Where is God in My Pain?

At a highlight in my Christian ministry, I hit a wall. You can call it a dark night of the soul or tell me it’s a phase that most Christians go through, but one thing I can assure you: the unraveling of one’s faith is anything but funny. The deconstruction of one’s faith is anything but easy.

“It’s never easy to embark on a different road even if that road is the right one.”

Over the last few years the deconstructing of one’s faith has become common among Christians and not just something that happened to me. Christians all over the world are asking difficult questions about their faith. We have questions that defy platitudes. Questions that challenge what is taught as dogma in the church. Questions borne out of pain that refuses to go away without an answer. They gnaw at our souls and, if remained unanswered, these questions will lead us down the path to doubt. Then like a wound that’s covered with a bandage without proper care, it starts to fester. Eventually, a dismantling of our beliefs begins to take place.

The catalyst that propelled me down the path to deconstruction came at an unexpected time in my life and ministry. I was well into living out my calling as a Bible teacher at a thriving mega church and on the verge of publishing my first book when I got a glimpse behind the so-called “green room” curtain. What I saw was rotten and broken. What I saw made me walk away.

Thus began the slow deconstruction of my faith. Little did I know at that time how deeply the decision to leave my church would affect my faith. If I could have foreseen the pain that would come from that decision, I am not sure I would have left. If I could have predicted how isolated and abandoned I would feel in the years to come, I likely would have ignored my conscience and gone with the flow. Instead, I chose to lean into disruption; my conscience had finally overruled the status quo. Still, ask anyone who has tried it: it’s never easy to embark on a different road even if that road is the right one.

In those early days, I believed God would step in and do something dramatic to make everything right. I believed God would defend me and reveal the truth about the toxic leadership I had wisely left. I believed God would fix my problems and right my wrongs. The longer I waited, however, the more skeptical I became. God didn’t appear do anything for a long while.

Didn’t God care about His children?
Why wasn’t He executing justice where it was due? Where was God in my pain?

I looked for people to discuss my confusion, but the only ones I found were others who were struggling like I was. They were people like me who had more questions than answers. We recognized each other by the expressions on our faces in the lobbies of the churches we were visiting. If you’ve ever left a faith community, you’re familiar with that look. It’s one of weariness, of self-protection and guardedness.

Before long I started to question myself: Had I made a mountain out of a molehill? Should I have just sucked it up and stayed? I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was at the heart of my angst.

When it became too much to feel so much, I chose to go numb. I ignored my emotions. I became an expert on self-isolation and building walls. My faith began a slow deconstruction into disbelief. I felt ashamed, ashamed that I’d moved past blaming people to blaming God. Shame that what was once so easy to believe had slowly turned into a crisis of faith. Shame that all the teaching in the world, and all the teaching in the world that I’d taught, hadn’t saved me from this crisis of faith, this slow erosion of my faith.

If I could turn back time knowing what I now know, would I have left my church that sacred Sunday morning ten years ago? Ask me on a tough day when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable and self- protective, and I don’t think I would have. I would have chosen the comfort of safety. But I’ve learned that it takes guts to lean into the truth. It takes grit and the willingness to live honestly to admit the struggle you’re feeling.

“It’s only when you finally let go of all the clutter you believe about God that you can make room for Him in your life again.”

A friend asked me if I could think of anything good that came out of my season of deconstruction. My initial reaction was an adamant No! I wanted to forget every bit of that season in the dark. I thought of all the times I stood up to preach to others while I was privately wrestling with God, shaking with the shame of being found out. I relived every moment of unshed tears while I fought with God tooth and nail for answers. I mourned so many wasted days in the valley. But then it occurred to me that it was the very deconstruction of my faith that opened my eyes to God. It was the deconstruction of my faith that gave me a taste of His unconditional love and never-ending grace. It was the deconstruction of my faith that rebuilt me inside and out.

Over the last few years, I’ve found that the deconstruction of one’s faith has many flavors but one common theme: pain. Your pain may not be church-related at all. Your pain may be much more personal. Your hurt may have been born out of deep abuse. Your struggle may be the result of repetitive disappointment and unshakeable bad “luck.” Your wounds may be the result of something you did or something that was done to you. Your skepticism may be due to your dissatisfaction with the standard answers you’ve heard to life’s most difficulty questions.

It’s only when you finally let go of all the clutter you believe about God that you can make room for Him in your life again. When you stop long enough for God to reveal Himself to you as He really is, and not as you’ve made Him up to be, a slow reconstruction begins.

It happened to me. I know it can happen to you too.

Lina AbuJamra: Found of Living With Power Ministries, Author

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