Earlier today, I read through my friend Michael Patton’s post “On Leaving My First Love” and found similarities between where he was years ago and where I find myself now. In it, he speaks of his life’s difficulties, arguing with God, and finally coming to a place of surrender. I am somewhere between pulling myself up by my bootstraps while trying to kinda sorta trust God and giving up completely on everything. This is the comment I left on his blog (unedited):
“Damn dude. I’ve been sitting trying to figure out why I felt tempted to leave God again; this may be part of the reason why. I fell out of love with God when my heart turned bitter. Like you, I still believe in Him, still throw myself into the throes of theology to ease my weary heart, but I don’t trust Him. I haven’t done what Peter told us to do: “set apart the Messiah as Lord in your heart…” 4 years of trauma-induced C-PTSD, mental illness, life stresses… “Trust me,” God says. How can I when my life isn’t going anywhere? I’m trying and praying and hoping for His Word to match my life and… silence. Struggle after struggle, night terror after night terror. What’s the point?”
It is so easy to chalk this up to just “a lack of faith” and go on about my day, but there is so much more to it than that. Or, that’s what I like to think. I just got off the phone with Michael; we talked for an hour and a half about the depression and doubt he experienced when his sister died by suicide several years ago. We also discussed my own spiritual walk and why I feel so disconnected from everything, especially God.
Faith used to be so simple. God says something, I believe it, and that’s it. Any uncertainties I had about the Bible (why would God destroy everything with water?) or the world (why would a good God send people to hell?) was brushed under the rug with the unspoken understanding that God was wiser than I was and in control of everything, so surely, there was no logical reason to question Him…
And then, trauma hit. And with it, an ocean of doubts and questions:
Why didn’t you stop it from happening?
Did you let me go through this just to teach me a lesson or as a medium for someone else’s healing? What kind of sick bastard are you?
Am I damaged goods because of this?
How are you going to heal me from this tragedy? Is healing even possible?
As the months went on and I started experiencing symptoms of PTSD, more questions and doubts emerged, especially after rounds of dealing with well-meaning Christians:
They tell me to “speak those things that be not as though they were” and “God will use this for your good” but I just had the worse panic attack of my life so far. Are you punishing me?
Is my faith weak or nonexistent for not believing you’ll heal me when the hallucinations of my abuser are more real, more constant than your supposedly loving touch?
Are you listening? Do you even care?
It got to the point where my heart just broke because I couldn’t see how a good God could not only allow this to happen but then just sit back and watch the aftermath unfold with not even so much as a whisper of recognition in response. “So, this is who you truly are,” my heart concluded. My anger turned to silent apathy.
I told Michael tonight that my heart was dead and that I missed the days of my youth when faith was blind, easy, and I repressed my intellectual side, as it is way easier to relax on the back of Christian theology and apologetics than sit in the lap of God and let Him hold me or whatever. I told him that in looking at God through the lenses of trauma, I was having trouble trusting God’s love, sovereignty, and ultimate plan. His response shook me.
“…Of course, you don’t believe God loves you. Your heart’s broken.”
I interjected. “My heart is dead, Michael.”
He responded. “Your heart’s not dead. Your heart is broken. If your heart was dead, you wouldn’t feel the pain you currently do… God has to be control of everything, otherwise suffering would make no sense… I know a lot of people think that God created them for a specific purpose, to fill some ministry or evangelical hole, or to use them and their suffering for someone else’s benefit, but that’s not why we were created. God created you because He wanted to have a relationship with you—and He was excited about it!—that’s the sole reason…”
I contemplated what he said. “The sole reason God created you was for a relationship, just you and Him.” Somehow that made me feel one thing: betrayed. For the majority of my life, it’s been said to me, either directly or indirectly, that the reason for my existence was to bring God glory AND… There was always something attached to that whether it was “bring God glory AND be a light for someone else” “…AND be involved in ministry” “…AND learn lessons through pain without complaining or losing your faith…” the list goes on. I feel like if someone had sat me down and told me this earlier in my life, I could have saved years of legalistic behavior and religious performance and jumping through hoops in vain attempts to make people like me or appear “spiritually strong” when I was dead inside.
Looking at life, and God, through the lens of trauma is hard. Even when sunshine greets you in the early morning like a long-forgotten friend, you still hold, in the back of your mind, thoughts of escape and every day becomes a survival game where you’re just waiting for the next bad thing to happen. When every day is survival of the fittest and you’re trying to do what you can to move forward, while secretly hoping for a sign that God is actually for you, making the concept of “God is in control” into the background music of a chaotic soundtrack of life is daunting. I guess what I’m trying to say is that even with God being in control and aware of everything that happens, and allowing certain experiences to be had as apart of His unknown will, some things just don’t work out. Death still happens. Toxic environments still exist. People still silently suffer from debilitating depression and anxiety. God owes no one anything and that’s a hard reality to come to terms with, whether you’ve been traumatized or not.
I want to believe. Help my unbelief, Lord.