Sometimes we hang on to old habits and worn-out ways of doing things far too long. We get entrenched in “the way it’s always been” and we fight like crazy to avoid change.
Religion is one of those things.
It’s a structure built to help us make sense of the world, to help us know who God is and who we are in the grand scheme of things.
Early in my life I learned the basics: God, Jesus, heaven, the Ten Commandments. I heard the Bible stories, sang the songs, and built a faith out of learning to do good and be good. I was a “good church girl” who loved going to church, adored the people, and found comfort on a sanctuary pew.
To this day, I can walk into any Baptist church on the planet and feel right at home. I know the lingo, I know the music, and I can find the restrooms in under a minute. Even the secluded third-floor ones.
I spent my childhood playing hide and seek in the church building on Wednesday nights during adult choir practice.
The church was like my second home.
When Religion Fails
I grew up feeling secure at church, and secure in who I was when I was there. And I’m grateful to this day. Growing up in church built a foundation for my faith for which there is simply no substitute.
- In church I learned what it meant to be a Christian.
- I learned who Jesus was and I learned that He loved me.
- I learned about the Bible.
- I learned that I could find acceptance and love around God’s people.
Church was my lifeboat.
When storms would come, I could cling to the hope that my ship would stay afloat. The church wasn’t going to fail me.
And time after time, it proved true. When I went through one crisis after another, my church family was there for me. They fed me, encouraged me, lifted me up, supported me.
Until the time the church did let me down. That day the ship fell apart and left me stranded, desperate and alone.
Life as I knew it was over. The one stronghold in my life I believed would never fail me was sinking into the depths. I was alone.
I’ve written before about our church experience when my son was diagnosed with autism. We’d been through lots of hardships up to that point: job losses, miscarriage, depression, chronic illness. But through all those situations, the boat held together.
It wasn’t until we experienced the rejection of our son that the ship fell apart.
The pain was shattering.
Everything I’d ever believed to be true about church, about Christianity, about community, about faith. . . well, I started to question it all.
I plunged into a dark night of the soul, where I poured my heart out to God, desperate for help and healing.
Surviving a Personal Shipwreck
After several years of learning to breathe again, and a change in churches (and denominations), I can honestly say I’m better off. I’m even to the point where I can say I’m grateful for the shipwreck.
Not because it was a pleasant experience. Because it wasn’t by any stretch.
No, I’m grateful because the shipwreck catapulted me to a different shore, to a place of maturity and trust. I gained a new perspective toward my faith, toward church, and toward others that I’d never have discovered had I been able to stay on that ship.
There’s something about hitting rock bottom, about being afloat all alone on a dark and endless sea with nothing but a starlit sky for company. . . something that changes you.
And this I can say with all certainty: I will never be the same.
What are you clinging to with all your might? What are you holding on to too tightly? Even good things can become idols, strongholds if we let them.
I recently finished reading Jonathan Martin’s new book, How to Survive a Shipwreck, and boy was it a great read. Anyone who’s experiencing or has already lived through their own personal shipwreck needs to read this book. Martin’s words give voice to so much of my own heartache, but also bring encouragement to my soul.
Because no matter how dark the tragedy, how unfixable the problem, how irreconcilable the differences, this much is true: with God there are no dead ends. There will always be a way.
Even when the ship sinks. Maybe especially then.
*Disclosure: Amazon affiliate links included in this post.