When I was 18, I went on a summer trip with my parents before leaving for college. The trip was part vacation and part doctor visit. We had just lost our home and possessions to toxic mold, which made us quite ill. I discovered that summer that I was chemically sensitive. I needed to see a specialist to measure the damage done to my immune system.
Afterward, we toured Cape Cod and were headed home through Mystic, CT. I remember being relieved that we were finally on the way back. My expectations were to relax on the long car ride and enjoy resting while I let my thoughts drift. However, while we were driving along, my parents had the "great idea" to visit Mystic Seaport (a historical village) and see the replica of the Amistad.
This was not on my agenda. I wanted to go home. I didn't feel well. I had had it with learning/walking and tried unsuccessfully to dissuade them from this detour. Helpless to stop the hijacking of my plans, I had two choices. I could respond by being sour and unpleasant, or I could embrace this opportunity to learn something new and enjoy the last few moments of vacation with my parents before going back to my summer job.
I chose option A: sour and unpleasant. My vague logic was to demonstrate how truly miserable I was in the hopes that they would see the error of their ways, wrap up early, and get back into the car. I had a Bad Attitude. Additionally, I insisted on wearing stiff new leather sandals that looked cool but hurt my feet. We actually had to leave the museum, go to an outlet store, and come back with new sneakers so I could walk.
Several months ago, I thought that my circumstances were starting to change. Because I'd been waiting so long for God to improve my family's situation, I set my hopes on this road to relief. But instead, I received tremendous disappointment in multiple ways. Walking through the series of setbacks really hurt; it felt like even though I couldn't take more pain, there was no escape from its eroding episodes. My heart was blistered by repeated crises like my tortured feet that day in Mystic.
Instead of looking at this time as an opportunity to learn more from God, to apply lessons from the past, to endure in faith, I had a bad attitude. I'm not scolding myself. I think that it was healthy for me to express my honest pain, disappointment, hurt, and sorrow over what had happened. Genuine emotion expressed to God with reverence is nothing short of Jacob-like wrestling or Job-like protesting, without which our faith would be hollow at best, or insincere and distant at worst.
I pulled back from God. I didn't want to pray just to be denied again, I didn't feel like reading the Bible. In fact, reading the Bible seemed to exacerbate my doubts even more. Through the eyes of a child being disciplined, everything a good parent says feels cruel.
I was alone a lot - up all night every night and sleeping all day every day. When I looked around me, all I saw were unanswered prayers, increased suffering. Instead of the relief I'd thought was coming, I felt like I was waiting for the next bad thing to happen. It was a dark time. Increasing the isolation was the feeling of no one understanding. Sharing a hint of my struggle with others just made me feel alienated, like I was wrong to feel these things.
A few months before, I had stated confidently that although my circumstances were difficult, my faith was strong. I had been so sure that I had dealt with my doubts years ago and that my trust in God was unshakable. It was humbling to realize that another series of storms could rattle me so deeply.
Now that I've had some time to reflect, I realize that in spite of my bad attitude, God taught me in a different way. Instead of encouraging lessons learned through study, listening, and observation, He drove home how fragile I am, how utterly weak my faith can be, how vulnerable I am to being tempted to doubt. He taught me how all the knowledge in the world can't heal a hurting soul. Sometimes we need someone to come along and just listen, just nod and validate us when we talk, just cry with us. We need someone who has felt deep pain to sit down without judgment and hear our messy, tearful, angry thoughts without a hint of correction. We need them to come closer instead of pull away.
In my distress, I read Job. I read blogs of those who had been hurt, who had honestly doubted, who had questioned and come back in one piece. Instead of trying to wrap my mind around God's love through pain, I focused on God's holiness. I wrote a poem. I drew Jesus' hands. With awe, I observed his powerful and brilliant creation in a nature TV series on Africa. When I couldn't understand how his way with me was love, I focused on his evidenced character and found I could keep going until my feelings caught up.
And recently I was encouraged to reread Psalm 77. "To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.
I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago." and so I remembered his past faithfulness. When pain comes rushing in to blind us, we must turn to the only place we can see - the memories of God's presence in our past and in the ancient past. As I've read back over the years on this blog, over the thoughts I wrote down at age 18 on that trip, and over the dates written in my Bible beside that psalm, I see God's loving hand consistently at work in my life. He has been with me all along. Now, I am realizing, as absent as he felt, even this detour was his hand too.
"Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen."