Modern-Day Job

I’m struggling with something monumental – something essential to who I am and in whom I place my faith. It’s uncomfortable and messy and I’m only now beginning to process the things my heart has hidden for so long. I wrote about the moment when I realized that I don’t trust God, but that was only scratching the surface as it turns out.

To understand this place I’ve found myself inhabiting, there are a few things you should know about me. My childhood wasn’t one of ease and safety and freedom. I had to grow up fairly quickly because life’s circumstances forced me to – I’ve been referred to as more mature than my peers for as long as I can remember. I guess a hard childhood has its perks. I’ve been taught the ways of the God of the Bible since I was an infant, learning that He was the good father who wouldn’t abandon me like my earthly one did, and that He loves me more than anyone else ever can. I didn’t really understand those concepts until I arrived at college and began embracing – and flaunting – my independence from the ideals and culture I was raised in. And it wasn’t until I went to therapy post-college that I truly began to deal with the pain of my past.

Now, I believe that there is a God, and I believe the bible is inerrant and divinely inspired. In all my soul-searching, I’ve found those two things to be constant. The part I’m having trouble dealing with? My heart cannot reconcile a God who knew of and had the power to stop all the pain of my childhood with this God of goodness, mercy, and grace that I claim to be serving today. I don’t know how to deal with a God who is all-knowing and all-powerful, one who has the ability to stop injustice with one word, and doesn’t. I know that he can bring beauty out of the messiest situations, but I don’t know that I want to serve a God who is just a fixer. Why fix when you can prevent, you know?

It’s funny how it becomes incredibly easy for people to spout off pat answers about issues like this when they’re not directly affected. I was one of those people. Injustice in all its forms, but most especially sex trafficking, breaks my heart to pieces. Sitting safely in my apartment with both bolts secured, I can say that sex trafficking is horrendous but that God is raising up an army of his people who will fight against this atrocity and bring redemption to this fallen world. Why does he let it occur? I don’t know, but I choose to focus on the redemption and freedom that will eventually come. And then there are those precious girls who are told about Jesus after being rescued from the sex trade and they ask, “If your God is so good, why didn’t he stop those men from raping me?” How do you answer that question? When it isn’t just this far off idea, but an actual breathing, broken human in front of you, how do you answer that?

That’s where I find myself today. If I wanted a good Christian pep talk, I could give myself one. But that doesn’t suffice anymore, because those well-intentioned speeches give no comfort and sometimes drive the knife in deeper. Someone pointed out that I’ve never let myself be angry at the people who hurt me. I was taught to forgive and to bury it all away, but I was never allowed the space to be angry. So decades worth of anger have begun to surface, and I find that underneath the smiling God-is-good face that I wear, I’m really angry. At my father, at my brother, at my brother’s father, and as scary as it sounds, at God.

I’m not negating his goodness, or calling his entire character into question. In fact, I still regularly see his goodness in little things like sitting in the sunshine with my feet in the river, listening to the birds chirp. But in the singular occasion where he could have stepped in to save this fragile little girl years ago, he didn’t. And I need time to process that, to ask him why his arm of justice lay still when I needed him the most; to ask him if his plan for redemption and glorification was really worth that much pain. That’s where I’m at – asking hard questions like Job did, and letting myself be angry at the God of the universe.

One of the greatest things my mother taught me was that God isn’t scared of my questions and my doubts. I might terrify all the other good, unquestioning Christians around me, but he can handle it. So it’s just me and God, sitting across from each other, trying to mend my broken heart. It might take forever, and my heart might never be mended, but I sure as hell am not going to pretend like I don’t have these questions. If nothing else, he deserves my honesty; it’s the respectful thing to do.

Seminary is Killing My Soul

There were a lot of things I was expecting when I moved here for school. I expected everyone to be uppity, gliding around piously on their high horses and looking down on me because I have a potty mouth, I drink whiskey, and I wear pretty tight jeggings. I expected everyone to be insincere and inauthentic, spouting off Christianese lingo and being completely unapproachable. I expected God to feel closer. After all, I’m at a seminary.

Contrary to my expectations, everyone seems normal, aware of their incompetence and brokenness, and openly seeking growth. Maybe it’s unique to the Counseling department, since we’re all drawn to broken people anyways, but I haven’t met a single person yet who fits my expected stereotype. And in like fashion, contrary to my expectations, God seems farther than he’s been in a long while.

I’m surrounded by Christians all the time – a culture shock, to say the least. And other than the family I work for, I don’t get to have conversations with people who don’t share the same faith I do. You’d think this would be spiritual growth heaven, instead, to borrow the words of a friend, I feel like seminary is slowly killing my soul. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been to church in about a month thanks to unavoidable circumstances. Or maybe it’s that I’m so focused on being productive each day that I write off my formerly habitual morning coffee, Bible, and journal time. I think it’s really because I have an aversion to living in this holy huddle, and the only way I know how to get some air is to avoid the one Being who controls my breath.

This time, I’m not running from him and he’s not hiding from me. I know without a doubt that he’s only one step away – all I need to do is move. But I’m not ready. I don’t want to move. I fear that taking that step would mean that I become that person who only listens to Christian radio, only watches Fox News, and hands out tracts to strangers. And I desperately do not want to be that person.

Maybe it’s completely selfish and sinful, my desire to remain separate from the holy huddle. But maybe it’s because I believe I’m called to bring light to dark places and right now I feel like a candle in the middle of a sunroom at noon. Where I was expecting to feel alive and free, I feel restless, caged, and numb. In the two months that I’ve lived here, the closest I’ve felt to God was in the middle of wandering around in the most beautiful blizzard of last week. Something about the complete quiet and minimal visibility spoke words to my soul that my morning quiet times hadn’t been able to speak in a long time.

But the blizzard is now in the past and once again my heart feels distant, restless, and caged. I need to somehow simultaneously take two steps in two directions, one toward God and one toward people who are not like me. Or maybe only one step is necessary, and I’ll find him in the faces and eyes of those people, contrary to my expectations. That wouldn’t surprise me at all.