Sometimes the storms of life can be quite devastating, even if you “prepared” for them. Devastating to the point that after it has passed we take a look at our life or faith or both and we are left wondering how, or even if, we will be able to rebuild it. This task can indeed be quite difficult, but it is also doable even though it might take a while.
Before I get into things here though I want to clarify that what I am talking about here are events, or a series of events, that more or less cause you to think that God hates you or doesn’t love you anymore or something along those lines. This in turn causes you to question whether or not it is worth it to continue following Him if He is going to treat you so poorly.
And to further clarify, I am not talking about intellectual challenges that cause you to doubt whether or not Christianity is true. These are usually best dealt with on a case-by-case basis due to how specific these challenges can be. In fact, most of this site is more or less focused on answering these specific challenges.
What I am talking about here is a situation where a Christian, someone who is convinced of the truth of Christianity and actually follows the teachings and practices of it, suffers something devastating in their life. They aren’t doubting the truth of Christianity, they just more or less feel that God is no longer worth following because of the pain they have gone through.
So, with that out of the way I’ll continue.
Should I rebuild?
This is a question that many people ask themselves after a particularly devastating storm. Most recently hurricane Ian is forcing many people who live in the Fort Myers area to ask this question in regards to their homes.
Life storms can also be devastating and force people to ask this question in regards to their faith. Much like a hurricane could quite literally flatten your house a life storm can likewise be devastating to your faith. It can rip out the foundations of your faith, leave it in shambles, and leave you wondering whether or not it is even worth it to try and rebuild it. Unfortunately, many people do choose to walk away after a storm (or a series of storms) that just beat them up so badly they decide this whole Christianity thing and pursuit of holiness is not worth it. Some of them come back eventually, but some of them stay away for good.
Now, as much I would like to be able to write some great and passionate argument here that would convince everyone whose faith has been shattered that it is worth it to rebuild, the truth is that I can’t. The truth of the matter is that the effects of life storms are intensely personal. They aren’t objective and obvious to everyone, but personal and obscured from others. The only person that really knows the effect that a storm is having is the person going through it.
Also, if you are attempting to comfort or guide someone who is trying to rebuild please avoid quoting what I’ll call the cliché comfort verses such as Romans 8.28 and Habakkuk 3.17-19. While these verses are certainly true they often do very little in moments of devastation, and in some cases quoting these verses might even make the situation worse.
Instead, the best I think I can do, which is not really much, is to just say that yes, it is worth it to rebuild. I say this as a 37 year old who is again living with his parents and for all appearances seems to have wasted 8 years (and a good chunk of money) on a seminary education which so far has yielded nothing in the way of ministry, let alone income. I have had to do some rebuilding over the past few years, so I figured I would share what I’ve learned and maybe it will be helpful to someone who might read this one day.
Get an objective take on the situation.
This could be a pastor, friend, or even a Christian/biblical counselor, but whoever it is needs to be able to be objective towards the situation and able to tell you where you might be at fault in the situation or not seeing things correctly. It’s very easy for your thoughts to get warped, distorted, and unclear during and after a storm, so it is important to talk to someone about what is going on and make sure that you aren’t deluding yourself.
Now, at the risk of stating the obvious, I’ll say this: if a church staff member was the “cause” of the storm don’t talk to someone from that church (or denomination) about what’s going on. The reason for this is that you don’t know the various relationship dynamics in that church or denomination and you don’t want to end up talking to someone who for whatever reason intends to protect the person at fault. Talk to someone outside that church, like a counselor, instead of someone within that church.
There is also therapeutic value to talking about a situation. Getting your thoughts and feelings out there instead of holding them in is essential in the rebuilding process. Even just writing them out in a private journal that no one will ever see can be helpful.
Give yourself time.
Rebuilding takes time, sometimes a long time. It will take time for things to get back to “normal,” so give yourself some time to get things there. And normal doesn’t necessarily mean “the way things used to be,” because the fact of the matter is that after a storm things are rarely ever exactly the same as they used to be. Some wounds won’t heal completely regardless of how much time you give them, and that’s fine, they don’t need to completely heal. It’s ok to enter the Kingdom of Heaven limping. A return to normal after a storm looks more like the resumption of regular activities than it does the complete reversal of what happened.
In my experience (and from what I’ve observed in the experiences of others) times like this can be quite emotionally charged. You need time to process and work through these emotions. You need time to let the intensity of these emotions subside so that they stop controlling you and coloring your thoughts and even actions. This might take years to happen. Yes, years, and that’s fine. You’re not waiting for the emotions to disappear completely. You’re just waiting for them to calm down so they stop controlling you, and that can take possibly take years depending on what happened.
Keep going to church.
You don’t need to go to the same church. In fact, going to a different church might be advisable depending on what exactly happened (e.g. physical/sexual abuse). You also don’t need to be happy or joyful when you show up. If this doesn’t sound ideal, that’s because it isn’t. Rebuilding after a storm is most definitely not an ideal circumstance. However, “going through the motions” of worship and the Christian life do have value, I think, because it keeps memory of the motions intact, even if the feeling isn’t there yet. Eventually the feelings will return, but it might take a while.
Rebuilding is not easy. It takes time and effort. A lot of time and a lot of effort. And that’s assuming that you even make the effort to rebuild in the first place. The question I’ve continually asked myself (or perhaps more accurately: the question that I feel God has been asking me) during my rebuilding process has been the same one that Jesus asked His disciples: “Do you want to go away as well?” [John 6.67]. My answer has been the same as Peter’s: To whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know, that you are the Holy One of God [John 6.68-69]. I have not always given the answer joyfully. Sometimes I have given it reluctantly as more of a response to cold logic, meaning that whatever happened doesn’t disprove Christianity or some attribute of God however bad it might feel or how devastating it might be.
The Christian life is not always easy. In fact, I think, most of the time it is difficult. The way to holiness, to being like Christ is difficult and fraught with all sorts of hardships. We don’t follow it because it feels good. We follow it because it is good.