Doubting My Way Back to God

“I haven’t really been close to God lately,” she said. “And I don’t want to be.”

Her confession sent me back twelve years. Back to the day I lost my first loved one and started questioning everything I had ever believed to be true. Back to the time when the same words would have sounded perfectly natural coming from my own mouth.

I haven’t really been close to God lately.
And I don’t want to be.

Is it bad that I told her that was okay? That her doubts are perfectly natural and she’s allowed to question the existence, the goodness, the faithfulness of God?

Sacrilege.
Blasphemy.
And I call myself a youth leader.

What should I have done instead? I could have offered her a dozen platitudes:

“There’s a reason for this tragedy.”
“God brings forth beauty from ashes.”
“The Lord makes all things work together for our good.”

My ten-year-old self would assure you that those are not the words a girl needs to hear when she stands in the midst of tragedy. When everything hurts. When she hasn’t been close to God and she doesn’t want to be.

I didn’t need to tell her those foundational truths of Christianity because she already knows them. She’s spent her whole life hearing them, but this is the moment when she decides for herself whether or not they are true.

So I told her what I would have liked to hear myself when the doubts came rushing in. That what she’s feeling is all right. That the questions are good. The questions will cement her faith and make her stronger in the end.

We demand perfection of ourselves—of our faith; but God never does.

Jesus didn’t scoff at Nicodemus’ many questions or ridicule Thomas’ need to see the resurrected Messiah with his own eyes. And when a faithless Peter sank beneath the waves, I don’t think the words, “O ye of little faith” were a reprimand, but an invitation to reclaim the belief he had fumbled.

It’s okay to fumble your faith every once in awhile.
It’s okay to question and doubt the things you once believed.
It’s okay to feel a little distant from God at times. (And to not want to be closer.)

It’s okay because God really wants to answer our questions. God really wants us to learn to trust Him more. And God truly is big enough to draw us back into His arms, whether or not we were looking to find our way there.

And I think my young friend is going to turn out just fine, because deep within her hurting heart, she searches for truth. And I believe it’s possible to doubt our way back to God, because I did it myself many years ago.

So let the questions come as they will, and may they always lead you back to the heart of the Father.

beyond waiting running

 

 

Heart Cracked Open

I’ve been emotionally wrecked. From the seemingly trivial losing one of my favorite students to another school, to the deeply personal things God is working out inside of me, to being powerless to keep my friends from making decisions that are wrecking their lives, there’s been a lot going on in this heart of mine.

While preparing to start my day the other morning, I boldly (and foolishly) challenged Life, “What else have you got for me?”

Moments later I came across a message informing me that a missionary friend’s 16-year-old son was killed in a motorbike accident.

Dear God, will it never end?

Tragedy and I communicate on a first name basis. Oh, I wouldn’t say we’re friends. She’s more like that person who makes me cringe when I see her coming down the hall because I know we’re going to have a long conversation that I don’t want any part in.

“Hey, Tragedy, how’s it going?”

“Oh, you know. Just wrecking lives and stuff.”

And by the end of our conversation, I feel tired all over. But I think the thing I hate most about Tragedy is that she makes me feel so insufficient. Because, as I’ve said before, my arms aren’t big enough to cradle the whole world all at once. And this world has wounds that are bigger than I am. And superglue may work just fine for busted heads, but it doesn’t do a whole lot of good when it comes to broken hearts.

I don’t know what to do with broken hearts. I may be able to sweep up all the pieces, but I guess I’m not good enough at puzzles to figure out how to put them back together. And I wish with every fiber of my being that I could put them back together. But all I have to offer a broken heart is my own heart breaking in response.

I feel like I’ve spent the last few days falling on my knees and saying, “Okay, God, here’s my heart cracked open. Do with it what You will.”

And I know that He will.

I know that God is big enough to restore even the most broken of hearts.

So I think I’ll tell myself the same thing I told myself when I lost Maggie five months ago:

There’s still Someone who can make sense of the pieces where others have failed.

There is a God who makes beautiful things from broken things.

And that is the knowledge I cling to when the world rocks crazy and my heart lies in fragments on the floor.

Yes, I still believe in a God who redeems the messes we’ve made of our lives. I still believe in a God who accepts the sacrifice of a broken heart. And I still believe that these paths paved with heartache are ultimately the best thing for me.

So here I stand with heart cracked open, fully and finally alive.

 

The Climb of Faith

There’s something extremely spiritual about rock climbing, at least for me. Nothing quite makes me question my faith like dangling from a rope thirty feet off the ground. Yesterday was my first rock climbing excursion since my rather tragic experience as a child, and I will confess that it was not any easier dropping off that wall the second time around. It’s not a trust issue; it’s a control issue. I knew my friend on belay was more than capable of safely delivering me to the ground, but I felt that this whole unsettling falling sensation could have easily been avoided if I could just retrace my steps back down the wall.

How ironic that the path I would choose is actually the more dangerous one. Because if I had tried to climb back down the wall, David would have needed to give the rope some slack. Then, if I would have fallen, the rope—no longer in lock position—would have slipped right through the carabiner and let me drop to the ground (unless my friend has some super-fast reflexes, but I’m not going to be the one to find out).

In any case, rock climbing is a dangerous sport for a control freak like me because, as I was reminded yesterday, it left me with very little control.

And maybe that’s okay. Because maybe I need to learn to let go every once in awhile. And maybe I need to stop depending so heavily on Rebekah and lean on God a little bit more.

Because maybe God is my guy on belay, and maybe I’ve always needed the Voice of Someone who can see the whole picture saying, “There’s one by your right knee. Right there. Yeah, that’s the one. Now put all your weight on your left foot and push yourself up. You can do it. Just push yourself up.”

Yesterday, my friends got to be the people keeping me from falling and encouraging me to try again when I don’t succeed the first time, but that’s what God has been for me every single day of my life. He’s the One holding me up, tugging on the rope at times to lift me where I need to be (thanks, Dave, for that analogy). He’s the One who lets me back down to try a different path when I realize I’m in way over my head. He’s the One who lowers me down gently when my arms turn to noodles and I just can’t—no, I can’t—climb any more. And He’s the One who sits by my side as I catch my breath, patiently waiting until I’m ready to try again.

And if I can rely so fully on my friends during one Sunday afternoon of rock climbing, I think I can trust that God has my back the rest of the week. So here’s to that great climb of faith my life has turned out to be.

“Climbing.”

“Climb on.”

psalm 56.13

Taking That Step

Once upon a time, a little girl went rock climbing. She was all of maybe ten years old and the climbing wall at the museum didn’t look so threatening in the face of the dirt cliff she scaled on a regular basis. In fact, the climbing wasn’t hard in the least, and when she reached the top she could have stayed there looking down at the crowd of people forever… because the only way down was to jump.

I remember that moment clearly—wondering why I couldn’t simply climb back down the wall, retracing my steps and placing my weight where I could trust it, rather than dangling at the end of a rope high above the museum floor. Because I could have done that. I gladly would have done that. But no, they wanted me to step out over that ledge and simply hope for the best, and I’m sure you understand why I wasn’t really comfortable with that.

“Rebekah, I’ve got you,” my dad said, drawing my attention to where he sat at the other end of my rope and causing me to wonder how he could have so much faith in this system. “Just step out. Let go.”

I shook my head and backed away from the ledge. From the fear. From the unknown.

Sometimes I doubt my Father. And I’m not talking about the one who sat at the end of my rope that day (though I surely doubted him in that moment). I’m talking about the One who has been holding my rope since the day He first designed to set me on this planet.

The other day I had one of those moments where I was really questioning the sanity of God’s plan for my life. It was just another one of those days when I was looking at the path before me and thinking that there is surely a better way. So there I was, trying to rearrange the details of my life, when I heard God whisper, “Rebekah, have I not been faithful?”

Ugh.

“Then why are you considering this? Why do you doubt?”

Well, I guess it’s because this past year has been a bit of a rock climbing experience for me. Scaling the wall wasn’t difficult at all, but I’m still standing here trying to muster the courage to jump. I’ve realized how often I’m tempted to reach for those familiar footholds. To navigate life on my own. But all the while, God is asking me to jump. And I’m standing there shaking my head and shouting, “Are you crazy?”

“Rebekah, I’ve got you,” God promises. “Just step out. Let go.”

You know, I don’t really remember what took place that day at the museum. I’m not sure if I finally took that step on my own or if my dad gave a gentle tug on the rope, sweeping my feet out from under me and leaving me with no other choice (he at least threatened to do just that, because that image stands out in my mind like an actual memory would). I do remember not falling to my death. And I even remember thinking that (dare I confess this?) the ride down was actually kind of fun.

I also know that I’m standing here today, faced with the same choice. And, you know, I’m thinking it might be best to simply close my eyes, take a deep breath, and step out into the expanse before me.

Ready. Set. Go.rock climbing collage

Beautiful Ending

You would think that Mary, of all people, would get it. After all, she was the one to whom the angel appeared. She knew from the start that the child she carried would be the Messiah.

With a birth announcement like that, you’d think it would be hard to forget who Jesus really was.

But apparently it wasn’t. If you read the first few chapters of Luke, you’ll find that Mary “treasured” and “pondered” the events of Jesus’ childhood, “marveled” at the prophecies spoken at His birth, and was “astonished” to find Him imparting wisdom to the teachers in the temple courts.

And I have to wonder how she could so easily forget who He was. Did staring into the eyes of a helpless babe somehow lessen her view of the Messiah? Did she not understand what she had signed up for? Did she ever get it at all? Because when I look at Mary’s life after that moment she said yes to God, I don’t see signs of that inspiring faith we’ve all learned to admire.

Sure, there was the day she urged Jesus into starting off His ministry by transforming a bit of water into wine, but then there was the day she and her other sons went to “take charge of Him,” convinced He was out of His mind (Mark 3:21).

What happened to her dream? What happened to her faith? And perhaps most importantly… how many times have I asked myself the same questions?

How many times have I abandoned a dream because I forget how clearly God breathed it into being? How many times have I “treasured” and “pondered” and “marveled” at things God had promised me all along? How many times have I found myself astonished that God is actually true to His word and that He is finishing the work He began in me?

I think that once upon a time, I prayed for a faith like Mary’s and it seems like I got it–though it’s not all I dreamed it would be. Because I missed a vital part of the story: the ending.

The last time we see Mary in scripture, she’s weeping at the foot of the cross. There’s no resurrection for her. I mean, there was, obviously, but it’s never recorded through her eyes. Our final picture of Mary is a broken, doubting woman living out the worst day of her life.

And if that’s where Mary’s faith will leave me, I’m reneging on my prayer. Because I don’t want to be guilty of forgetting God’s promise. I don’t want to stand weeping at the death of my dreams without ever getting to see the resurrection.

I want the kind of beautiful ending that finds me in the arms of God in the final scene.

Do I Lack Faith?

I’ve been reading this devotional book that was written by someone who is really big on faith promise stuff. Now, before I delve into this any deeper, let me just say that I do believe faith is important and there are tons of scriptures about having faith and living in faith and speaking in faith. And I believe in every single one of them. I believe in claiming God’s promises and speaking life over my loved ones.

So my problem with the faith promise stuff isn’t a lack of belief, but more of a disappointment in the way that it is presented. Because when you tell a story about standing outside your house reciting Psalm 91 when a twister is headed directly your way then tell me that God can vanquish my storms just like He did yours… It’s not that I don’t believe it; it’s just that I question the sanity of staring down a tornado. And I don’t doubt that this family was clearly instructed by God to pray over their house. I don’t doubt that God worked this miracle for them. But you can bet I wasn’t standing in the rain this week, telling Hurricane Sandy to bypass my house in Jesus’ name.

There’s a difference between acting in obedience and asking God for a miracle. If you strongly feel that God is telling you to do something that doesn’t make sense in the natural, by all means, step out in faith. But don’t tell me that if I have faith, God will do X, Y, Z. Because He doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want Him to.

How do I know this? Because I’ve been there. I’ve been the ten-year-old girl, standing in her grandparent’s bedroom and watching the last shred of life slip from her grandmother’s lungs.

Looking back, I know that there wasn’t an ounce of my ten-year-old body that didn’t believe God could heal her. I was young and innocent and didn’t have reason to doubt that God would do anything BUT take that cancer away from her. Instead, that cancer took her away from me. And in the months that followed her death I started to wonder if maybe I had done something wrong. Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough. Maybe I didn’t believe deep enough. And maybe God would have healed her if only I had gotten those things right.

That’s a terrible thing for a ten-year-old to believe. For anyone to believe.

So I said to God, “I need answers.” Then I picked up The Cross Examination of Jesus Christ and started to read that instead. I came to this part that tells the story of the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof to meet Jesus (Luke 5). In the book, the story cuts off at the part that said the man’s sins were forgiven. Then the author grudgingly fills in the rest of the story before posing the question: “If the story had ended without Jesus providing physical healing, how would you feel about it?”

And I found that God provided my answer in the midst of Randy Singer’s musings:

“But at the end of the day, we must get comfortable with an unyielding truth: Jesus will always answer our prayers for forgiveness, but he doesn’t always answer our prayers for healing. At least not the way we want them answered.”

I think this passage of Scripture makes it pretty clear what God’s priorities are. When God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want Him to, it’s not that He’s punishing us for a lack of faith; it’s because He is busy healing a much deeper hurt. And maybe that’s the greater miracle.

Maybe that’s what our hearts were really asking for all along.

The End of the Story

He left a steady job, sold his house, and said goodbye to the woman he planned to marry, all because God called him to some country he knew nothing about. In obedience, he pursued this calling halfway across the world trusting, but never truly knowing, that God had something glorious in store.

He was in the country a whole two weeks before the government sent him home. He was angry, confused, and more than a little bitter. Why? he wondered. God, why did You send me here? Why did You make me sacrifice so much for nothing?

But his sacrifice was not for nothing. Because even as he struggled to find answers, someone else was searching too. Someone else was reading the Bible he left her. Someone else was finding herself found in the One True God. But our friend didn’t know this – almost never knew this. In fact, he could have spent the rest of his life thinking his sacrifice was in vain. Except this new believer tracked him down to thank him. She came to his house to tell him the story of how God spoke to her through His Holy Book and how she was called to minister to her people – something this man had not been allowed to do.

Often, our sacrifices seem to be in vain because we don’t know how the story ends. We don’t know the impact of our love and prayers. We don’t know if the words we’ve spoken bounced off a hardened heart or seeped into fertile soil. We just don’t know. And so we get frustrated. Disappointed. Angry, even. We look to the heavens and ask, “Why? God, why did You send me here? Why did You make me sacrifice so much for nothing?” When all along, our sacrifice is making a bigger impact than we know.

So be encouraged, my friend. Your questions are not the end of the story. Something much greater is at work. And while you may not find your answers this side of eternity, one day you’ll know how the story ends. Don’t give up just because the call may not make sense in this moment. God could be using you to bring hope, change lives, and touch nations.

You just never know…