What can you say after a year like this?
If everything had gone to plan, at this point of the year, I’d be cuddling up with my six month old daughter, watching her roll noises around in her mouth and attempt to make words with them; battling with my wife and kids over who changes the next nappy, and wondering how long it would be before we’d need to start putting baby gates up around the house. Excitedly awaiting her first Christmas.
Instead, I live with the loss; I’ve lost more than I expected.
There’s been other things happen, mostly good, a few not so good. Nothing in the order of what happened with our little Jessica. Although we laid her tiny body in the ground on that hot summer’s morning in January, I didn’t realise until much later that I’d taken something away with me too. A seed of doubt, planted by questions thrust upon me by circumstances outside my control.
Oh, I’ve tried to ignore them, to push them away, to drown them. But they refuse to leave me alone, to go away quietly. They nag at me, nipping at my heels.
I know it galls some of my friends, but I absolutely believe in the existence of God. I also believe that Jesus existed and what is written in the gospels about him, and the things he said and did are true. I’ve actually tried not believing it, and failed miserably. These things, for better or worse, are wired in deep in a way that I could sooner disbelieve in the existence of the sun than I could in the existence of God.
The questions about our daughter’s birth defect and death aren’t the only ones I carry with me. They haven’t challenged those core beliefs, but they have affected what comes after. Earlier in the year, after Jessica’s death, I was once again diagnosed with depression; this time was different – I didn’t feel dark, or like I was under a great weight – I just felt numb.
Off to the shrink I duly went. She’s great. We talked over the next few sessions, and I started to feel a little less numb; towards the end of our fourth session, I exploded.
Just like that. One little question, and twenty years of buried rage and anger started boiling over. Where I was storing it, I have no idea. But there it was, a deeply infected splinter in my mind. I know where the anger comes from, and who I was angry with. What I didn’t know – and to a degree still don’t – is how to process the anger, or the questions that it brought to the surface.
I lived through something for an extended period of my life that would seem utterly ridiculous out of context. While I’m not at a point that I feel I can explain it further, I’ll say that what happened was not illegal and did not involve any kind of sexual or ongoing physical abuse. I’ve since spoken with, and forgiven, those who were directly involved (so if you’re reading this and wondering “is he talking about me?”, I’m not). The most important point of this labored paragraph is that what I went through was deeply intertwined with my faith.
There have been times over the past few years when I started poking around at the sore spot inside my mind. I knew something was buried there. It hurt like hell when I poked it. I talked around it with people, knowing it was there, but not knowing what it was. Certain situations caused little flare-ups. Conversations with a certain people caused it to ache. One weekend church conference in particular nearly pushed me right over the edge into the crazy.
It wasn’t until after a couple of months of attending our current church that I realised I wasn’t feeling defensive in church anymore – and how many years I’d been feeling defensive. Truth be told, the churches in which I felt so defensive were full of lovely people, but the similarities within the way the churches operated, and the actions of some of the people to those things in my past made me feel like I wasn’t safe. I just didn’t understand why at the time.
While I’ve felt safe for the past year and a half we’ve been part of our current church, the events of the past twelve months have brought me to a place I couldn’t imagine I’d ever get to. The problem is that between our experience with Jessica, and acknowledging both the events and the anger arising from that period of my life that I’d buried so deeply, my faith has gone from tattered to shattered.
The truth is, right now I can’t stomach another simplistic, pat answer to a complicated question. And boy, do I have a lot of complicated questions now.
There are some who would say that my hanging around those liberal emerging churchy type people is what went ‘n’ done this to me. If so, you’re putting effect before cause. A big part of the reason I “drifted left” was being given the same simplistic answers repeatedly – or getting smacked down for asking the questions in the first place. When you meet people who aren’t afraid of the questions, and are willing to admit they don’t have the answer, there’s a kind of safety there.
Let me be blunt here. This is seriously addressed to no-one in particular, but I’ve been on the receiving end, and witnessed it happen to others:- if you’re a Christian and you repeatedly give the same advice, and it does NOT work out the way you claimed it would, jumping straight to telling the person you’re talking to that it’s THEIR fault and they need to try harder, and not asking yourself – or God – what else might be going on, is a great way to drive people away. From the church, or even from God. Same with giving a simple proof-texted answer to any and every complicated question.
Feel free to console yourself with “they wanted to continue in their sin” or “they refused to repent” or “they refused to submit” or my personal favorite “they have a rebellious/Jezebel/whatever spirit” – whatever helps you sleep at night, and saves you from having to ask yourself – or God – any difficult questions.
Perhaps you’re right, and one of those things I listed above is actually true. The thing is, I’ve met, and read, and talked to enough people in and outside the faith who’ve been shat on from a great height by well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning) Christians, that I’m really wondering whether a lot of the church even really know the One they claim to believe in.
When He said “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” and you hate those who disagree with some theological point, and REALLY hate those who don’t believe the same thing you do, you’re doing it wrong!
To those people who’ve shown me mercy and grace and love as I’ve poked around up until now trying to understand what it was that was hurting so much, and driving me away from the church, thank you. I love you guys. Please don’t give up on me now; but please understand, I can’t unscramble this omelette.
I don’t know if this will make sense, but I still believe those core beliefs, but there’s not much of my faith left any more. Perhaps this is my ‘dark night of the soul’ and I just have to go through it, or perhaps I’m just not “one of the elect” and I have to come to terms with that.
I don’t think I’m depressed, and I’m not giving up. I just don’t know where to go from here.
For now, as a good friend suggested a couple of days ago, maybe it’s time to stop asking the questions over and over, and to wait for the answers.
However long they take to come – if they come at all.