I grew up in the church and I loved it. A lot of people love to express their hate for the church after years of elders making them sit in the pews and being force-fed scriptures, but this isn’t one of those stories.
I chose to go to church. My family was never particularly religious; my father doesn’t believe in anything in particular but has spoken a few times about reincarnation and things like that. I know he believes in something after death, but not in a God. My older brother is brilliant in math and science so he believes that our bodies will just be a pile of bones and our souls will cease to exist. And that will be that. My mother, on the other hand, believed in God. However, she struggled with her faith for many reasons. She was in and out of the church all the time.
I went to a summer camp when I was in 3rd grade. It was a Christian camp where we did all the normal outdoorsy fun things that come with traditional camp, but we also heard messages and sang worship songs. The pictures above are from that experience, and you can tell how much I enjoyed it. This was the first time I had ever really heard about God but it clicked for me. I believed whole-heartedly, and even at a young age I felt like there was a bigger presence in the world than just myself.
Middle school came and I was more involved in the church than ever. I was part of youth groups, I went to bible studies, and I even worked at the summer camp where I first learned about my faith. I felt so connected to God.
In high school some unfortunate things happened in my church. My pastor didn’t end up being the person we all thought he was. I decided to leave that church, but it was devastating for me because I had roots there. Even though that was a bad situation, I knew that people are flawed (even pastors) so my faith in God didn’t waiver. I felt like this was the biggest test in my faith so far and I had stayed strong. I didn’t know that there would be much greater tests to come.
Without delving into the long and complicated story of my past, essentially my mother was an alcoholic and my stepfather was abusive to me. I lived on my own with them from middle school until the end of high school. I silently endured things that no child should experience, all while keeping up a façade at school. Still, I believed in God. I believed He would be the one to dry my tears, right the wrongs, and save me from the storm.
Then came college. I had to completely break contact with my mother and stepdad for my mental well being. However, the drama continued to find its way into my life. My mother was in and out of the hospital every month. She was even in a weeklong coma at one point, all from her drinking.
This is the time I started to really examine my faith and what I truly believed. It seemed strange to me; So many people had told me that God answers the prayers of those He loves, but I wasn’t experiencing that. I had heard countless testimonies from Christians who talked about horrible life circumstances and how God had carried them through it. I can remember some of them so vividly; testimonies that talked about miracles happening. Why not me? Hearing these stores so many times made me feel like there was something wrong with me. Either God wasn’t real, or I was doing something wrong. I would cry out to Him and hear silence. I got to a point where those testimonies were not a beacon of hope for me. In fact, they started to make me angry. I thought about how I had prayed for my family life to improve for six years. Every single day. So how is it possible that all these people had their prayers answered, but not me?
Some people have miraculous stories about how just when they started thinking God wasn’t there, He suddenly came through and answered their prayers. This is not one of those stories either. Actually, this story is different than all the ones I ever heard growing up. While those testimonies are great in many ways, they often only show one side of faith. People want to hear the part when God saves the day, but they don’t want to hear stories without a happy ending. I had never heard anything like that either, despite spending most of my childhood in the church. But then I started reading the bible more. I began to explore the history of God, not based on stories I had heard in church, but based on actual scripture. What I found was quite interesting; there are so many instances in the bible where God asks His follower to endure horrific things; From Noah to Hezekiah to Joseph, and even Christ himself, it’s not always easy for those who love God. In many ways it is often harder for these people. I found new meaning in the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” because I realized it doesn’t say “I can do all things and Christ will make it easy.” Maybe, like David in the bible, God is working in order to build me something greater in the future. Or maybe I will never see why bad things happened in my life. However, I still believe.
I believe in God and He hasn’t answered my prayer. I trust that He has a plan even though He hasn’t answered my prayer.
Maybe you never hear these testimonies in churches because it’s not a feel-good story. But you know what it is? It’s real.