Falling off the Promises

I gave my life to Jesus when I was 16, and I’m a quick study. Within a couple years, I was teaching backyard Bible clubs and could exegete the wordless book right alongside the kids who’d grown up singing “The B-I-B-L-E.” (Which was also big in backyard Bible clubs.)

I used to think they probably gave these out in heaven.

As a shiny new believer in an uber-liberal university, I grabbed all the support I could and was soon fluent in quiet time, servant leadership, and telling people about Jesus, whether they liked it or not.

By the time I was a young married six years later, I tuned in to Focus on the Family every day, volunteered at a pregnancy clinic, and suspected that anyone who voted democrat probably would not be standing next to me in heaven singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

The perfect family, right?

At 32, with three kids and a perfect life, I had read all the books. I knew exactly what to do to make sure it all stayed that way, blessed by God.

Until I didn’t.

Until I looked into the face of a raging child, screaming obscenities at me, cuts on her arms and traces of drugs in her eyes. My child. I cried out to that God for whom I had planned this perfect witness of a life. Begging for those black and white answers that had promised so much but suddenly seemed far less clear.

He didn’t answer. Crickets from Jesus. You know, the Jesus who said trusting and obeying were the way to be happy all the day?

“Happy” doesn’t quite describe the feeling of walking up to a stranger’s door to ask if your daughter spent the night there. It doesn’t encompass the terror of wondering if she spent it anywhere safe. It never applies to watching her once-sparkling eyes turn away from yours and seeing the fresh razor marks she tries to pull her sleeves over.

I had stood on the promises, and they dropped me. Hard.

I was a Christian, a pastor, and alone, with a bleeding, devastated heart where faith still resided by the smallest of glimmers. What kind of pastor has a suicidal heroin addict for a daughter? It’s a great way to avoid eye contact in meetings.

It was also, possibly, the best thing that ever happened to my false-floor faith.

I went at this teenage rebellion thing all wrong. In my twenties, I followed without (much) question. In my forties, I started to question the whole Happy Meal.

Who does that?

I used to think conforming made me a good Christian.

I used to think following all the rules would get me all the right results.

Now I’m not sure I even knew the rules.

Now I’m pretty sure there aren’t as many as I thought.

My sureness that I knew how to do this Christian life thing got hit by a 7.8 quake. When things shake to that magnitude, something is bound to shake loose. Questions bubble up like lava from deep underground. Questions like, what is certain and what’s rubble in this mountain I’ve created? If it all comes down, what will be left to stand on?

If you stripped the gospel down to Jesus, to all he’d said and done, what was surely still there? And what had we added because we needed to be sure we were on the right track to make the grade? To be quite certain we were in control of God?

Asking questions like these can turn you into a spiritual misfit. It can get you side eyes in the Christian blogosphere.

So can starting to ask questions like, “Who is really my neighbor?” Not my theoretical, nice biblical neighbor. My real, complicated, dirty neighbor whom maybe I’ve never chosen to see.

Like suicidal heroin addicts.

Looking into the faces of kids who hurt and who drown that hurt in any self-destructive behavior they could find made me question all the people I had been certain were “other.”

Why not love the unloveable? Why not forgive the unforgivable? Why not admit there is no difference between me and the junkie in the ditch or the immigrant running the border? No matter how many rules I follow?

Many of those unloveable kids wandered in and out of my house over those years. Kids I would have ignored before. Kids I would have feared. Kids I would have judged. But in my house, at my table, with names and pasts and brown eyes that echoed all the hurt they’d ever been dealt and all the bad choices they’d made? They were no longer sinners who needed to get their acts together. They were lost kids. They were my kids.

I was the sinner who needed to get it together.

I used to think I had it together. Now I think together doesn’t exist. But grace does.

I used to think God was safe and His promises guaranteed.

Now I think real life with Jesus is nowhere near safe. It’s abundant. And beautiful.

And all I want.

Closer to the real us.

This blog is part of an amazing link up on Sarah Bessey’s blog. Sarah Bessey? As in, one of my favorite authors and an all around amazing woman? Yes, that one. Whose new book Out of Sorts is at the top of my reading pile. Find more stories here. 

8 thoughts on “Falling off the Promises

  1. katherinelfischer

    This is so incredibly beautiful. Your closing words, especially. Thank you for telling your honest story, and for your courage. Reading this is giving me a big inhale and exhale of relief. “Together doesn’t exist, but grace does.”


  2. “I used to think I had it together. Now I think together doesn’t exist. But grace does.” Yes! Thank you for your honesty here, Jill. I know this dance of the recovering-know-it-all, too. So glad Jesus doesn’t leave us how he found us.


  3. Oh my goodness, tears.

    And also…I laugh sometimes and say that I’m totally doing the questioning thing backward, because the older I get the more questions I have, the forties have been quite surprising in that way.


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