Wrestling with God – a New Fiction Book on Prayer

Stories, Uncategorized

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a story that has been in my head for months. It’s a short story – about 6000 words – that follows three characters, a mother, father, and their daughter.

In the story, each character has a pivotal conversation with God that sets the course for the rest of their lives, culminating in their eternal fates. There’s also a love story woven in there.

Below is the first chapter of five. If you like it, you can buy the whole book for the price of a cup of coffee over at Amazon. It is only available on Kindle, but let me know if you’d like me to format it for hard copies. I wrote it under the pen name Henry Labre. “Catholic Anonymous” didn’t roll off the tongue quite as well.

I hope it encourages your faith. It is meant to be deeply rooted in Catholic spirituality. I try to be respectful of how I portray God – who is a central character in this story. If I don’t succeed in that, though, my apologies to him and to anyone who might be offended.

Here is the first chapter:

CHAPTER 1 – THE TIMID WRESTLER

On their first date, David was like a stone. He was nervous, you had to give him that. Five years of the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” will do that to a man. 

Hannah knew pretty quickly he was not her type. Through high school and college the guys she dated fit nicely into the wild, stupid, and fun categories. David mostly sat quietly, and when he spoke, it revolved around some topic in the Bible. She was fine with religion, but goodness, not that much.

Still, she went on a couple more dates with him. She’d been with enough guys to know first impressions are not everything. And after another and then another, his steady and attentive eyes, his soft voice, and yes, even his listening silence began to wear her down. It didn’t hurt that he would open the car door for her which, according to her mother, she should have taken offense at. “Like you can’t open your own damn door!” her mother would say, mumbling something after that about the patriarchy while sipping her Merlot.

Before long, Hannah found herself telling him way too much. Bit by bit, she wondered if wild, stupid and fun were really what she wanted.

But to be fair, there was something wild about David, and it was his faith. The guy went entirely beyond the boundaries of a normal, private interest in God to an almost fanatical obsession with him. He believed the whole Catholic thing: church every Sunday, refusing to hold her hand, saying “Let’s pray about this” whenever she told him about some knot in her life and referring to Mary as “Our Lady”. The only other time she heard that was when friend Alejandra was making fun of her grandparents.

Whether she wanted it or not, though, his faith began igniting her own. She remembered going to Mass when she slept over at Alejandra’s home in elementary school. Sure, she wasn’t crazy about religion, but her memories were warm ones – the light coming through the stained glass, the smell of the incense, the congregation singing and chanting like one great being. When she visited again with David, it all came flooding back.

A year later, he did what she somehow could never imagine happening. He proposed to her. Hannah was never one to see beyond the current week, and here was her boyfriend asking her if she could see herself spending the rest of her life with him!

She knew, theoretically that this had to happen. This relationship was going somewhere or it wasn’t. It certainly was not fair to string him along if she could not stomach joining him where he was. But was she ready for this? Could she say to him, “Your people will be my people, your God will be my God”? David’s smile faded a bit when she didn’t say yes but didn’t say no. 

She knew she had to talk to someone first. So on a bright spring afternoon, she sat on a bench at Wiggin Park and waited for him. They would sort this out one on one.

When he came, he stood standing in the sun for a moment. 

“Hello Hannah,” he said.

“Hello, God,” said Hannah.

God took a seat beside her.

“This must be important. Usually we only talk at my place.”

“It is.” Hannah took a deep breath, collecting her thoughts. “I don’t know if I should marry David.”

“Why is that?”

“Why is that?” thought Hannah. “Because I’m a disaster.” An abusive father, alcoholic mother, narcissistic boyfriends and depression tends to accomplish that.

But she simply said meekly, “I’m not his type.”

“I don’t think he agrees with you.” 

“I know…. But he doesn’t know me.”

“Are you sure about that? Hours of late night conversations didn’t get the message across?”

Hannah looked down at a flower pushing its way through cracks in the cement at her feet. 

“He’s kind and quiet. He has so much more in common with other girls at his parish. I can’t talk to him about…. God stuff! Goodness, anything but that.”

She quickly realized who she was saying this to. “I mean, I love church. I love being back. But my brain doesn’t work the way his does. That’s not me.”

God gave her a puzzled look. “It sounds like you’ve made up your mind. Why did you ask me here?”

Up till this point, Hannah was mildly shocked. This conversation was not playing out the way she had anticipated. “Did I think he’d be like my dad? ‘What the fuck, Hannah! Why are you so stupid? Marry the damn guy!’ or “Good God girl, I could have told you he was too good for you.’” She didn’t know how to respond to him and wondered why he wasn’t laying into her.

“I don’t know,” Hannah replied. “I guess I wanted to know what you thought.”

God  looked pensively out at the trees in front of them. “If you want to know what I think, I think you are afraid to be happy.”

Ah! Here it comes. Something to argue about! Hannah knew where to go from here.

“Of course I want to be happy! Why would you say that?”

Still looking out, God, as calm as her obstinately quiet boyfriend, spoke again. 

“Things are going well with him?”

“Yes.”

“Yet you don’t think you should marry him.”

“Well… yes.”

He looked at Hannah. “It sounds like you are afraid to be happy. Being with David would make you happy, and I don’t think you know what to do with that. Life is normal with him, but your life has never been normal. It’s like walking upside down for years and somebody turns you right side up. It feels both strange and good at the same time.”

He looked more intently at her. “Do you want to be happy?”

“Of course I do. But it’s more complicated than that.”

“How?”

Images flashed in her mind. Her dad standing over her with his belt. Her smoking marijuana with friends in her car on a school day. Yelling. A fist against her face. Unable to lift herself away from the gravity of her own bed.

“He doesn’t know me,” she said softly.

“But you’ve told him, haven’t you? About your life?”

“No… I mean, yes, I’ve told him. But… he’s never had to deal with me every day, leaving a mess around the house or sleeping in when I have to go to work. He doesn’t know what it’s like living with someone like me.”

Hannah looked sullen at her flower again. 

“He wants to marry a train wreck,” she said with a sigh.

The two sat there in silence for a few minutes. This truth sunk deep into her. She had been pushing it away for a long time – years maybe. But here, she let herself feel the weight of it, and it pulled her underneath like an anchor.

God spoke. “Me dear, you love David. And what David has done in asking you to marry him despite everything means he loves you, too. Love, if it is real, is always a risk.”

“It’s too much to ask of him,” she said. “We’ll live together and then, sooner or later, he’ll see what he’s gotten himself into, and he’ll leave. That’s how it always is.”

“You might be right,” said God.

Hannah looked up at him, surprised and a little relieved. “So you agree! I shouldn’t go through with it.”

“No, I don’t agree.”

“But this could end horribly!”

“Of course it can.”

“So tell him to pull back! Or tell me to say ‘no’ to him!”

“No.”

“Why?!”

“Because I’m the one who brought you two together!” God said exasperated.

“What?!”

God took a moment and then began. “After you went on that first date, did you want to continue seeing him?”

She squinted and thought back, “Well, no, I didn’t.”

“So why did you?”

Her mind wandered back. When they first met, he was almost shaking. She tried to make conversation, but it went nowhere. He barely let anything out. She remembered saying goodbye thinking she’d never see him again. But later that night….

“I felt like I’d marry him.”

“And what did he tell you recently about that first date?”

“He told me that even though I didn’t seem like his type, something in him told him to keep going.”

Every time she had these fears, that little feeling, that tiny tug inside her would pull her back. Was it doing the same to him? “One more date,” she would think. “One more conversation,” until it snowballed to this.

“Maybe you are right,” said God. “Maybe everything will crash and burn. Or maybe this will change you and him for the better. Maybe you will learn to love theology more and he’ll learn to lighten up. You think you have nothing to offer him, but if that were the case, he wouldn’t want to be with you.”

This thought, like a warm compression, started in her chest and began spreading to the rest of her body, melting her. “He loves me.” This wouldn’t work. But it could, but it wouldn’t, but she wanted it to – more than anything.

“I’m so scared. I’m so scared it won’t work.”

God took her hands in his own. “I’m trying to give you a gift, Hannah. Please, take it.”

Images flashed again in her mind. Coming home to David after work. Children running in the yard. Eating Thanksgiving turkey at his mom’s place. Holding his wrinkled hand while watching the grandkids. David…. David….

She kept looking at the flower beneath her. Then she closed her eyes and almost whispering, she spoke:

“Okay.”

Read the rest of the story.

©2020 Catholic Anonymous

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Some other stuff I do:

Wisdom of Pope Francis Podcast

YouTube Video Meditations on the Faith

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