A question of loss.

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.

  • Lindacreates001

    That was awesome to read. Sometimes I feel I am the only one IN there (the church) that sees things this way… because the rest have left.

    I have been reconstructing my beliefs from the foundation up because most of what I have been taught isn’t really God, but what people have wrongly interpreted as God… It has amazed me just how much junk people forced in there in the name of God! People might worry that I am losing ‘my faith’ but in actual fact I am finally seeing the real light and life has never looked brighter!

    I now choose not to look at life as a mission, a race, or a list of must dos to get to heaven or be right with God… I choose to just live, and it is in the just being myself and choosing my own adventure that the things in my heart and mind are only just now finally coming finally starting to happen – because I don’t care who or what any more.

    Does a beautiful bird with it’s melodious song strive to be so glorious and make us see how awesome God is? No – it just lives it’s life without worry and, well…

    I am now certain God doesn’t want anything more from us than us just following our heart… And with him being a part of our heart, we can’t help but follow our destiny.

  • Dee Wasserfall

    Waz, as always, I admire the way you express yourself. Your ideas about expectations and faith, and the way in which you capture your dialogue makes me relate; I can imagine myself following similar thought processes.

    And the other thing I admire (I think I said this about you and Tan as a couple when Jessica was born) – your honesty in talking about the way life REALLY is, and your constant strength and determination in working towards a healthy way of dealing with everything that gets thrown at you.

    Thanks for sharing, hope it provided some form of catharsis, or metacognition, or some other fancy word that I want to mean that articulating and sharing your thoughts helped you work through them some more. Lots of love, Dee xxx

  • Anonymous

    I love your use of words to describe your feelings. I quite often feel our conversations are something real and tangible, rather than trivial and distant. I find a small number of my friends can talk like we do without taking something personally, but I guess many haven’t had a rough road where we live, so we shouldn’t pass judgement there either. Life is sometimes easy, and sometimes unimaginable.

    As we can love each other (on a spiritual level), we are able to even disagree fiercely (on an intellectual level) without feeling any separation or withdraw of affection and friendship.

    So many deeply impacting things have happened in our lives so far and that makes life rich and meaningful, while generating more questions; questions that will one day be answered one way or another I guess… The one thing I know is that it doesn’t so match matter why, but how, and then we can move to forgiveness and release.

    Life is about bringing and discussing new questions. Bring it on! Keep asking, keep learning! How exciting!

    Since I have talked to you my good friend Neil (28 yrs) broke his back in two places and currently can’t walk. This comes just a few years after a 10 story lift drop, then a 2 storey one two weeks later, a surgeon that left gauze inside him during an operation that rendered him unable to have kids followed a long bout of chronic fatigue. This is a guy who understand adversity.

    Needless to say he was one angry dude toward God and that spawned a 3 hour conversation. 1 hour of anger, 2 hours of feeling happy and loved by God.. it was a process, but Neil was able to reconnect with God and feel at peace and feel ‘safe’ and loved (huh? with a broken back… only God could be credited for that!)

    I’m still not decided whether we change God’s mind, or God allows circumstance to change based on the desires of our prayers, what I do know is that God does not change. (heck it even says that somewhere in the Bible!) Until I find out the answer to that question, I’ll be happy wrestling with this one.

    Heck, during church services (and conferences) I’ve seen miraculous healing of people I know, but then no healing of the person next to me? (and vice versa). While I believe in the tangible profit of prophesy and healing, I see it being manipulated also (as we are of course… human! and everyone gets things back the front sometimes). Fittingly, we do get carried away with signs and wonders (hence the name), and, if not used with clear and simple teaching and understanding, this can lead to confusion and fear. These things are good, but are they at the core of being a Christian, well no, but they are tools (like all gifts) to focus people on God (if we don’t get in the way).

    Hey Waz, perhaps rather than you faith being ‘thin’, rather you faith has been stripped back to it’s simplicity, something that Jesus wants for us all! How awesome! Onward to the questions!

    Don’t worry Linda, you’re by no means unique in your view and there’s plenty of great thinkers around the church (and joining the church), and there’s a big shift in the church worldwide (from what I read) to move more to faith-led Christianity, and away from ‘strict’ rule-based ‘boxed-in theology’ back to the true nature of faith and the understanding of the application of works.

    Just this year the Australian Pentecostal church grew 27% – this says volumes about what people want from the organisations that make up the church, and it says lots of things are being done right.

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  • Nic

    I’ve spent the last little while reading your story about the decisions you and your wife were faced with regarding your daughter. I can only imagine how difficult and exhausting this time of your life has been. I don’t know you, but my heart breaks for you. I hope and pray you come through this with some peace and can find solace and rest, and eventually, joy, with your wife and family.