I had dinner recently with two of my favorite people on the planet. I have known these girls since I was 13. I love them both dearly, and yet, as sometimes happens, we have drifted apart. They are the type of friends that you can pick up with right where you left off, however long ago, and it’s like it was yesterday. At least, they used to be. This night was different; our husbands were with us. And these girls — with whom, once I could bare my soul — have, over time, as is the custom in our part of the world (the Bible Belt) become devout Christians. The four of them, husbands included, are in a bible study together. My husband and I rarely attend church. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Christianity. I think it is beautiful. I adore the energy of faith — any kind. But I also believe that there are many paths to God. (This is not a popular opinion in the region where I reside.)
After I voiced this opinion, one of the husbands, an extremely intelligent, fit creature who has created his own successes, scoffed and said, “Oh, that’s Pantheism; you’re a Pantheist.” I blinked. I am? I had no idea. I’m not into labeling myself. This led to a heated debate, which was in no way my intention.
“What is grace, Rebecca?” the leader queried, smirking.
I paused. No one had asked me this before. I could feel my face flush.
“Love. Kindness. Joy. Peace,” I replied.
“Undeserved favor,” he said, smugly. “And who bestows undeserved favor upon us, Rebecca?”
I could hear my husband behind me, giggling. He whispered, “Chase, I wish you would come hang out at my house.” Laughter erupted around the table.
My husband was responding to my being stumped. He was undoubtedly thrilled at the scene, something he rarely sees.
I looked Chase in the eyes and said, “Chase, I do not believe that we have to earn someone’s undeserved favor. I believe with all of my heart and soul that we are each deserving of love, pure love, unconditional love simply because we exist.”
“And from where did you derive this opinion, Rebecca?” Chase asked, softer now, smiling even.
“From holding my mother’s hand at her bedside as she gradually drowned in her own fluids. I came to understand things differently through that process as I saw her face death head on, with grace,” I replied. I then went on to discuss Anita Moorjani and Eben Alexander and their impact on me. He listened. To his credit, he even jotted a couple of names down in his iPhone notes.
“Where does suffering come from, Rebecca?” he asked, pointedly.
“I believe we create our own suffering,” I replied.
“Where did you come up with that?” he asked.
“I believe my mother, unconsciously, unknowingly, created her own illness. I believe she never forgave herself for three things:1. An early abortion; 2. My sister’s mental illnesses and lack of joy; 3. My father’s transgressions. I believe she loathed herself so greatly that she ultimately manifested her own terminal illness where her body decided to help her out and took over the job of slowly eliminating her,” I finished. The table fell silent.
One of my friends finally piped in and said, “None of us have been through what you went through, Rebecca. Obviously, you have a unique perspective.”
Chase had the final word, he said, “Well, you’re a seeker. I’ll give you that. I like it.”
And the conversation concluded on a slightly lighter note. I think the entire restaurant was relieved.
Please allow me to be clear: I do not believe that if someone has a different faith than my own, which is almost guaranteed because my faith is of a rare breed, I do not believe that they are wrong or that they will be punished in some way. These people, who were once my close friends, who knew me better than any other, their beliefs are so far from my own that it is a bit mind blowing. But the thing is, I love them still. I love them wholly and completely. I do not judge them. I am not interested in doing so. I do not believe that judgment is my job, nor do I believe it is a worthwhile expense of energy. I am here to embody love and gratitude. I am on this planet to spread joy, to remind any and every single person that I can that their life is beautiful, that there is love all around them that they might not be seeing, and that we are so blessed to have the opportunity to soak it in. Everyday. Soak. It. In.
I passed this article through my friends before publishing. Their response, true to form of the ladies who know and love me best in the world, was pure grace. They said it was an accurate account. One of them even drove straight to my house to tell me she wanted to be better friends this year. I was relieved and inspired. For love, true love, friendship love is bountiful and awe-inspiring. And it feels so good.
I believe true friendships can withstand separate believe systems. I am grateful that this is so.