One of the most-excellent side effects of an emotionally-healthy long-term Bible study group is the safe place that’s built there. Like “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” but without any self-destruction or harassment. So we had a strong foundation from which to collectively tackle:
When have you viewed an experience of pain or struggle as a sign of God’s abandonment or as an indication of having fallen out of God’s favor?
As usual, it was interesting; I don’t know why I was surprised that no particular narrative emerged as our norm, but all the experiences were distinct. Including mine, the one I decided to share. No, not “teen time with A,” though that was my knee-jerk response. I went much earlier, to my own teen years and my suicidal time.
I have considered the role God played then, and the role of my faith. But today I realized I haven’t thought about it as deeply as the experience goes. And certainly our lesson didn’t include that kind of time (-!). So I’m thinking about it more, here.
What I told my group: I didn’t feel abandoned. I remember that still. I didn’t identify my depression as having anything to do with God, in fact. (Nor the Adversary, but that deserves separate scrutiny.) I could feel my faith, right where it had always been, feel God right where God had always been for me. And feel my depression like a bottomless deep thermocline.
I couldn’t find that word in the moment, but the analogy works—if you’ve ever ventured into water that’s warm then cold as if each were painted in stripes, you can imagine my heart during those years. Life, sunlight, kisses, the thrill of winning a race, the satisfaction of work well executed, the encouragement embedded in sermons and study… all of that still happened, and I still reacted to them in the usual ways (mostly). And the cold water never shifted. I went numb from the toes up.
God and my faith were part of the warm.
When I was hospitalized at St. Francis (on one of the teen wards), our new pastor came to visit me. I knew him moderately well; my dad shepherded the committee that realized Dick was the right match for us, which meant that I had encountered him socially as well as in the usual church ways. He offered his visit provisionally: “I don’t know whether you’d like me to come again, but as a pastor I have access and privileges that others don’t. I thought you might like to see another face.” I was still in the newbie-zero-privilege zone, eating my meals in the ward with plastic tableware, talking to none but ward-mates and ward staff. His was a thoughtful gift, and I was glad to have it; Dick visited regularly. But I don’t think we talked about God-things. I wasn’t worried about God-things. I was missing the ordinary world, Outside. Connecting to the Outside was enough.
Much much later, when the girls were still little, I sat in a workshop within a Christian retreat where we wrote reminder-words on small smooth stones. I remember finding a lot of resonance in the workshop’s lessons, though I no longer remember what those lessons were. What I remember is writing FAITH on the stone. Because during the lesson I had discovered that, though I came to the retreat feeling lost and faithless, when I was gently pressed my faith was right there. It was as if I thought I was standing on top of a pole alone, wobbling, but when I put out my hand for balance, it touched a wall. My ballast was with me all along.
My little rock reminded me that I already had what I yearned for, that God’s and my connection was there to lean on. I’m now remembering that, even when I hurt so desperately that I only saw one way for the hurt to end, that connection was already firmly in place. With Paul, I remain convinced that “neither death or life, nor angels or rulers, nor things present or things to come, nor powers, nor height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).