The Summer of Unbelief

It rained almost every day this summer –not the brief and angry afternoon storms of my childhood, but in intermittent streams all day long, like someone turning a faucet on and off. The honey-golden days of June and July were swallowed by a colorless sky and air so thick and sticky that walking to work in the mornings felt like wading through molasses. The barometric pressure swelled every day, the pressure inside my head building with it, straining for equilibrium, my nose and eye sockets and temples pulsing with pain like I’d been punched in the face. Sometimes I felt like the summer had been one long headache, though in fairness, I suppose it could have partly been from all the crying.

April and May and the beginning of June were an emerald green haze of hope. I felt energized, excited about the future, and more open to God and to life than I had in a long time. We made the decision to stay in Korea, the cherry blossoms were scattering beauty everywhere and my parents came all the way from America to visit. I joined a Bible study and Husband and I started meeting with our friends each week for “church.” I was running again, my writing was gaining momentum, and I felt like I could see God’s fingerprints everywhere I looked.

When the summer came those fingers I’d imagined sweetly leaving their mark on the world turned into fists that pounded me so relentlessly I was sure that if I looked closely I’d actually see bruises blooming purple under my skin.

Some blows were truly big and terrifying things, like cancer and ISIS and planes falling from the sky. Some were only personal tragedies – losing our cat and saying forever goodbyes to friends moving away, moments of disconnect and frustration. And some were simply annoyances—a broken computer, a busted kindle screen, a new shirt that shrunk in the wash—but piled on top of the big things they felt like a conspiracy to suck all the goodness out of life.

I have prayed more and harder over these past few months than any other time I can remember. In the middle of the night when I have lain awake, exhausted but unable to sleep, I have begged God for mercy – for the world, for my loved ones, for myself. But I always woke in the morning feeling alone and unheard.

Part of me was angry. Because even though this goes against everything I believe, some subconscious piece of me felt cheated. Like I’d been faithfully holding up my end of the bargain and God had let me down.* And another, larger part of me was simply bone-weary.

Husband says these are the moments that draw him into God, make him see his own need. I suppose that’s what the people who suffer so beautifully through great tragedies experience. They are drawn to God in their pain.

I’m not one of those people.

When it seems like the darkness is winning and God feels utterly disinterested, I lose heart. And I lose faith –not in God exactly, but certainly in God’s goodness.

See, I’ve never really questioned the existence of God. My Big Question isn’t if God exists, it’s “Is He good?” And even if He is good, how can I know that he is really involved in the world in any significant way?

I know, I know. Oh me of little faith. But the problem is that you put your faith in the one you trust. And it would seem that I am not to-my-bones and in-my-belly convinced that I can trust God’s goodness. When I see the vast power of the ocean or the way the mists roll over the mountains in the morning, or when I see ordinary, messy people made beautful, I see God’s work in the world and I believe that God is good and maybe even that he cares about me. But when the ugly bits of life break in and I beg for grace and rescue that doesn’t seem to come, I waver. Is God still good here? Now? Or (maybe worse) is He good and simply not interested?

I don’t believe God has promised us an easy life. He has simply promised to be with us. To give us Himself. But sometimes He doesn’t seem to be doing that either.

My wise friend Julie said to me “Maybe God is asking, ‘Will you still trust me now?’”

If He is, I’d like to be able to answer His question with a grumbly, big-sigh, reluctant, “Yes.” But the truth is that I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The summer is ending and I am running out of tears and out of prayers. All I am left with are the words of the father in the gospels whose name we’ll never know: **

“Help my unbelief!”

___________________________________________________________

*Which, of course, isn’t Christianity at all. It’s karma. But that’s another story for another day.
**The man in Mark 9 whose son has an evil spirit.

 

 

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17 comments

  1. ah Lily, i hear you and resonate so much with this piece – maybe “especially during times of transition” should be a separate category – is God going to provide THIS TIME? and that Mark verse is one i completely cling to so often. cos i do. and i don’t.

    God help us all – will send up some prayer for you now and hope as you read this you might take a moment to return the favour
    love your work
    brett

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    1. Thanks Brett. I know what you mean about times of transition particularly. Feels like there’s nothing solid for you to hold onto. I think it’s key in those moments that we don’t trust and we don’t believe that we still WANT to.

      Thanks for your prayers. Will remember you in mine as well.

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  2. THANK YOU so much for sharing all of this! I am blown away, as I literally journal-ed my version of these same thoughts and frustrations and wonders this morning as I sat in my car before work. Never losing faith in God – but perhaps my feelings towards His goodness and His Presence before me have dimmed. That is a hard, lonely feeling. It is so good to know that other people – even on the other side of the world – have the same questions and struggles and passions. Thank you again for your vulnerability and willingness to write so much in such a raw manner. This truly blessed me today!

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  3. I think just when we are really drawing near to God the enemy attacks… He wants to rob us of the goodness we are about to experience with God. He wants to discourage and destroy. The story of Job encourages me when I feel like this. God allows ‘the darkness’ but he doesn’t allow it to tempt us beyond what we can bear. “13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10. And sometimes ‘enduring’ just looks like hanging on by your finger tips. But don’t let go… God must have something special in store for you if the enemy is fighting you this hard.

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  4. “I don’t believe God has promised us an easy life. He has simply promised to be with us. To give us Himself. But sometimes He doesn’t seem to be doing that either.”

    This. I so struggle with not so much the “big picture” of faith, but the intricacies that surround it. Like a snowfall, not so much the snow itself, but the snowflakes, what they look like like, where they land, and why. For me, it actually took something away for someone to tell me that God was attempting to teach me something or ask me some deep spiritual question, like I wasn’t important enough to tell directly, it had to come secondhand through someone “closer to God than I”. Which so happens to be everyone else in the world right now.

    25 years a believer, and it feels like perpetual fall, holding on through winter, waiting for spring.

    “I believe, help my unbelief.”

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    1. I SO get this. Especially this “For me, it actually took something away for someone to tell me that God was attempting to teach me something or ask some deep spiritual question, like I wasn’t important enough to tell directly…” You articulated this feeling so perfectly. I have often felt guilty for feeling frustrated and dismissive when people try to comfort me this way, but I could never really articulate WHY it bothered me so much. You hit the nail on the head.

      Like I said to Brett, all I can do in these moments is hold steadfastly to my desire to believe and have faith. Because sometimes that’s the only thing that keeps me following. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for reading mine.

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      1. Thank you thank you thank you. It is such a relief when someone “gets” you. Walking around thinking I’m the only one, I literally exhaled when I read your reply. There is something very uplifting about knowing you’re not alone. And for the record, you are very much not alone. On the other side of the world, maybe, but definitely not alone.

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  5. This is some great honest wrestling. I think I grew up sort of with the idea that God blesses all the good little Christians . . . people tend to use a lot of verses in the Bible out of context to convince you of that . . . but the truth is that human life is full of as much pain as it is beauty. There are times when my favorite image of God is Jesus weeping under the trees in Gethsemane, afraid, weak, and alone. God understands what is is to fear and mourn, and that is a comfort.

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    1. I was reading Teach Us To Want just this week and Jen Pollock Michel writes, “To say that God is good is not the same thing as saying that life is good.” That really stayed with me because I think it’s exactly the tension I’m wrestling with here and in life right now. Like you said, I grew up with the idea that God’s goodness equals a blessed life for the “righteous” which leaves me spinning a little when life isn’t so good and I need to believe that God still is.

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