Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When You Return: Faith Refined

This is the last installment of my Stones of Remembrance series. This one is the most personal to me, and therefore the longest. I hope that this brief story of this event in my life encourages and strengthens you.

I have long known that one my spiritual gifts is faith.

I once thought that gift of faith would profit me front row seats to divine miracles. That I could shout from roof-tops the wonder and the splendor of Our King. I thought that down the road I'd see painted sunsets in every sky and that the voice of birds would always be chirping praises to my ears. For after all, I had faith. I believed. Easily believed. Like a Child who believes the impossible.

I thought that this faith would mean that while I would not always get what I wanted, that I would always be at peace (and, yes, I admit, I often viewed peace as happiness though I was quick to claim that I knew it wasn't.) I thought that even if I suffered it would not hurt for I knew that God was in control. I believed that He could deliver out of a furnace, from the mouths of lions, through a sea, and into a Promised Land.

I read through the stories of the faiths of others and thought them amazing. Why it never crossed my mind that one day I would identify with Abraham with a knife in his hand, with Job in his agony, with Habakkuk in his questioning, and with Peter in his doubt I do not know. I thought for sure that I learned the lessons from them rather than the hard way.

Eventually, I learned the hard way.

There is a day in my past when I drove down a long country road with an empty pain and a raging anger. It was all directed at God.

I had spent the past few years of my life in a relationship. I need you to understand just how much I had faith in that relationship. You see, I had spent my entire adolescent and young adult life literally desiring to only date the man I would marry. I prayed about it. I sought wisdom, And one day, a man came into my life. It was during a period of a spiritual high in my life. I had never before or since felt that close to God or lived feeling like I was continually in the presence of God. I prayed about him. I talked to my dad. I prayed some more. Then, I believed. Everything in my life circled around the idea that THIS was it and he was the one.

It started fabulously. My own little fairy-tale. My own fabulous story of how God wrote my love story. I was so excited for the future and the prospect of praising a God who filled the desires of our hearts in His perfect timing. I had waited until I was 20 for my first date, but here he was, and I was sure he would stay.

Looking back, I see all the red-flags. A hundred of them peppering the years of our relationship. I feel snapshots of memories, the hurt, the confusion, the times when I stuffed my feelings, and told myself I was building perseverance for our future. I need you to understand just how invested I was in not only this man, but in the fact that this was the story God was writing for me. I clung to every happy moment and every sweet answer to prayer.

In every sermon, every song, every off-handed inspirational quotation that entered my life I heard one recurring theme: God has the power to do what he promises. God works miracles. God changes people. God fulfills the desires of your heart. You should persevere through hard times. Trials make you stronger. Bear with one another in love, in patience, and in gentleness.

There was one Sunday in particular where a visiting pastor gave an illustration of putting his children on a horse. His two small children sat in the saddle while he lead the horse by the reigns. Then, the horse bucked. The father with his hand on the reigns steadying the horse called to his children to just hold on, it was under control. He, their father, would keep them safe.

These are all teachings that have truth and are applicable to our lives. But in my world, Satan twisted them. They became confirmation that I needed to love more, be more gracious, be patient, and persevere a little longer. Most of all, for goodness sake, listen to the voice of the Father as your world bucks out of control. He put you there and He has the reigns.

That day I mentioned on the long road where I drove with the raging anger, it was a turning point. I caught my boyfriend in a lie, one that I could not rationalize away. One that I could not let slide or make excuses for. I was hurt by his actions, but I was angry at God. How dare God tell me for years to persevere and to hold on when it was all going to end with my heart broken?

I firmly believe that it is only the gift of faith that kept me from walking away from God. For years, I was too scared to believe anything about the future. I had tried that once and it devastated me. I sat in churches on Sunday mornings and gripped my Bible with white knuckles every time the preacher talked about having faith or believing God for big things. Learning how to trust God again felt like a blasphemous thing to say, but I had to do it.

Learning to trust God again required that I reorient myself to who God is and how human my heart and mind are no matter how much I pray or believe.

It required that I acknowledge that all those red flags I ignored were actually red flags, not road bumps on the path to happiness. They were not things that I failed to be Christian enough to fix. A man who regularly cancels plans with you is a red flag. A man who lies to you about where he is is a red flag. A man that doesn't want you to be in the other parts of his compartmentalized life is a red flag.

I always feel the need to offer disclaimers. To acknowledge the good things he did and the bad things I did. There were many of all of those too. Mine is not the worst relationship ever, not even close, but it altered my life completely. In the years since he has apologized and seems to have changed for the better. I don't wish him any ill will, and the fact that this story of my life involves an unflattering light on someone else has kept me quiet about it for a while, but I'm trying to figure out how to navigate that and use what I learned to encourage others.

Today, faith is still there. It is a faith that doesn't see sunsets in every sky, but knows they'll come eventually. A faith that sometimes just hears silence: no birds, no nothing. I understand what it feels like to hold a knife to a promise. I know the heat of the fire turning my flesh red and knowing that He can rescue me, but that even if he doesn't, even if he doesn't, I will still praise Him. I understand, like Peter, the pain and the sorrow of denying the One whom I always trusted and what it meant when Jesus said, "when you return, strengthen your brothers"

This stone of remembrance is for those years of my life that shaped me. Those years that matured my faith through fire. And for the voice at the end of it all saying, "And when you return, strengthen your brothers and sisters."

Other Stones of Remembrance:
Scripture in My Childhood
The Church That Built Me
Ode to the Internet
Meeting Together

1 comment:

  1. encouraging post, nicole. i find myself at a similar place; "Learning to trust God again required that I reorient myself to who God is and how human my heart and mind are no matter how much I pray or believe."