There were about five minutes of new widowhood when I grasped that I was now in a special demographic where eyes would be on me watching to see God glorified in my circumstances. There was the blinking of an eye when I saw opportunity-a stage for God's "power in weakness" show, a chance to prove Satan wrong in wagering that God's children serve Him only when they're ahead of the game (Job 1). But then I receded again into the pursuit of minimum Christianity: saved by the blood, but entitled to grouse.
I don't outright grouse, not usually. I am sanctified about it-just a well-placed sigh in certain company, just a being "honest" about loneliness. Or, I say nothing at all, either bad or good. If I have known some private comfort in my prayer closet, I never let on, so nobody ever knows it. There's a lyric in the songs my mother used to play in the Frank Sinatra-Robert Goulet 33 LP pity-party days that said something like "happy to be miserable over you." This is the idea.
Now I have received a book in the mail by a widow writing on widowhood: He Said, "Press," by Patti McCarthy Broderick. Let me say that I never read books about widowhood or the Christian life by people whose day job is housewife. I like books by lettered authors with titles like The Twentieth Century or Postmodernism. Leave me alone with my personal life. Let's talk epic themes. But I promised I would read it so I did.
Gnosticism is thought to be a dead church issue: A clique of second- to fourth-century guys thought the writings of Paul were quaint, and good enough for the Christian rabble, but for themselves were superseded by a secret inside track to God through mystical channels far more sophisticated than obedience to Christ's simple commands.
Patti Broderick has written a very simple book about her journey. She cites verses like the following and makes much of them:
"I know that You can do all things . . ." (Job 42:2). "Consider how the lilies grow . . ." (Luke 12:27-28). "This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God . . ." (2 Corinthians 1:9). "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness . . ." (2 Peter 1:3).
Ms. Broderick figures that when the Bible says "suffering produces character and character, hope," it means that suffering produces character and character, hope. I, on the other hand, have interposed a baroque system of hermeneutics between the Bible and my life. I have seminary training. Unlike simple people who obey the Bible because they don't realize how complicated it is, I find ambiguity in every verse. I don't obey Scripture, I discuss it.
Patti Broderick and I, at the crossroads of our respective widowhood, evidently heard the same statistics and psychological findings regarding the "natural" course of grief and the amount of time needed to "process" it. I went with the statistics and gave myself permission to be as bad as I wanted to be. She, more simpleminded, files the following report: "So I chose, instead, to bank my life on Scripture being true, and I was not going to let even well-meaning Christians talk me out of it." In this she cites as fixed anchors for the soul such meditations as the following:
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me, and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you'" (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
In her simpleminded faith, Patti Broderick decided early on, on the basis of such verses as the one above, that she should make an effort to pray and read the Bible more in order to know God better, blithely unmindful of any problematic taint of legalism in that endeavor. She also studied the lives of Abraham and other Hebrews 11 people and, astoundingly, drew motivation from them to imitate their lives of faith.
That is, Ms. Broderick did the very thing that a Gnostic knows not to do: She took the Bible as practical.
They say "write what you know," and I know widowhood. And I can tell you with assurance that what Patti McCarthy Broderick has done is not natural. The default mode of widowhood is not what she has lived. As the author of this fine book has admitted, she made a conscious choice to trust in God, to take His Word as truth, to see opportunity, and to wear His praises publicly on her lips. And she did not find Him disappointing.