“On my worst days, I’m a Christian atheist.”
The words rolled off my tongue, hollowly, as if they belonged to a script, as if it were someone else who was saying them.
I wasn’t even sure if I knew what they meant.
I found myself clarifying, whether more for her or for me, I wasn’t sure.
“It’s just easier and better to believe that Jesus doesn’t exist than to believe that He would stand silent while I eke my way through this pain.”
My dear friend, whom I’d mentored during her college years, just stared back at me.
“I’m just having a crisis of faith,” I tried to put her at ease. The look on her face said plainly that that hadn’t worked.
“Don’t ever say that again,” she said, simply. We both smiled uneasily.
The girl she had known was such a great Christian girl, such a sold-out missionary for God, such an inspiring Jesus-follower to the women I mentored.
But then the bottom had fallen out of my life. Actually, it was much worse than that: the bottom had fallen out of my life in a way that didn’t look at all like the bottom falling out of a person’s life.
Major vocational change mingled with months of physical exhaustion. Isolation and loneliness were heaped atop a desperate struggle to find meaning again. I was left in a nauseatingly depressive cycle. I saw raw pity in the eyes of my husband, my sister, my friends. Pity and helplessness.
I was a shell of the girl I had been.
After fighting on my own awhile, I’d thrown myself at the mercy of God. But this time, even He wasn’t there. Heaven itself was silent.
My despairing, angry prayers echoed back into my ears, deafeningly. My tears slunk to the floor, uncaught, unwiped. I sobbed, mutely, into my pillow. If no One was listening, I didn’t want to hear it either.
Day after day, I nagged Him about my elaborate Christian résumé. How could You forget who I was, all that I’ve done for You???
I used to have daily Bible study times, now all I can stomach is the furious, melancholy psalms.
I used to have it all put together, now all I do is curse angrily over the tiniest things.
I used to do so much good kingdom work, now all I do is menial tasks.
I used to be so balanced and healthy, now I’m one millimeter away from certified insanity.
I used to help so many other people, now all my energy is self-focused just to get myself through the day.
I was utterly broken; doubly broken because of the shame and guilt and fear of being broken.
It would be many months that turned into a few years before I would see glimmers again of light in the darkness that had become my life. When it came, it came slowly, gradually, like a sunrise. It first warmed my mind, my circumstances, my perceptions – then methodically plodded its way into the recesses of my very heart.
I began to have better days. I heard myself saying, “On my better days, all I know is that God is not who I thought He was.”
Eventually, the light returned fully. The depression was gone, but I was surprised to find that the brokenness remained: steadfastly, beautifully, whole-heartedly, humbly. My wound had been healed, and I was still broken. In this new light, I could see that the brokenness was the healing.
I used to think that God was intently interested in my put-togetherness. It turns out that was the only thing with which He could do nothing. I used to bring Him only all of my figured-out things. It turns out what He wanted was for me to bring Him everything, most of all my not-yet-figured-out things.
I also discovered that it wasn’t that I used to be all-put-together and then one day I lost it.
It was that I had been intimately, holistically broken all along.
I had known that I was broken, but only mechanistically and theologically. Spiritually, formatively, and repentantly I had turned a blind eye; I had hidden it from myself. So when it forced itself to the surface, it was like lava from an invisible volcano, buried ocean leagues deep, exploding through, breaking upward, re-making itself into my life as a new reality.
I was also surprised to find in my heart – alongside and intermingled with the brokenness – profound freedom and a brimming reservoir of gratefulness that I had never known.
I was safe to confess my faults, I was at liberty not to take myself too seriously, and I could dive deeper in my relationships than I ever had.
Accepting my brokenness turned myself and my sin into a gloriously tiny trickle, and it turned His cross and His grace into the magnificent ocean in which I was now near-drowning with grateful glee.
Indeed, God was not who I thought He was.
I thought He wanted inherent wholeness.
Instead, under the administration of this King Jesus, to be broken is to be whole, and to be whole is to be broken.
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I don’t know how to respond as a white American Christian who is part of the majority culture. I can’t fully understand the pain or the depth of the wounds. But I’m still hurting.
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