Goodness. Gracious. Me.
One of the things in my life I hesitate to tell people is that I once spent seven years as an agnostic.
For a girl born and raised in church, saved and called to the mission field at 7 years old, and currently in the ministry, it is an awkward thing to bring up.
But it happened.
And this is how.
After years of breathless waiting, impatient to “grow up” and leave home, I found myself in college.
To grow up and start the life God had called me to as a small child. Champing at the bit to get going, and hating the seemingly-stalled Plan Of God for me. And, into that void, stepped a very energetic, talented and very demanding/critical preacher.
I was thrilled. Finally, someone who understood the magnitude of the contribution that I could make. Someone with high expectations. Someone who treated me like a grown-up.
And, so it was that I fell into the hands of a cult leader. (Probably the other thing in my life that I truly hesitate to discuss).
I quit college . (Such a sense of exhilaration and freedom!). I dedicated my days to helping at the church. (Finally, a meaningful life.). And, to top it all off, I married the pastor’s favorite (yes, we played favorites in that church) protégée, and up-and-coming, gifted young preacher who absolutely loved me.
Being an honor student and all-around overachiever, I decided to overachieve as a wife and mother.
I had five children. Naturally. (And I do mean “naturally.”)
In a seven year period.
During which I tried to work, at least half-time, at the church. No kidding.
(And was rejected and criticized, publicly, by the pastor, for not being as dedicated as I had been previously).
And found myself in the pit of depression and despair. And, of course, unable to admit it. “Spiritual” people don’t get help for depression. Do they? My pastor told my husband how “concerned” he was. (He never said a word to me.)
And I felt more and more alone.
And then a friend and church member…committed suicide. By driving in front of a train. (If it bothers you to hear true stories of how the church can fail people, stop reading now. This gets worse.). She was on her way home from cleaning the pastor’s home and helping his wife with their 6 children.
Then another friend started doubting her salvation. I talked her into not leaving the church. (A well-intentioned decision I will always regret). The pastor “suggested” to a young male church member that he marry her. On her wedding night, her hand-picked husband told her that he didn’t believe in everything our pastor said. She spent her wedding night having a mental breakdown…in a closet. She soon left town, still very emotionally unbalanced.
Her family, sweet and devout Catholics, got her into “deprogramming” and therapy. One day, she called our pastor to ask him if she had lost her salvation. After a long moment of intense silence, he hung up on her.
The next day she drove her car off of a bridge.
Now minus two friends, I tried even harder to be a pleaser. But I never seemed to be able to make my pastor happy.
And then all hell broke loose.
My amazing, faithful husband (still a church leader) began to question our leader’s approach. In private, he asked him to go easier on the people, and not to order their personal lives. I think he thought he would be received because of their longstanding relationship, his history of service, and the discreet way he went about it.
For the next two years, every sermon would include a reference to “Satan is working in our church elders.” Because, of course, Satan is the “accuser of the brethren” and my husband had dared to bring up a possible pastoral shortcoming.
The other “elder,” in his late twenties, left the church after about a year of this. Taking my best friend, (his wife), and their five children effectively out of my life.
It would take George two years to leave.
It took me another year after that.
We got professional help. We rebuilt our marriage. Re-tooled how we raised our kids. Began to go to the (gasp) doctor. And I slowly began to beat depression.
I finished college. God, in His goodness, arranged a Master’s degree for me. One that was really useful for the mission field. (Education, with studies in bilingual and ESL approaches). And then, I went to medical school. At one of the finest scientific institutions in the world.
But I wasn’t done processing the hurt, confusion, and the pain. OR the losses.
So I made a decision. I would not call myself a Christian until I saw some real love, coming out of me.
And, on its heels, another one. I would not believe in God until He proved His existence to me.
I was so confused. So tired of religion. So absolutely unwilling to ever be part of anything again that could hurt so many people. But, I had no idea which parts of my belief system were valid. So I decided to start at Square One. With God. Himself.
And I became an agnostic.
My Christian friends in med school didn’t understand this. And, honestly, it wasn’t any of their business.
But they followed me around anyway. And tried to “re-convert” me. And they probably prayed for me. I truly appreciate that.
But the sermons didn’t help.
And one day, exasperated, I turned around to a young Asian man who was a dear teammate and said, “Look. You’re using Evangelism explosion outline #2 right now. I’ve taught that class. Leave me alone!”
You see, God, Himself, didn’t do that.
He quietly took up my challenge.
And loved me more than I had ever been loved.
And He blessed me. It was as if He said, “Well, if you don’t want the blessings of faith and spirituality, how about something else?”
I found myself blessed.
In my family.
In my finances.
In the community.
With my children, who are, incidentally, also blessed.
And this approach, showing me who He really is, eventually brought me back to church, and back into the ministry.
Where I am currently very happy. And blessed.
The Bible says,
Romans 2:4 Or do you have no regard for the wealth of His kindness and tolerance and patience in withholding His wrath? Are you actually unaware or ignorant of the fact that God’s kindness leads you to repentance that is, to change your inner self, your old way of thinking—seek His purpose for your life?
Maybe we need to rethink some of our evangelism strategies.
Not His judgment and condemnation.
His Goodness. Was all for me.
His Graciousness. Was all for me.
I certainly didn’t deserve it.
But, then, I never did.
And that’s the Gospel.
All for me. No. Matter. What.