Paul told his beloved friends at Ephesus that one day evil would come. It would be so great that they would be pushed to their limits. He told them to prepare for it, but remain true to the elements of the Faith, particularly the reading of the Bible (such as they had at the time) and prayer. He concluded the charge with "and after this stand firm."
We have a tendency in Christendom to make superheroes out of normal believers and especially out of the early fathers. Paul was heroic, no doubt. But obviously, Paul also knew the heartbreak that went along with the Christian life. We're told on numerous occasions that Paul and Silas sang while in Jail. But we don't know whether they started off their jail experience with a song. I'm sure Paul cried out as the whip fell, or the rods crashed across his back. I'm sure that in the fevered pain of infection from the filthy conditions, and the open wounds on his body, Paul cried out...maybe even in anger.
We've focused on Paul's singing and assumed that's all he did. I can't say for sure, but I have my doubts.
Paul, at times, reveals loneliness in his writings. Sometimes desperation. Sometimes anguish over his chains. His frequent calls to be remembered in prayer tell us that Paul was a man as we all are. He was likely weary from the hard life that his calling demanded. He poured himself out again and again and dealt with heresy, and spiritual divisions, and laziness within the Church...and beatings and threat of death from without. That will break any man. Even Paul.
Ten days ago I was offered a job. I was as excited as I have been in a long time...probably since graduating from college in May 2012. I allowed myself to plan. Morgan and I went to the new high school she is transferring to (once I got a place) and she could barely contain her happiness. My smiling daughter was back.
Monday -just 48 hours ago- I got the call that the company has frozen hiring. The job was withdrawn. This has been the way it has gone for five years now. Five years of hopes deferred.
The last seven months especially have been hard. My Faith has lagged. I force myself to read the Bible. I never pray, at least not for myself. Why? God has known my need for five years now, and has yet to answer those desperate prayers for a restoration of my life, and a home for my daughter.
I have trudged through this wasteland while bearing the whispers -and often the shouts- of ruthless, mean-spirited people who would look me in the eye and tell me that somehow, in some way, this is all my fault. "Everyone who wants a job has one" they say. But that's not true. What is true is they have a job. (Or they no longer need one) They have one and the few people they actually care about have one so to hell with the rest of us. Write it off as laziness. Chalk it up to failure.
The only words they offer -save those words of hurt and damage- are the same old tripe about "God is in Control" or "When God closes one door He opens another!" Well...God has been shutting door after door and nothing is open. Nothing.
They will tell me to find solace in worship. Yeah...right. Some go so far as to suggest certain songs or artists that help them in some particular way. None of these songs effect me spiritually at all. They do, however trigger my gag reflex. They make me ill. I am angry. I am hurt. I am wondering why. I am scared. I am very alone in this walk. I am frustrated. I am very very sad. I feel like an abysmal failure. I can literally feel time rushing past me like a freight train and I am powerless to stop it. What's far worse...I can't assign any value to the time that rushes by. I can't look at it and say "I filled it with something great". It's just time. Day after day of dreams that die, progress that stalls, and a sweet, wonderful 15 year old young woman who I treasure and haven't been able to offer normalcy to in over five years.
God knows all this already. I need to remind him? Write THAT in a praise and worship song and maybe I'll sing it.
I have come to the point in my faith where I think I know what Paul was really saying to the Ephesians.
He was saying this: "Get ready. Get acquainted with Jesus, and know His words, and the elements of your Faith. Because there will come a day when no more songs will come from your lips. No more prayers will pour from your heart. You will face days when there will be no words, no prayers, no songs, no comfort, no joy. You will face times when God will become an abstract. You will have only your determination to not quit. What you know of God in those darkest hours will only be what you can vaguely recall. You won't see His face shining on you. You will only remember that it once did. That memory will be all you have."
I am there now. I cannot abandon my faith because I still know it to be real. I know God is never caught by surprise. This does not have Him back on His heels. He is not stumbling for a quick fix to my situation. He is the same God He was when things were going well. I am exhausted, out of words and repulsed by even the effort it takes to play the Christian game. I can't bring myself to go through the motions of raising my hands, swaying with glazed eyes, shedding tears of adoration, or "Shouting Deuteronomy at the Devil" as Rich Mullins used to mockingly say. I am beyond broken. I am shattered. The pieces are jagged and I have cut myself time and again trying to hold them together while waiting for the Cavalry.
But having done all to stand...I will still stand.
I can't abandon this faith. I have a daughter watching me and I have yet -in all this hardship- to assign blame of any kind to God. I try my best to tell her that God knows what He is up to. He is working a plan. I want her to remember her dad as a man who refused to quit on anything...including his faith in Jesus Christ. Even when that Faith seemed to be of no effect.
What would I abandon to? Some other faith? Something false and fraudulent, or non-existent altogether?
I can't. I won't. God doesn't owe me explanation. But I, in turn, don't owe the Christian voices a certain behavior when the chips are down.
I have learned, in all this, that faith is sometimes ugly. It's not always glorious and beautiful. Sometimes it's at it's best when it is silently taking just one more halting step forward...and another...and another. Faith is most glorious when the sun rises and the damaged warrior is still there. Having taken no new ground, neither has he ceded any. He did all to stand, and then he simply stood. Fists clenched, spit flying, not pretty and packaged and Tweet-worthy. He's nobody's hero. But he should be. Because he just stood.