I’ve been in the midst of a faith crisis for close to a year. Something happened, as it usually does when one’s faith gets turned upside down. That something for me was my son almost drowned. We were playing in a river. The water was to his waist and he was jumping around and having fun. Turns out there was an under water cliff right next to where he was, and a quick misstep took him under. He raised his hand in the air waiting for me to grab it and rescue him. That has been our signal for some time, his hand shoots above water when he is in too deep and I grab it to pull him back to safety.
But I couldn’t.
I was on the shore with my youngest. I sprinted into the water and ran as fast as I could, but the bottom of the river was rocks. I kept slipping, falling. I had huge gashes on my knees, bruises for weeks, and I could not get to him. His hand went under and he was sinking.
My daughter swam out to save him and he latched on, and in so doing pulled her under. I ran all the harder, and fell all the harder.
If it weren’t for my friend who ran in, cell in her pocket, shoes on her feet, I would have lost them both that day. My immediate reaction was, “Thank you God!”
However, in a completely unrelated event, a different friend of mine had a son who did die that same day. And that is when my faith shook. If I was thanking God for saving my son, wouldn’t it stand to reason that God would also be to blame for not saving my friend’s son? I got caught in this loop for months. I couldn’t break free despite my best attempts.
I started hearing messages everywhere that God causes pain, brings suffering in my life, just to make me more like Jesus. That was nice enough when it meant a fight with my spouse, but losing a child?
And then more questions flooded in. If God is all powerful and can move mountains, but chose not to save a child from dying, that makes him a monster. If God is not all powerful, then why would I worship Him?
I was ready to walk away, walk away from God, from Christianity, from church, all of it. But I didn’t want to. The idea of not serving God brought a lot of sadness for me. I like being a Christian. It has been a comfort to me through the years. But the theology and answers I clung to weren’t working anymore. The box I had put God in was breaking.
I felt like I had been pushed down a well and was holding myself up, using all my strength, to keep from crashing to the bottom. But I couldn’t stay there. My muscles were failing.
God was calling to me, inviting me to let go and find out who He really is. My fear spiked. What if I let go and crash to the bottom and no one is there? What if I let go and instead of God there is a monster waiting for me at the bottom of the well. Those felt like the only options, and I was terrified.
I tried to climb out of the well, to make my doubts and questions go away, but I was too far down and couldn’t. I tried to hold myself up to keep from crashing, but it was taking all of my energy and I would die in the process. Still I heard God’s invitation to me, to let go and come see who He really is.
I realized I didn’t know how to let go of my fears. I often think of surrender or letting go like a running back, running to the end zone and throwing the ball down, when in reality it is a lot more like laying down, resting in God’s arms.
So I began a journey, taking chunks of time to meet with God. It became a time of wrestling with God like Jacob, refusing to let go until He blessed me.
I would “paint my feelings” or have lunch with a friend and share all my dark thoughts. I would go to a labyrinth, an ancient prayer and meditation tool, at a local seminary. The way these labyrinths work is that you journey in with a question, sit in the center with God, and come out listening for an answer. It provides an opportunity for deep movement in the soul and heart.
On one of these occasions we were in the height of fall colors. I picked up every pretty leaf on the path to bring home to my kids. I noticed, however, that I only picked up the beautiful leaves and left the brown ones, the ones that were beginning to rot. There were entire sections that I didn’t pick up a leaf and was looking ahead to where the pretty leaves were waiting for me.
I realized this is what I do in life. I gladly accept the beautiful times and try to step over the dark and ugly times. But all the different kinds of leaves were on the same path that brought me to God. So as a spiritual exercise I began picking up all of the leaves, acknowledging the hardness, the ugliness, and the beauty. Acknowledging that God is on the path with me and taking me to the center where he will sit with me.
I got a sense that God created the world with rhythms, with seasons, and he doesn’t change or stop the rhythms but walks with me through the dark winters and ugly, rotting leaves. He doesn’t bring suffering in my life to make me like Jesus, but he uses the suffering that comes simply by being a human on this planet.
God doesn’t waste pain.
God took my faith crisis and brought me an invitation to know Him deeper, know Him fuller, know Him in a new way than I had previously. God is not in a rush, and he is giving me the time to embrace Him once again, to worship Him as the child of God that I am.
Melissa Spalione is a women’s ministry leader in and outside of the church. She is currently employed by the Institute for Christian Psychology. She lives in Louisville with her husband and four children.