Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
At the age of 15, I was exposed to a world that until that point I hadn’t believed truly existed. One of my classmates and close friends tragically passed away one Friday night while we were all at a school function. We were in the midst of celebrating when the school’s director got on stage and shared the news. I don’t remember exiting the theatre or how I got to a bathroom stall but sometime later another girl found me where I was huddled in a corner, in shock. Finally, as I was surrounded by my family and teachers I remember turning to the school director and asking her how it happened. It scares me to know that upon asking that question, somewhere a part of me knew that this hadn’t been some accident. She merely looked down and I knew that my friend had made the decision to say goodbye.
I knew what suicide was but in my world it wasn’t real. It was portrayed on TV or in books, perhaps the opening scene of a cop show or Holden Caulfield’s blasé remarks. It was so removed from the world I lived in that it felt like it was meant for shock value; nobody you knew actually committed suicide. Worst of all, I thought that if someone were to ever decide to take their own life you’d know. You’d see the warning signs, the obvious suffering. Never, in my very short 15 years did I ever think a 14 year-old boy, who seemed relatively happy, would decide that the world was so unbearable he didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.
I don't remember much about the days that followed but bits and pieces stand out. His mother’s anguished cries as she held on to me and tried to thank me for being her son’s friend through a mixture of tears and mucus. The colourful balloons used in the ceremony we had at school. The whispered conversation in the kitchen while my aunts discussed the friend of a friend who had also taken their own life and how tragic it was that I was going through something similar. A whole summer went by without my noticing, but throughout it I was left with a constant burning sensation inside and along with this burning sensation was the heavy aching of three questions. Three questions that had been playing on repeat inside my head since that night:
Was I not a good enough friend?
What could I have done differently?
Why did God allow this to happen?
That burning and aching, I would later learn, were the physical signs of fear and anxiety. I now lived in a constant state of alertness, tense like a rubber band that’s about to snap, always checking for signs that this could happen again. If a friend said “goodbye,” I wanted to be sure it wasn’t a permanent goobye. If anyone was sad or angry I needed to check throughout the night that they were still around. I had constant nightmares of finding out my loved ones had chosen to leave their lives behind prematurely. In the years that followed, that anxiety spread into every area of my life and with it spread anger and resentment. I had lived in a world of safety, love and comfort. I’d grown up extremely active in the church, a place that told me that there was a God who loved us so much he had sacrificed his only son to save us. He loved us so much he’d always be looking for us, protecting us, fighting for us. How could this same God let this happen? How could I live in a world where a boy suffered so much he chose to leave it?
At some point in my late teenage years, my anger and resentment continued to grow until one day I decided God did not exist. There was no way the God I grew up loving and worshipping would allow this type of suffering in the world. With that decision came a break that at the time I saw as a break to freedom but in reality was a break in my relationship with God. All my life God had been the hard rock that I leaned on, my anchor and focus point; with him gone I thought I was free of the “silly” Christian rules that governed my life. What truly happened is I was left in a kind of void, like an astronaut whose tether has been severed, aimlessly floating in the cold vacuum of space. My lifeline was gone.
The years that followed were hard, my anxiety developed into a more serious problem and invited its friend depression. I entered university and was constantly in an exhausting state of mind where everything felt too big to tackle and I was living in a constant state of panic and fear. Small things like ordering a coffee became so stressful that I avoided leaving my dorm; big things like exams and projects felt like they could potentially end my world. Finally one night, during finals week of my sophomore year it all became too much.
I remember sitting on my dorm room floor, surrounded by my friends as I bawled my eyes out over a calculus exam that was the tipping point after a long series of events. I came to the point described in Joel 2:13 where my distress and grief were such that I might as well have been rendering my garments. My world was falling apart. Later that evening, as I was trying to pull myself together from hours of crying I got a message from someone I hadn’t seen in years, an old coworker of my father’s who had no reason to be messaging me. In this message he wrote that he’d been praying that evening when he saw a picture of me, sitting on the floor crying in grief. Upon seeing that picture he felt God tell him to reach out to me and let me know that everything would turn out okay.
You can imagine what this did to me. Here I was, five years after my friend’s death, after years of turning away from God, lost and angry and yet God was still reaching out to me. He was still trying to love me whether I wanted him to or not. In that moment I realized what I had known all along. God was always there for me, still willing to look for a lost sheep that had stubbornly run away. He is gracious and merciful. I had pretty much renounced him, turned my back on him and yet he held on. He was not angry with me; he didn’t disavow me, or give up on me. It took a long time after that for me to forgive myself but God had already forgiven me. Like the father in the Prodigal Son, he’d been standing with his arms open waiting for me to return home.
He is our Father, who gives his grace freely to those who ask for it, rich in mercy and always ready to forgive. He is slow to anger, he doesn’t pour out the wrath that our sins deserve nor does he retain anger forever. He is our good and kind father, who will never leave or forsake us.
Maria can currently be found at Redemption Church’s office where she is the office manager. She is originally from Costa Rica but has fallen in love with Vancouver and its people. Her greatest treasure is her cat Sherlock, who is a truly wonderful ginger purr-ball and she loves talking about him.
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I recently went through a “dry season”. I have to say, I used to feel mystified by this church language, but through the process, I've come to realize that it's an important part of the faith journey, and one that still has God's call to come deeper. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect it, and I didn’t realize where I was going until I was already there. For me, this season felt shameful and worrisome as I wrestled with an already challenging question: why should I (continue to) follow Jesus?
How did I end up in this place? Let me backtrack a bit. During our fast in January, God called me to surrender a long term--perhaps even a lifelong--addiction. I had known for a long time that it wasn’t anything to be proud of, but the addiction was my safe place, a way to cope with trauma, and, to a large extent, my identity. In my brokenness, God’s conviction felt condemning and overwhelming. As I struggled to keep the fast going for the sake of fasting, I eventually came to a crossroads where my love for God and my other love were in direct conflict.
But I still felt reluctant and apprehensive. How do I let go of something that feels like a friend or even my own body? I didn’t know how, I didn’t fully understand the reason, and I obviously didn’t really want to. I felt truly stuck. And the more I thought about all of this, the more I felt defensive about meeting my needs that were being displaced. And then I started to feel that Christians only cared about their righteousness and not about me or my suffering. Soon enough, I was full on angry, and I remember thinking, ‘God’s standards are impossibly high, and the call to follow Jesus is too much for me. I don’t want to do this anymore’.
It’s difficult to recount the details of this journey, especially through my introverted and introspective lens. It certainly took another one of God’s miracles (and grace) for me to uncover that God is--as I have once believed and known--good, and that He has been good all along. There was plenty of turmoil, frustration, and anger throughout the process, but in the end, through my very own brokenness, God was able to bring about a greater healing and redemption in my life than I had ever experienced before.
I want to share some of my key learnings. Number one is that I was holding onto lies about God. The usual suspect, right? But understanding how and why the lies took hold in the first place helped me to see my journey not through shame but through the grace and compassion that God extends to all of us. Evidently, I had picked up a lot of guilt and negative self-worth throughout my life, and it was making me view my relationships through a lens of oppression and rejection. And, even more importantly, I realized that I had built up a pattern of withdrawal and escape, even towards God.
Next is that there is a faith aspect to all of this. At the “turning point”, I had made a conscious decision to trust God; to believe that He is good and that He is for me, even if my shame, hurt, and anger didn’t feel that way. One of the biggest things that helped me was hearing what Jesus had to say about how it’s the sick who needs the doctor. This made sense (logically), and so I was able to recognize that I shouldn't have to feel shameful about getting help. And if what Jesus said on His Sermon on the Mount (ex. Matthew 5:4) were true, there seemed to be a place in His Kingdom for me.
I want to acknowledge that God’s Kingdom doesn’t always seem welcoming without His grace. And perhaps it never does. With my partner's encouragement, attending church even when it was filled with upsetting triggers gave me the opportunity to be reminded that God gives freely to everyone. I may have been too hurt and/or too prideful to have asked for forgiveness, but Jesus has already paid the price and He just wants me to come and receive Him. This part defies the logic of justice, but here we all are having received God's grace when we were still His enemies. Once I started to understand and process the forgiveness that Jesus offered, I started seeing God differently. From this place, I was able to ask for His forgiveness and ask for help, which is something that I am continuing to press into.
In my field (special education), educators take on somewhat of a detective role. We look at behaviour fundamentally as a form of communication, and when we see a student struggle--or completely fail--we take responsibility to identify any barriers that may be in their way. I see now that my barrier was (and still is) shame. But I wonder what other barriers stand in the way of us coming closer to Jesus--just as we are, sick and broken. If you are questioning, my heart feels for you. If you’re questioning, I see that you’re seeking and fighting.
I have come to realize that God is always and actively calling us into a deeper relationship with Him. Every Christian, no matter how ‘spiritual’, is in the process of overcoming something through God’s help. After all, this is the very nature of what it means to be a Christian and a follower of Jesus.
In this season of Lent, we are told to come. What does this look like for you? I think we all have different postures for coming to King Jesus. In my experience, Jesus sometimes simply said, “Look at me”. Sometimes it meant singing a bit more with my heart. And sometimes, it meant going up to the prayer ministry and asking for help, allowing God to work through the members of our community. And I think, more often than not, the picture isn’t so much as us coming to God, but rather us coming to answer the door.
In all the times that my brokenness and sin--which I think are often the two sides to the same coin--were revealed, it has been both a time of blessing and a time of feeling shame, inadequacy, and helplessness. I'll say it right here: being truly vulnerable is hard and the healing process can be painful. But through my dry season, I was able to affirm God’s character: God is encouraging and God wants to help us become whole; shame and guilt do not come from Him. Knowing this, I find the strength again to come back to His presence and worship Him with others. And so my journey with Jesus continues. I’m not sure where your journey begins, but may the hope and peace of Christ Jesus help you to come find the healing you need.
Simon is getting married soon. He is working as an EA in the school board now. He enjoys music, writing, and watching TV. He still loves getting brunch after church.
Graduate Recognition Sunday will take place on April 7th. If you or a loved one who has attended Redemption Church is graduating from high school, college, or graduate school, please email the following details to Maria by Friday, April 4th:
We are looking forward to celebrating with you!
Have you ever thought being “faithful” looks like putting your feelings aside and proclaiming only the goodness of God? I’m pretty sure that way of living is promoted as holy in many Christian circles. I thought like that too, until I had a very real, personal encounter with the Lord. During an all-church fast, I believe God put it on my heart to bring everything to Him, even the stuff I thought of as unholy. “Just come,” He said. Since then, I have seen a huge increase of intimacy and loving trust as I bring everything to the Lord: my praise, my junk, my doubt, my delight, all of it.
For this season of Lent, my prayer for Redemption Church is that every person who desires deeper intimacy will respond to God’s open invitation to come. At the beginning of this process, I experienced a lot of fear about how imperfect my expressions of love were compared to the spotless, righteous love of God. In response to that fear, I felt like the Lord put the following poem in my heart.
Title: Keep Coming
Keep coming, love
Even when self-hatred pulls you back
Even when there’s snot mixed with your tears
And your hair might leave dirt smudges
On my feet
My feet don’t mind
So, keep coming, love
Even when condemnation weighs you down
Even when your “old ways” take over
And you think I’m like an ordinary man
I’ll turn your grime to gold
And your shame to praise
Just keep coming, love
I know you’re bruised
But I won’t break you
But I won’t quench you
I’m not afraid of your pain
Your urges, your doubts, your rage
My love, just keep coming.
Blessings on your Lenten reflections. And may you know the joy of deep intimacy with our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Naomi Wong is a writer whose permanent residence is in California. She spends her days writing novels and poetry and loves prayer ministry, too. She has attended Redemption Church since January 2019.
The video mentioned at the 39:06 mark is below:
The musical worship leaders are looking for electric guitar players. We practice twice a week, either Thursday night or Saturday morning and then again before the service on Sundays. Please contact email@example.com for more information.
Also...do you play an instrument that we don't often see on stage (eg. strings, horns, woodwinds)? Please reveal your hidden talents to us at firstname.lastname@example.org We are working on a special project and need you! Thanks!