My Story


“I want you to love with my love, have joy with my joy, have peace with my peace…” I believe God said this to me at a Christian retreat in 1992, referring to the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There were no heavenly fireworks that accompanied this word, but it took root in me in a significant way. I was turning 20, so I expected that my spiritual life was on a 45 degree trajectory, going from strength to strength. Instead, I was soon thrown into pain and confusion through the breakup of a relationship. During the months that followed as I cried out to God for answers, I was met with complete silence. I also became aware of another horrifying reality: my heart seemed to have no love in it. I didn’t care if people lived or died or went to heaven or hell.

Over the next two decades, I fought to break through these two perceived realities in my life: the silence of God and the deadness of my own heart. I now see these years like the five stages of grief from the book On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross - denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance – because what God was doing was leading me to my death.

Denial

The darkness started in college, where I was a religion major. Most of my professors didn’t respect the authority of the Bible and believed it was important to deliver students from their ‘na├»ve’ preconceptions about Scripture - so my faith was deconstructed. What they taught not only challenged what I believed, it was a threat to the core of my identity. Since my dad was a pastor and I grew up in the church, I didn’t know how not to be a Christian. So, I responded to this threat with denial of my doubt. By the time I graduated, my faith in God was like a man holding on to a frayed rope off the edge of a cliff. Inevitably, I let go of that rope – I turned my back on God and removed myself from Christian community.

For the next 7 months, my compulsion to believe was put to death, which gave me the freedom to believe. Instead of holding on for dear life, belief became like a huge chair where I could rest. It was bigger than me and could take my weight. Once I came back to God, I never seriously doubted the truth of the gospel again. The war over my belief in God was over, but it was mostly a battle over my mind. The next battleground was for my heart.

Bargaining

Believing that my time in darkness was finally complete, I thought that I was free to become the man of God I wanted to be. In my lofty spiritual idealism, I fought to see his word realized in me – I wanted to love with his love. I longed for a tangible relationship with him, one in which I knew he was leading and empowering me to love well. But I constantly faced the distance between my idealism and the darkness which hadn’t gone away. Again and again I went to Christian events and it seemed that everyone there was experiencing the power of God… except for me. It felt like God had put a sticky note on my forehead which said, “Not him.” 

God was putting to death my striving and false expectations about life in him. This took many years because I kept trying to bargain with him. “Lord, if I repent of every sin I can think of, will you come to me?  If I go to counselors to deal with my emotional wounds, if I spend my weekends alone seeking you as I hike or journal, if I read the right books, if I do a fruit and vegetable fast for Lent and lose 46 pounds, if I memorize long passages of Scripture, if I spend an hour in silent prayer starting at 5AM every morning to hear your voice, will you come to me?” If I just repent of this, if I just pray that… if I just, if I just... Years and years of this, and silence.

Anger

I began theological studies in 2004, and a year later I accepted a position as Assistant Pastor of a church. I believe this was God’s doing, but I was still bargaining with him. “Lord, if you are asking me to step into this role, then you have to show up - you have to make yourself known to me.” The people at the church were wonderful to me, and the senior pastor became the Best Man at my wedding, but I preached and ministered in complete spiritual desolation. It was during these years that much of my striving was put to death since I had explored every conceivable way out of the darkness. But that striving and bargaining were replaced with anger. It had been 13 years since the beginning of the darkness, and all of my feelings of betrayal, abandonment and bewilderment spilled over into pages and pages of rage in my journal.

Depression

Studying theology and working in a church dismantled many false expectations about life in God. I wanted daily intimacy with him, but I discovered that Scripture never promised what I had been hoping for. I grieved over what I felt were wasted years, wasted emotional energy, wasted hope in a “redemption package” that would never be mine. But I also saw that the Jews during the time of Jesus had to have their expectations deconstructed. They had been waiting for centuries for the promises of God to be fulfilled, and for 400 years he had been silent. Many were hoping for a Messiah who would wipe out the Romans and bring back the Israelite monarchy like it was under King David, but they never expected him to be hanging on a cross.

I wanted to submit to God’s deconstruction of my expectations, and I wanted to believe in who God is and not what I thought he was going to do, but I felt like I was lowering and lowering my expectations to such an extent that I didn't know who God was anymore. To say that he was good, to say that he was my father - it didn't mean anything to me.

Acceptance

I got married in 2008, and it has been a wonderful blessing, but marriage didn't bring an end to the darkness. I keep returning to God’s word to me from beginning – “I want you to love with my love and have joy with my joy…” I now see that the Holy Spirit is the intimacy I have been wanting with God all these years. I also see that my longing for him was not a sign of God’s absence, but of the presence of his Spirit. I’ve always said that I stayed for the same reason Peter stayed in John 6 – there’s nowhere else to go. But the truth is, I never would have been so desperate for Him if he had not put his Spirit in me to know Him.

I would love to provide a happy ending to this story, but I do not yet believe that the word he spoke in 1992 has come to pass. There is a deep place in me that can only find rest in God and his Spirit, and I have come to accept that he will bring me to that place of rest in his own way and in his own time, because he is the pastor of my heart.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing all this. I was following Teresa of Avila's advice on prayer and your words helped me move through a place where I was feeling very disconnected from God. So I wanted to say thank you.

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