I recently completed another trip around the sun. With each passing year, I hope that I am wiser and living more as the woman God created me to be.
I want to share my current status, although personal, it is not private. I am learning that keeping our struggles private only leads others to believe that they are alone in their struggles, and this is untrue. I thought that I was the only one experiencing this crisis of faith until I spoke to one friend who shared her journey with me. And after almost a year, I listened to John Mark Comer and was so comforted to learn that what I am experiencing is not that unique. Although it is something I never heard spoken about in all my 48 years of attending church, Sunday school and youth group. I never heard a series about this, preparing us for such a season. Thus I want to share part of my journey in the hopes that perhaps someone needs to hear this, to know that they are not alone, and there is a way through.
It was as though a switch was thrown and the lights went out. I was facing a family crisis and my processing led to a rant in the kitchen
“If we are created to worship God, to be with God, and we will worship him for eternity when we die and truly be with him, then what is the purpose of our lives on earth? I was created to worship God in his presence, so why don’t we just die?...”
I went on for quite some time and it felt like a buried chest within me was opened up, letting out questions and doubts that had been hidden, subconsciously, for decades. I almost didn’t know what I was saying, but the words just kept coming. And once those words were out of my mouth, out of my heart and the depths of my being, everything changed.
All that I had known, all that I was taught in Sunday school and church, all that I had based my life on was now erased by words left hanging in the air of the kitchen. Tears came at first from frustration and led to anger. But they dried quickly as all seemed to be swallowed up. My emotions, my purpose, my foundation, my beliefs… they were gone.
As much as the rant in the kitchen marked the beginning of this new season, the groundwork had been laid the year before. As we were volunteering with Mercy Ships, living on the Africa Mercy in Dakar, Senegal, we were living in a multi-cultural community with people from all over the world. Through my year with these incredible people, through Bible studies and conversations, I began to see just how “western” my faith was and dare I say, how “American” my faith was. Not knowing any different, I was a little taken aback by some of the different views I encountered and approaches to scripture. But as my mind was being opened, my heart started to feel sick. What was my faith based on? Was it Biblical? How much of what I was taught was just western ideals? Everything began to unravel.
But that moment in the kitchen, that moment of verbal explosion, was the moment of no return. I had spoken the questions and doubt out into the world, the atmosphere, and now they had to be delt with. They could no longer be hidden, buried, or disregarded. Over the next weeks and months I felt like I was being dismantled, or deconstructed. Bit by bit being taken apart for examination and questioning. What do I believe and what is it based on? I felt overwhelmed that the past 43 years of living as a Christian, studying the Bible and sitting under what I thought was great teaching was now being torn apart and leaving me with more questions than answers.
When that switch was thrown in the kitchen, I immediately felt disconnected from God and all that I knew of him. I continued with my daily practice of reading scripture, journaling and praying, but I got nothing in return. God went silent and all went dark. In one of the roughest seasons of my life – when we lost the dream of living on the ship, the pandemic resulting in isolation, a huge lack of calling and direction in our lives, feeling lost and lonely – this is the time God turned off the mic?!
All I needed was the comfort of his presence. I just needed to know that he was with me and had this – had me. But the more I pressed in and the more I asked, the less I got. Past experience kept propelling me forward. Too many prayers had been answered, I’d witnessed too many miracles and lives transformed over the years to throw it all away. Yet I felt like I was walking forward, getting nowhere, gaining no ground.
This season of life was already more complicated than I could handle. The amount of change occurring on all fronts, the demand for major life decisions, the deep emotional pain of grief and loss made for an intense atmosphere to operate within and an anchor or point of reference was essential for survival. But what do you do when your life-long anchor cannot be felt or seen? When you pull on the chain, and pull and pull, and the anchor never surfaces for reassurance. What do you do when you’re adrift with nothing to guide you or hold you steady yet that chain that once pulled taught is now limp and lifeless just dragging behind you as you wade through uncharted waters. I was not meant to live without an anchor. I was not meant to live without a compass. And here I was, existing without either.
I felt like my life was one sided. I kept in pursuit of God, but it felt as though he was completely distant from me and not in pursuit of me at all. I kept trying. He stopped trying. But not knowing how to operate in any other way, I kept on, but my practices soon grew lifeless, and I too became distant and unattached. This only led to affirming the many I know who no long practice their faith. Who once were alive with spiritual disciplines and a strong connection to the Divine, but something happened. A loss or a crisis killed their faith and after the time of asking “why?” and trying to get through, they just got on, apart from God. I get it. Hopeless.
And that is just how I felt, hopeless. What once was helpless, turned to deep hopelessness. What happened? Where had my God gone? Why? I felt hollow and empty. My stomach ached with confusion and pains of loss. How was I going to be able to go on? I don’t know how to live my life apart from God and I never wanted to. I don’t want to.
A year of sitting in this process has come to a place of numbness and letting go. And then another rant –
“It feels like the parent who doesn’t return your phone calls or texts, they never show up at your games or send a card on your birthday. They are not present at all, and you have no communication with them in spite of your efforts to reach out. They do however send a quarterly check just so that you survive. But mind you, you are surviving without their love and care and presence with you. Who wants a parent like that?” That was how I now viewed God. I don’t want the provision of a roof over my head and food to eat. I want a relationship. I want the confidence of his presence with me. That is my food and shelter – him, him with me. That is all I need. Don’t bother working out the details of finding us a home and providing friends for our kids and giving us jobs to put food on the table. I don’t care about any of that if it is from a distant father. I’d rather have the father with me and be hungry and cold than be comfortable and alone. Because to sit in a new home, surrounded by new friends, working a job that I love and harvesting the garden of my dreams means nothing to me without knowing the Creator and Giver of all those things. If you’re not with me in that new home, I don’t want it. If you’re not in the midst of the gathering of friends, I don’t want it. If you’re not inspiring my work and equipping me to do it, then I don’t want it. If you’re not walking with me in my garden, teaching me and showing me life’s truths, then I don’t want it. Don’t bother sending the quarterly check but not showing up. I don’t want it.
I can weather any storm if you’re with me. But I don’t want you to just take away the storm and then leave me alone. Being alone, apart from your presence is worse than any hurricane. I cannot survive apart from you. So show up already!”
And that’s where I’m at. Still no answers or conclusions. I’m still adrift. I still feel unanchored. I still don’t sense God’s presence with me. I don’t hear his voice and I’m not sure when or if this will end.
The one thing I do know is that living life apart from God feels like driving drunk (not that I ever have) – driving without a seatbelt or walking into a crowd in May of 2020 without a mask. It feels reckless and dangerous and so risky. I feel unprotected and vulnerable, unsure of just about anything.
Here is one of John Mark's teachings that is very insightful.