by Megan Wildhood
I started becoming Christian on the hope that the good story was true. I didn’t see how forgiven of sins was the good news if everyone and everything still dies; resurrection from the dead was the only thing that would touch the anticipatory grief, which often collapsed into depression, I’d carried for most of my life. It took me about a year to voluntarily start going to church after my “conversion.” When I did, I thought I had found
my long-lost family. These people were fearlessly weird, and they spoke of God as an entity—a person!—that could be known even without being fully understood. These ragtag group of glorious misfits, like me in ways I’d never experienced, spoke of God as their close friend, real and comforting, a person they could truly count on. I did not understand this. And I wanted it so much.
Because of their love for this God, they loved other people. They didn’t simply say the words “you are not alone;” they showed up for people—not just in emergencies, but also for the enjoyment of fellowship. They didn’t leave the companionship and attention all human beings need to develop properly and stay healthy throughout life up to God while they got caught up in the vortex of empty busyness that passes for significance and mars so much of modern-day life. They walked with people through darkness and mess and the struggle to find healing. They wept with those who wept. They also rejoiced with those who rejoiced. And they did this all consistently and, as they promised, like family.
Until, that is, their pastor falls in love with you, tells you about this infatuation with you he’s been having for most of the five years he’s been meeting with you and counseling you, blames you for his feelings and subtly tests your willingness to have an affair four months after he and his wife perform your wedding. Then, those who were told by a higher-up leader not to talk to you (“in order not to feed the rumor mill,” apparently) including the husband of the couple you lived with your senior year of college and who you called Papa, followed this advice. These were elders, leaders, people you’d loved for the five years you’d lived in this city away from everything you’d ever known.
No one pursued you when you abruptly left the church you had faithfully attended for almost six years. “Papa” told an out-of-state friend of yours when she called him to figure out what was going on with this erstwhile awesome church-turned-family that you had given the pastor Stockholm Syndrome. Your husband emotionally abandoned you, tried to keep false peace by defending the pastor’s actions (“at least he told us the truth,
finally”) and then fled the apartment you shared as if you were this enormous monster after telling me he felt no love for me on our wedding day, leaving everyone who was still paying attention to think you really did have an affair with the pastor.
When I recount this story, I still, a decade later, slip into thinking that this happened to someone else. Especially because, for several years after, it just got worse. I struggled to
connect in church once I was ready to find a new one, not just because it is hard to go to church Sunday in and Sunday out alone while everyone catches up with their friends or makes plans with other couples while ignoring you and the other new folks. My husband and I lived apart for a year after that first separation, moved back in together for another year until we separated again for two and a half years, this one at my request: him saying “if it wasn’t for Jesus, I would have left” on Christmas day was the final time I would tolerate something like that being said to me. Then, we lived together again for about four months before I could no longer stand the confusion, neglect and inertia. Though we had a Christian wedding, though we both approached Jesus as Savior, though we both made promises to stick by each other for life as a way to mirror our understanding of a God who never leaves God’s chosen beloved, we were divorcing. I had very little community left, my family was 1,300 miles away and I didn’t think I had it in me to keep trying to find home and belonging in this alleged family of God.
The year that began with the end of my marriage, my last grandparent died, my best friend abruptly ended our friendship on my birthday while I was visiting her out of state without telling me why and I nearly died from appendicitis. Though I was deeply lonely and, like every other human being, really needed community and consistent connection with others, church to me still meant fear. The moment I got close to anyone, especially anyone in power, I was sure I would be blamed and lose all the relationships I’d spent time and energy I could never get back cultivating.
There were nights that year I was unable to fight off images of me going to the highway overpass just blocks from my door and leaping off, moments during many days where I regretted that my appendix had not killed me. I was furious with my ex-husband for breaking his promise, furious at the hypocrisy in the church. I was never angry with God, though. I never felt close enough to God to feel like my feelings about God would matter to God. I prodded through the next couple years of my life in a heavy haze of despair, not shunning God, but having forsaken meeting with God’s people.
Many stories of miry bogs and deep pits I’ve heard from other Christians turn right about here, saying that they found the Lord in the dark, at the bottom. They connected with the lover of their souls in a way they never had before. When the distraction of other people and activities were stripped away, they attached more deeply and sweetly than they ever had to God. That is not how the worst year of my life deepened my relationship with God.
The aloneness crushed me. After several weeks, I finally collapsed emotionally and spiritually. I let God have it. “How dare you expect me to be this strong?” I screamed alone in my cold, little room in a house with eight other people who very clearly did not care about me or each other. “You said it was bad for people to be alone. Whatever in your plan is causing me to have to wait for community and a real partnership makes your plan worthless and stupid.” I shouted until my lungs burned and my voice stuck in my desiccated throat. Rage at the injustice of my church situation, my abusive marriage, my unbearable cauldron of isolation during a divorce and the only major medical emergency I had ever experienced, billowed into the gratuitous suffering being allowed the world over, the ghastly specter of environmental ruin, the sprawling history of human ugliness.
There was no kittens-and-moonbeams moment with God, no resolution. The only thing there was changed everything: after I ran out of breath and strength, a presence undiminished and unintimidated by my rage, a palpable waiting not for me to calm down or behave, but for whatever else I had. If that was more shouting, that was fine. If that was nothing, that was fine. I would have a few more months of darkness left that year. And I would also have an anchor in God (and life) that I hadn’t had before: God’s business with me is not fixing like I’m striven myself riven trying to do since I was a child. It was and is about never leaving, even when all of me wants to, in a way that actually matters.