Last week I shared the ugly reality of my current faith coordinates, which place me smack in the middle of a spiritual desert. My relationship with God feels uncomfortable, distant, and pathetically barren of fruit.
I’ll admit, I was both encouraged and saddened to discover through post comments how many other desert-dwellers are out there. On the one hand it’s heartening to know I’m not alone; on the other I want more for you. For all of us.
To kick off my new To Be Honest series, I want to begin exploring how I ended up here, in hopes that looking back will somehow help me – and maybe you – move forward.
When Faith Was Easy
I grew up in a Christian family and attended school at home throughout my elementary years. As you can imagine, enrolling in public high school set me up for major culture shock. I hadn’t been sheltered, per se, but my knowledge of the mainstream world was more theoretical than experiential.
I knew of only one other Christian in my 500-student Vermont high school. One. And he was in a different grade. And he was a he.
What I’m getting at is I didn’t have a Jesus-freak support group on campus, and as a result I rarely spoke of Christ. Not until my junior year, when I befriended a staunch atheist, was I bold enough to articulate my beliefs.
Through a series of discussions, some friendly and others heated, I shared my faith with someone who just couldn’t understand how a rational human being accepted the Bible as truth. “But how do you know God exists,” he asked me time and again. My answer was always the same: “I just do. I know. There’s something in my soul that just knows without a shadow of doubt.”
Maybe that’s not the most compelling argument, and in retrospect I wish I’d been equipped to offer some intellectual reasoning, but the fact is I meant it – I knew. Faith came naturally. Without a shadow of doubt.
Nowadays, not so much.
Five years ago something inside me fractured. I’m sure there were warning signs, stress lines that should have clued me in to pending trauma, but I didn’t see them. I’d recently begun counseling after years of irrational health anxiety. I thought I’d already hit bottom and begun my ascent. Little did I know I was about to plummet into a massive, eight-hour panic attack that would shake my faith and propel me through months of severe depression and doubt.
If you’ve never experienced a panic attack, I hope you never do. Imagine going along your merry way only to be seized by the sudden and absolute certainty that you’re going to die right now. You want to rip your own heart out to get it to stop pounding like a sledgehammer. You tremble so violently your teeth chatter and your muscles spasm. You want to scream, weep, run, vomit, and hide, all in the space of a split second. Then imagine feeling that way for eight solid hours, until the last ounce of adrenaline has ravaged your body and left you utterly broken in every way.
It’s hard to explain why and how this isolated experience resulted in a crisis of faith. All I can say is when finally got my head up to look around, the landscape had changed. I didn’t recognize myself, my world, or the God I’d once trusted so effortlessly. In the darkest hours of my life, He’d failed me. Or so I thought.
It isn’t God’s existence I question, or Jesus’ resurrection, or any of the miraculous biblical events on which skeptics so often fixate. My trust issues revolve around the relationship between who God is and what He does.
Imagine a trust fall – perhaps the most barbaric form of torture ever conceived by sadistic youth leaders (especially if you’re the “big” girl on the team). The point is to take a backward leap of faith and trust that your teammates have your six. They won’t let you fall. You can count on them.
Most of my life I would have shouted “Yes!” with conviction – until I tumbled from the ledge and felt nothing but air. I landed hard, injured, and confused. Where was my Catcher?
I’ve spent years pondering this question, and I know I’m not the first. I’m beginning to find peace with my conclusion, but not the kind of peace that leaves you warm and fuzzy. More like acceptance. Or surrender.
Here’s the thing about trust-falling with God: He might not catch me. He might let me fall. He might let me get hurt.
Here’s the other thing about trust-falling with God: If He lets me fall, it’s because He knows falling is better for me than being caught. Being hurt is better for me than being comfortable.
Can you swallow that?
I’m trying to – but sometimes it gets stuck in my throat, leaving me parched and weary. Hence the desert.
Faith in the Falling
The Bible tells us God is powerful, good, loving, and wise. The circumstances of life often imply the opposite. In which will we place our faith?
Looking back, I can see now how life is sprouting from that which looked and felt like death. Faith might have seemed easy in my younger years, but it was also untested, unfocused, and weak. A relationship that once felt natural is now riddled with awkwardness, but it’s also riddled with honesty. Yes, I tell God my doubts. I tell Him how I feel about what He does and doesn’t do, even if the way I’m feeling isn’t especially pious. He can handle it.
I’m stronger for having fallen. I know that. But my injuries, though largely healed, still pain me at times. That’s why my perpetual prayer echoes that of the man in Mark 9: “I believe; help my unbelief.”
How about you? How has a trust-fall moment, whether you were caught or dropped, affected your faith?
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”