Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The Deepest Layer
After coming to a new understanding about God's sovereignty and its impact on prayer, I remember saying to a friend, "I no longer have any objections to prayer—if there was a God I wanted to pray to, I would pray." Did you catch that? If there was a God I wanted to pray to.
From the very beginning of this journey, every step toward healing has felt like a step backward. Each revelation has marked the end of one struggle and the start of another. When I first began, it was my grief over Nathan's death that needed to be processed. But as I moved through my grief, it became clear that it was my understanding of prayer that was keeping me stuck. As I examined the issue of prayer, I found that underneath this lay my beliefs about God's sovereignty. And after laboring to form new beliefs about sovereignty, I came face to face with the deepest layer of all: God Himself.
Although God was likely pursuing me from the day I was born, my relationship with Him didn't begin until I was 7 years old. I read a children's book about how to become a Christian, complete with simple steps to follow, and I did what every obedient little girl would do. I admitted my sinfulness, accepted the death of Jesus as payment for my sin, and asked Him to "come into my heart."
And I had no idea what I had done.
I only knew that every person in my life was a "Christian" and I wanted to be one, too. As the pastor's daughter, church was quite literally a second home and it never occurred to me that there were actually people in the world who did not believe in God or go to church. Believing in God was a natural as breathing. And in my 7-year-old mind, accepting Christ as my savior was just a normal part of life.
There is a part of me that wishes I had been more aware of what I was doing when I accepted God's invitation into relationship, that I had understood the significance or even my need, that my decision had been more about God and less about other people. But I have come to trust in the path God chose for me all those years ago. Looking back now, I realize His timing was absolutely perfect. God called me to Himself at exactly the time when He knew I would say "yes." Maybe I didn't know what that "yes" would mean for my life, but I am grateful that I said it.
You see, by the time I turned 10, my life had begun to unravel. I came face-to-face with human depravity, and in some ways, I grew up too quickly. In other ways, I simply tucked away the little girl I used to be and became somebody else. Somebody stronger. Somebody braver. Somebody who could survive.
Or at least I tried.
Deep down I knew I was still the broken little girl who desperately needed to be rescued, protected, loved. When I was 12, I considered taking my own life to escape the pain. And I never stopped considering it until I was in my early 20s. What held me back all those years? Sometimes fear. Sometimes family. Sometimes friends. But always God.
During those years when the darkness covered me like a suffocating fog, my relationship with God could only be described as a desperate attachment. The unquestioning acceptance of His existence that I had known from birth never left me. And for the most part, He was the only One I had to hold onto when my world crumbled into pieces. I often begged Him to lessen the pain and set me free. Sometimes I begged Him to end my life. Sometimes I stopped waiting for Him and resolved to do it myself. But I never did. Why? There is no why. There is only God.
I am almost certain that if I had not said "yes" at the tender age of 7, I would have been too broken to ever say it at all. And if I had never said "yes," I likely would not have lived much beyond my 12th birthday. There has been plenty of time to understand the significance of that decision I made 20 years ago, plenty of time to recognize my need for God, plenty of time to embrace this relationship as the center of my existence. But there was only one moment to change the course of my life, to rescue me from death, to save me from myself. One moment. Yes, God's timing was absolutely perfect.
The story of my restoration began ever so slowly when I was 17. But much like my current journey of healing, it was not an easy or straightforward path. And most of the time, I didn't even know it was happening. It started with forgiveness. Through a power not my own, I forgave the one who had stolen my childhood and plunged me into a darkness of soul that no person—and certainly no child—should ever have to face.
Then, at age 19, I moved to Cannon Beach, Oregon, to spend a year at a little place called Ecola Bible School. I lived in community with fellow believers who loved and accepted me beyond anything I had ever known. I was exposed to the scripture and teachings about my faith on a daily basis. I was challenged to understand what I believed and choose this faith as my own. I was given time to pray, to reflect, to grow. And somewhere along the way, I came face to face with my Savior. Not the Jesus of my childhood. Not the Jesus everyone around me believed in. Not the Jesus who was just a normal part of life. Not even the Jesus I desperately clung to in my darkest hours. I met the Jesus who loved me before time began, who willing laid down His life to pay my ransom, who knit me together in my mother's womb, who pursued me from birth and brought me into relationship with Him when the time was right, who drew me back from the edge of death over and over again, who brought about the miracle of forgiveness to set me free from my past, and who took me to the one place where I would finally come to know Him. I met the Jesus who is both God of the Universe and Lover of My Soul. And I fell head-over-heels in love.
Without a doubt, this became the turning point in my relationship with God. I began to desire Him more than life itself. I wanted to know Him and be known by Him. I wanted to please Him with my life. I wanted His purposes to be accomplished in me. And God became my most intimate companion; the only One who knew me completely, knew my brokenness, knew the darkness of my past and still wanted to be in relationship with me. It was a welcome and glorious shift in my spiritual journey.
But the darkness had not yet relinquished its hold. After returning home from my year at Ecola, I descended into a depth and breadth of despair greater than any I had known before. I hit bottom in ways I didn't expect, ways that scared me, ways I still regret. And once again, I found myself standing on the edge between life and death. In some ways, I think the weight of this despair was harder to bear simply because I had finally tasted hope, tasted love, tasted God. In other ways, I believe I survived this final descent into darkness precisely because I knew what it felt like to have hope, to be loved, to be intimate with the God of Creation.
I have heard it said that the night is darkest just before the dawn breaks. And the dawn did break, nearly a year after leaving Ecola. Before I reached my 22nd birthday, the darkness that plagued me for more than a decade was finally defeated. And the God who knew my darkness and loved me still, became the God who knew my darkness, loved me still, and moved heaven and earth to set me free.
In the five years that have followed my deliverance, God has continued to be my closest and most intimate companion. Through heartache and healing, loss and restoration, mystery and revelation, I have grown and changed more in this handful of years than I ever imagined possible. Along with that, my view of God has been changing, too—not because God is changing but because my understanding of Him is both widening and deepening. Never has this been truer than in the wake of Nathan's death. But God's revelation of Himself this past year has not been subtle or slow. It has been earth shattering and relationship testing. And for a time, I did not know if He was still the God I loved.
I can assure you, He is not.
He is so much more.