The voice on the other end of the phone didn’t sound human. The scream— no, it was more of a wail—caused me to stop dead in my tracks. My heart began to beat faster as it prepared me to run from the disaster that was emerging on the other end of the phone. The gut-wrenching sob sounded like death to me, but it would take a few minutes before the moaning subsided enough for me to understand the words.
“Jeanie, I lost my kids.”
Although my mind quickly caught up to the fact that no one had physically died, I knew that the mom on the other end of the phone felt as if someone had. Lang was in a custody battle, and she had just learned that she had lost. Custody of her children—the only thing that gave her life meaning and purpose—was awarded to her husband; without them, she knew she would collapse. That is exactly what was happening on the other end of the phone. My heart broke for her.
It’s tough to know what to say in times like that, but it’s even more challenging when dealing with your own shock and confusion. By the time Lang lost her children, I had been meeting weekly with her for months. As a lay minister, I supported Lang and prayed for her as she dealt with a difficult marriage and eventual separation. Although the battle over the children was real, I never imagined any outcome other than Lang being awarded custody; I was as blindsided as she was at the ruling. How could this happen? My confusion and shock eventually manifested as seething anger—not at the courts or her husband but at God.
Hours later, as I lay in bed, my mind refused to rest. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make sense of this situation. Because I was convinced that God was on our side, I had assured Lang over and over again that all would be well. I was agitated because I wasn’t just affected by Lang’s devastation; I was reeling because of my own. I felt betrayed by God, who I trusted to do the right thing as I saw it. (It never occurred to me that maybe God had His own way of seeing this situation, but that’s a separate discussion.)
The anger I felt at being betrayed by God eventually drove me out of bed. With my heart pumping and head pounding, I stomped out to the living room and looked up at the ceiling. As I pumped my fist up in the air with indignation and rage, the words that had been swirling around in my mind made their way to my lips: “Where WERE you”? I was experiencing the anguish David captured thousands of years ago:
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the cries of my anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but You do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1-2)
I coped with my sense of betrayal and the anger that came with it by doing what any sensible person would do—I cut God off. I mean, why would I want to be friends with someone who was so…so…unreliable? ARGH! Because Lang didn’t know God as I did, I had built Him up to be—oh, you know—the savior of the world, and in my eyes, He had failed this test miserably. My knee-jerk reaction was to turn my back on Him. Thankfully, He did not reciprocate!
One night I was sitting in our hot tub under a blanket of stars. I felt God’s overwhelming presence draw close to me as I never had before. Although it nearly took my breath away, I was not ready to let go of my anger. Savior of the world or not, I was determined not to let my Friend back in. I was still nursing my wounds and was lost in confusion; I felt I had no choice but to keep God at a distance. I—no kidding—showed him my hand.
And then it occurred to me, in what was probably the most stunning revelation of my life—I was in a real relationship with God. Wow! No one was more surprised by this than me. By the time I met Lang, well over a decade had passed since uttering my first heartfelt prayer at the top of the church steps. At that time, I was a confused twenty-three-year-old who had no idea that it was possible to do anything but sit, stand, and kneel when it came to matters of religion. It wasn’t until I met the cute but unusual pilot I wrote about last week that I learned that it was possible to love God and have a friendship with Him. I just didn’t know how to go about it. Years later, as I found myself fighting with God about Lang, it occurred to me that my perspective about God had changed. Instead of hanging on a cross in front of my church, God seemed to prefer to hang out in my hot tub. I finally understood what that pilot was talking about all those years ago.
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139: 7-10)
Perhaps you’re wondering how I got to a place where I could fight with God in my hot tub. (Let me be clear: I was the only one doing the fighting. God was faithful in loving me while I processed my indignation and rage.) The first thing I did was to marry the cute but weird pilot who loved Jesus more than me. Although I married the guy for many more reasons than his love for God, I have to admit, his connection to the Creator of the universe was one of the most compelling things about him. I had never met anyone who went into his room to pray (and read his underlined Bible) when he was upset. I couldn’t help but be drawn to a person who truly loved God and relied on his faith in his everyday life. That was such a revelation for me. I wonder if you can relate.
If you are like me and want to grow in your relationship with God, I suggest you find someone like that cute pilot (my husband Jeff). I’m not saying you have to marry him (or her), but become friends with someone who already loves and follows God. People like that are compelled to share their love of God with others. Keep in mind, however, that just because a person goes to church, doesn’t guarantee that they love God. (Remember, I was one of those people!) Look for a God-lover more than a religious person.
While you are looking, there is something you can do that is even more important, and that is doing what Jeff did—read the Bible. Although I went to church every Sunday, I never owned or read a Bible. Given that the Bible is the story of God and His people and it is one of the primary ways that God speaks to His people, not reading the Bible put me at a distinct disadvantage when it came to getting to know Him. Although it took me a while to learn how important reading the Bible is, doing so is one of the keys to building a friendship with God.
In 1996, I began my first year-long Bible study. Each week, a group of people gathered to discuss what we learned from our weekly readings. As someone who didn’t know even the basics about the Bible (like the difference between the Old and the New Testament), my learning curve was steep but fast. I began to understand that the writers of the Bible were inspired by God to tell the story of who He is and how He cares for his people. Although I enjoyed how much I was learning, I never expected this knowledge to impact my heart—but it did. One random Sunday I went to take communion, as I had done thousands of times before. As I kneeled and looked at the cross, I felt a light go off in my head as liquid love poured into my heart. I began to weep as the knowledge of what Jesus had done on the cross became a personal revelation of His love for me; He didn’t just love the world. He loved me. That was the day that everything changed.
🎶“Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me; the Bible tells me so.” 🎶
If you and Jesus do not have a personal relationship, as I did not, I want to encourage you that my experience can become your experience. As Jeff told me and more importantly, showed me, Jesus wants to have a personal relationship with you—He wants to be friends with you.
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:20)
I encourage you to reflect on what you experienced as you read this piece.
- In what ways do you relate to my journey of faith? How has your own faith journey differed?
- If you don’t have a personal relationship with God, but feel a desire for one, consider talking to God about it. Ask Him to help you on your journey. This may mean asking Him to send a Jeff into your life.
- Have you had a disappointing experience with God (like I did with Lang) that caused you to close the door on Him? If so, would you be willing to journal about what happened? Consider asking God to meet you as you write and show you something you didn’t see before.
- I encourage you to find a quiet space to sit or lie down in silence. Focus your mind on your breath, taking care to breathe slowly and deeply to settle your thoughts. Ask God to meet you in that place (hot water is not required). Let Him know you want Him to draw close to you and wait. It’s worth noting that you may not always sense his presence and that’s okay. This practice takes practice. “My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him.” (Psalm 62:5) See what happens!
- If you would like to trying reading the Bible, there are many ways to start doing this. Consider joining a study group or download a Bible app to guide you in the process. I currently am enjoying the Bible Recap (link here) but there are many others to choose from. If none of that appeals to you, just pick up a copy of the Bible (I like NIV or ESV version) and start reading. The Gospel of John is a great place to dive in.
As always, I’d love to share your comments below!