c) 2018 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.