There are only three things I have prayed for consistently throughout my tall and sarcastic existence, three things my heart longs for when I stare into the starry galaxies above.
When I am most distant from God, it’s not because of the hate or banishment I’ve felt from the church, it’s not because of the extreme pain or injustices around every street corner, it’s not even because of my struggles with mental illness.
When I am pushing God away it’s because of a pain and disappointment so deep within me I can barely get myself to type the words, let alone speak them into open air.
The truth is I’ve started writing this post more than a dozen times over the last three years, but have never been able to finish it.
This ache in my soul goes unresolved, my truest desires too painful to share.
When I started this blog 7 years ago following my suicide attempt, I promised God I wouldn’t just write about the good parts of this faith journey—there are enough jazzercised, exuberant Christians in the world unwilling to ever show the gritty reality of following Jesus.
Exhibit A: Of Jesus 12 disciples… crucified, crucified, crucified, pierced with a spear, “cruelly put to death,” probably martyred, died as a martyr, murdered, stoned and clubbed to death, burned to death, exiled to a remote island…
And we get upset when our Caramel, Vanilla, Low-Fat Ultimate Unicorn Deluxe Starbucks Coffee at church doesn’t fit into our Keto diets.
Not that there isn’t great joy in following Jesus, there is, but there is also great struggle and sacrifice.
“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” -Luke 9:23
Deny yourself. Where is that in the feel-good, “hand your life over to Jesus” prayer…
And so my brain seasonally questions God’s goodness when my phone calls to him repeatedly go to voicemail.
Will things ever change? Why even pray if the greatest desires of my heart never come true?
What are the big 3 you ask? Okay, I’ll share because I trust you.
A beautiful, Christ-centered marriage and a family of ridiculous kids. [Saving Sex for Marriage from a Guy’s Perspective]
Male mentors to consistently speak into my life.
A few years ago it seemed all three had come true and once it was quite possibly the happiest have ever felt. I journaled:
“God, you are so good. I cannot even believe how incredible you are. You see me. You see my heart. You heal what is broken. You move in my spirit. You have brought more joy than I believed possible. I sit here in my bed crying with gratitude for all that you have done. What have I done to deserve this.”
And then one by one, they all disappeared.
The relationship fell apart.
The Christian friendships were nowhere to be found.
The mentor stopped calling me back.
And I got mono for 6 months.
It’s so easy to love God when everything goes right, isn’t it?
And for the first time in 5 years, my suicidal thoughts came flooding back. Again feeling worthless, hopeless and disposable. Again believing the lie that everyone would always leave. This Goliath of hopelessness was again toppling over me as I cowered in my boots.
And I wasn’t sure I loved God anymore; in fact I was pretty sure I was done with him.
And so this question that seems to come up over and over again in my story resurfaced:
This is the point where most Christians rush in with some unhelpful advice, some righteous-sounding words about God’s will or God’s timing, some empty compliments and “life-changing” words about how I need to try harder or be patient or my all-time favorite: do both at the same time.
But what if the most painful places in our stories don’t have an immediate fix? What if our pain isn’t screaming to be silenced, but begging to be heard? The truth is, my friends:
All pain is pointing you somewhere.
Sometimes pain is pointing you back to the open wound you never allowed to heal.
Sometimes pain is pointing you to today and the hard steps you’re ignoring to change what’s in your control.
Sometimes pain is pointing you to fight through your brainwashed, distorted vision of how the future will never be better.
No matter where your pain is pointing you, there is one place I know it’s pointing you: to God.
…to His promises that He will never leave us, even when everyone else seems to. …to His son Jesus, God in human form, who lived every anguish a human heart and body can hold. …to God and His promises of healing and strength and hope. …to His plan for your life, a life that is fully and recklessly alive—no matter how hard you have to fight to get there.
And so today I wait expectantly.
Not in a Christmas-morning, all-smiles sort of way, but in a sober reality that not getting exactly what I want exactly when I want it is not only okay, but pointing me towards something better than I ever imagined.
Perhaps I will die an old man, never having the vulnerable prayers of my heart come to fruition. And maybe for the first time in my life I can say:
I will love God anyway.
I will serve God anyway.
I will keep fighting to bring my best self to the table wherever I am anyway.
I will continue to pray to the one who is the keeper of my soul anyway.
So there I sat on the edge of my bed, yet again praying for my future wife writing in the notebook I have kept for her the past 7 years, when a new feeling snuck into my chest:
Sam, God miraculously continues to redeem every part of your story. How could you ever doubt He won’t redeem this too?
You are not alone in your pain friends. You are not alone in wishing your life looked different. You are not alone in wondering how God’s love can be real when prayers seemingly go unanswered.
Listen to your pain and love. Listen to your pain and serve. Listen to your pain and pray. Listen to your pain and live fully.
In this together,
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