“Potato-Draining Wisdom” – a short story from God Plays a Purple Banjo

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Note from the Editor: This little vignette illustrates so much … the domestic church and how it shapes the evangelization and nurturing of children, as well a conversation that invites us to consider the gentle accompaniment that is so needed to help seekers keep seeking. This excerpt is taken from God Plays a Purple Banjo, and 41 Other Stories of Inspiration, Hope and Humor by S. James Meyer. It is not a catechetical work, but this story does reference the author’s catechetical ministry later in life. Enjoy!


“Potato-Draining Wisdom”

When I was sixteen, I’d skulk around the kitchen before supper, trying to get a head start on the roast beef before it hit the table. I often used this time to bait my mother into an argument of one sort or another…a little intellectual garlic to give the ensuing dinner conversation some kick. I figured the least I could do for her was make sure her life wouldn’t get boring.

Just as mom was draining the potatoes one evening, I dropped this gem: “You know, I don’t think I believe in God. It’s kind of a ridiculous notion if you think about it.” I said this partially to get her dander up and partially because it was somewhat true. I wasn’t wrestling so much with the fact of God as I was with the nature of God.

“Good,” she said without missing a beat. This was not what I had expected. With wisdom that could be spoken only by a woman who kneaded her own bread and sewed patches over the worn-out knees of a little boy’s jeans, she continued, “Those with the deepest faith wrestle with the deepest doubts.”

Those with the deepest faith wrestle with the deepest doubts. A paradox. … I was sixteen and had just been trumped by a five-foot-two, middle-aged woman with steamed-up bifocals. There was no argument. All I could do was seek understanding. How could it be so? Doesn’t faith mean the eradication of doubt? Isn’t doubt a sign of weak faith?

Eventually I would learn the wisdom in this contradiction. Those with the deepest faith get there by doggedly chasing the questions and pursuing the conflict. Doubt, conflict, and debate are not contrary to faith. They are often avenues to faith. In fact, conflict is a part of faith. When we ponder an infinite God while living a finite life, we’re going to feel conflicted. When we profess belief in a God who is love while living in a world governed by fear, we’re going to feel conflicted. When we value selflessness but reward selfishness, when we celebrate communion but pursue elitism, when we ask God for mercy while we judge one another, when we give to the poor while exploiting cheap labor, and when we pray for peace while waging war, we’re going to feel conflicted. You can’t have faith without conflict. Not real faith. Not deep, meaningful faith.

Those with the deepest faith do not run from questions and conflicts; they run at them. In fact, those with the deepest faith ignite questions and conflicts.

After teaching high school religious education classes for many years, I discovered that the kids who debated and challenged everything I threw at them often ended up with a more profound spirituality than the ones who simply sat there without ever questioning. Why? Because they engaged. They sought a deeper understanding and they refused to accept superficial platitudes.

This is the gauntlet the gospel drops before us. Are we passionate enough about what we profess to believe…passionate enough to wrestle through questions and conflicts? Or do we passively walk through the motions, avoiding the difficult questions that confront us, keeping our faith in a neat, tidy box?

The choice belongs to each of us. But the cross shows us in a pretty straightforward way that serious Christianity is messy business. It’s not meant to be in a neat and tidy box. You can’t have true faith without conflict. And those with the deepest faith wrestle with the deepest doubts.



Excerpted from God Plays a Purple Banjo, and 41 Other Stories of Inspiration, Hope and Humor by S. James Meyer. Copyright 2019. Published by Twenty-Third Publications (twentythirdpublications.com). Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Learn more about God Plays a Purple Banjo at Twenty-Third Publications.


Image credits:
Feature image: UllrichG / ShutterStock 130781807
Book: Twenty-Third Publications

Note: The excerpt has been modified to fit this format.

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