I'm blogging through Kathy Escobar's fantastic series, Rebuilding after Deconstructing, in an effort to clarify some things for myself, to share my story, and to encourage forward motion. This is so not about whining or placing blame, or picking on any person or institution. Just the story of God and me, up to now... abridged.
I didn't wake up that Sunday thinking I would reach a new low. It was actually a celebratory day; a service dedicated to testimony. People shared their struggles and victories from the previous year, and I sat in my chair, feeling their joy and sorrow, laughing and crying. It was so, so good. But then people started sharing about physical healing. Ever since my Dad's death I had felt fragile about that topic. I took a deep breath, asked God to help me, and and I was okay for a while. But it continued. A woman healed of a degenerative disease ran across the stage. A few others shared. I kept doing my deep breathing. Then a young woman talked about how she had a food allergy, and prayed to be healed from it, and guess what? She was! To the point where she binged out on the food she couldn't have and look! She was fine. Just like that, all is well.
I felt my heart shut down; tried to give myself a little pep talk, told myself just be happy for her. Don't make this about you.... but it was too late. I felt a dam break inside of me, and I panicked. I have to get out of here, NOW, I thought. Because sometimes people die, sometimes prayers are not answered the way we'd hoped and nobody was acknowledging that. I don't know if it was a panic attack, but that's what it felt like to me. I've never been so full of anxiety, sadness, and frustration. I managed to pick up my kids and drove home, shaking. I railed at the heavens, I asked God if he was really that cruel, I cried for hours. And then, when I was done, I realized I had to take some sort of action to help myself. I couldn't remain here forever.
I did a therapeutic exercise that afternoon called The Chair. My friend had told me about it months before, and I had been avoiding it, but I wanted to do something to get better, anything. I imagined my Dad was sitting across from me, and I said everything I had needed to say when he was dying. I started off wrily with "I know you probably wouldn't approve of this, but...." And I chose to believe he could hear me.
Exhausted, I opened my computer and started reading a blog I had been following for a few months, rachelheldevans.com. I had already found solace in her writing, but that day (I don't remember how exactly) I stumbled upon links to a few other blogs, sarahbessey.com (then called Emerging Mummy) and elizabethesther.com. All three of these women were asking some of the same questions I was. All three were struggling to find a home at church again. Maybe, I thought cautiously, maybe this is a gift. That day, for the first time in a long time, it dawned on me He might just be taking care of me. I began to feel hope for better things in our relationship. I wrote a post about a month later called bread crumbs to mark the beginning of a new season.
I realized many important things in the months following that day. One is that my faith doesn't need to look like anyone else's. I gave myself permission to be a misfit, to be perceived as undisciplined, lazy, liberal, lukewarm, or whatever else. There will always be people who talk about easy fixes and overnight miracles--and I don't want to judge their experiences as not valid either. But that has never been my experience. Christianity, for me, has mostly been about putting one foot in front of the other. About seeking and waiting and learning to be content. Believing that I really do have what I need, right here and now. Persevering. Choosing to be a recipient of grace, humbling as it is.
And I hope that the more comfortable I feel in my own faith, the less I will freak out when it looks different for other people. There is still a bit of dread when it comes to church things; that has not gone away. Sometimes I'm not sure that it will. But I'm trying to be gentle with my soul, because God is.
I also decided to fight against having multiple selves--my church self, home self, work self.....wow, that is so exhausting. This is a hard thing for those of us who grow up in evangelical culture I think. We get so used to the happy Sunday morning identity that it's hard to take off. I still struggle to be real on Sunday morning, or in any church setting really. Blogging has really helped with that. I find that if I can summon the courage to say something on my blog first, then I can bring it up in a conversation later.
So that was the beginning of my journey inward. One very dramatic day followed by a lot of quiet reflection, a year of re-shaping my perception of God by noting all the things, big and small, that I have to be grateful for (hats off to another amazing blogger, Ann Voskamp, for writing an incredible book and opening my eyes to the power of saying thank you), and many conversations with my husband, whose experience has paralleled mine in many ways. I'll write more about finding new spiritual practices a little later.
It can take a lot of hard work and a lot of time for God to heal our hearts; to reshape our perceptions of Him. I believe more strongly now than ever before that He wants to. I will honor this process.