And how I made it back
My temper was short.
I said hateful things to my wife. Lost my temper at my kids. I was generally irritable and not fun for my family to be around. They walked on eggshells around me, and my wife felt very alone. Thinking back on it, I’m a little surprised I didn’t give up on Church after all, because I was really just kind of existing, and my Church involvement was hollow.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Matthew 23:27–28 (ESV)
Only my wife and other very close family members knew about my state of mind and shaken faith.
Honestly I am surprised they didn’t try to approach me about it more than they did, but they were trying to stay patient and simply pray for me.
No one else knew, though, at least not that they let on. At Church I put on fake smiles. When someone asked me how I was doing, I said “Good!” I laughed. I was asked to lead prayers. I participated in Bible studies. I preached sermons. I made small talk with fellow churchgoers.
And I didn’t really want to do any of it.
Even when our congregational leadership tried to reach out, I acted like I was fine, while not listening to any advice they tried to give.
I was a fake. Just like the Pharisees in the above scripture, I was living a lie.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
James 4:17 (ESV)
I knew I wasn’t living right.
I knew I wasn’t happy, knew I was a faker. But trying to fix it would mean talking to God, and I just did not want to do that. It still made me mad to think about it. I also knew my most important relationships were suffering because of my behavior. I still didn’t want to do anything about it. It was sinful. Yet, I now believe God was patiently working on my heart the whole time.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3–4 (ESV)
In April of 2015, we moved to a new state and began attending Church assemblies with a new congregation.
I began to get to know the leadership team at our new church home, and they welcomed us warmly. They were aware of my mom’s passing a couple of years before, and I think they could sense I was in turmoil, too. They never pushed me to talk about it, but they simply reached out. Asked me how I was doing with my mother’s passing. They invited me and my family into their homes, and my new peers invited me to movie theaters and get-togethers.
In assemblies, I was asked me to lead songs and preach sermons, outside assemblies I was invited to Bible studies. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about these things, but I couldn’t help but appreciate the gestures and the overwhelming kindness.
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:9–11 (ESV)
The kindness showed by my fellow church members began to chip away at my defenses and my attitude. When we were having fun, they were a source of laughter. When I was discouraged, support and prayers. When I needed to talk, the leadership were always available with a listening ear, advice, and yes-prayers.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2 (ESV)
I doubt they consciously knew it, but I realize now they were definitely bearing my burdens. They couldn’t take them away, but they made them easier by consistently showing me a friendly, welcoming attitude. Slowly, I began to feel a connection with my Christian brothers and sisters. I began to genuinely look forward to seeing them.
Little by little I was more willing to pray.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:6 (ESV)
My church held a revival on the topic of prayer in the summer of 2016.
This was three years after my mother’s death and a year after my move. It was a week-long seminar: services every weekday evening, capping off with two services on Sunday. The sermon on that Saturday night was called “The Agonizing Prayer of Submission”. The preacher described the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed (in agony) that if it was God’s will, He wouldn’t have to go to the cross and suffer.
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself bybecoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:6–8 (ESV)
I don’t remember his exact phrasing now, but the preacher said something along these lines:
“Please understand. Did He think God would change His mind about the cross? No. He knew this was God’s will. But He asked to be spared from it anyway.” He went on:
“Though Jesus was going through something He didn’t want to, He adjusted His own will to align with the Father’s will.”
I think maybe God used that revival to pierce my hardened soul.
Looking back, I think all week the sermons had been chipping away at me. All this talk about prayer certainly made me uncomfortable. But that night, this message struck me differently. This was the same message my father-in-law had tried to share with me two years before, but that night as I listened it hit me harder.
I thought about how Jesus shared His cares with His father, even when He knew His circumstances wouldn’t change. At the end of the night, He decided no matter what happened, He would go through His challenge and His suffering with grace. And He would keep looking to the Father as He went through it.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)
I was deeply moved, and after the service, I made a beeline toward the men’s restroom. I entered the stall, sat down, and silently cried. With men coming in and going out, back and forth from the urinal.
I know from experience you can pray anywhere!
I prayed. I prayed for forgiveness for my callused attitude. I prayed for wisdom and strength to reevaluate myself. I told my Father I do desire to align my will with His, though I told Him I was not entirely sure what that was yet.
For about a week, my thoughts dwelled on Christ in the garden.
Things slowly started to return to a sense of normalcy. I didn’t completely return to what I believed about prayer before my mom’s death, but I was much more comfortable kneeling, knowing I was laying my cares at the feet of a loving God and that He would hear my prayers.
I’m now confident the motivation to pray is not whether or not any given event, struggle, or trial is God’s will. I firmly believe the answer is we are called to lift up our cares to our Father, put our trust in Him, and walk through our trials with faith and grace. To continue to look up to our Father as we walk through it, just as our Savior did, in the darkest day of His life.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)
I don’t know what the future holds.
I have faced, and may have yet to face all kinds of additional losses in my life, because…time and chance. But I know I can place my cares before God, and He will strengthen me to get through whatever I have to face, as long as I keep my eyes on Him.
Find Parts 1 & 2 and see more of David’s work here.
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