Josh took on the task of shopping for a new church during the summer I went back to Ohio to take care of Dad. One Sunday he sent me a text:
This pastor is British and snarky. You’ll love this place!
Well. How could I say no to that? When I returned to Colorado that fall, we started attending church regularly for the first time in about a year. I preferred the Thursday night small group over the Sunday morning service, since crowds are a bit of an issue for me, but Josh was right about the pastor: he was awesome. A non-cheesy, relatable, and yes, snarky fellow who loved the occasional jab about the inferiority of American ways compared to British ones (“Have you ever noticed that what you call ‘bread’ is really just sugar?!”).
Then that pastor took a sabbatical in his native home of England, so a different pastor took his place for a while.
During one service, there was a video in which congregants were interviewed about the miraculous ways that God healed them, from eczema to arthritis to viral infections…and cancer.
Few things make my blood pressure rise these days like the words “divine healing.” I felt the boiling start in my stomach and work its way into my chest, which constricted more and more with every interview in the video. By the time the tide worked its way into my throat, I knew I had to leave or I’d start screaming. It was as if my legs took charge all on their own, ungracefully stumbling over knees and purses on the floor to carry me out of the sanctuary as quickly as possible. The heavy metal doors slammed dramatically behind me, which was unintentional. I just didn’t have the patience to close them slowly.
Once out of public view, tucked in the safety of a ladies’ room stall, I let the tears flow. Actually, it was more saltwater rivulets combined with snot and most unladylike dry heaving, which I couldn’t contain even though the bathroom was empty; the service would last at least another twenty minutes before the swarms of women with antsy children came in.
Well, I thought it was empty. I must not have heard the door open, but I did hear the clackety-clack of heels across the floor. Two patent-leather-shoed feet appeared in the space between the stall door and the tile floor. “Are you all right?” asked a woman’s voice.
I remained silent for a few moments, contemplating what to do. On one hand, I could have ignored her until she got the message that I wasn’t up to talking. But what if she stood there until I came out? The other alternative was answering “I’m fine,” but in my condition that would just be ridiculous. So I did the most logical, but still last thing I wanted to do: I exited the stall and collapsed into the woman’s waiting arms. She was elderly, and a church elder, as evidenced by her staff name tag. So this was more than just showing concern for a poor sobbing soul: it was ministry.
Eventually we crossed the room and sat on the loveseat against the wall—technically the nursing area. The elder—Veronica, her name tag read—didn’t ask me if I wanted to talk, but simply sat patiently with a gentle hand on my back. I really, really didn’t want to talk, but there was a still voice in my head saying something to the effect of You need to give this community thing a chance if you want to get your faith back. This was my church, and this moment was an example of truly needing it most desperately.
So, reluctantly, I dove for it: I explained the sermon, the triggering parts of “miracle healings,” and how deeply they hurt to hear because of how my father died.
“I see,” Veronica replied calmly. “Was your father a believer?”
Whatever still voice of reason in my head previously was instantly replaced with that of the depressed cynic: I told you this would happen if you opened up! This is why you only share personal stuff with your husband, your close friends, and your therapist. Why didn’t you keep your mouth shut?
“No,” I said stiffly. Though I was tempted to say, “He had beliefs,” because “nonbeliever” implies no beliefs at all, but that pet peeve is rooted in semantics. I knew what she meant.
“Well.” Veronica folded her hands and bowed her head sovereignly. “Well.”
I blinked, expecting more, but it seemed that even she was stumped. Was this dilemma really so unusual? Surely I couldn’t be the only person she’d ministered to with dead non-Christian relatives?
The tears were tapering off and drying into hardened resolve. “I’m just not sure if I believe in an intervening God anymore,” I said.
Oh, the look Veronica gave me—disbelief mixed with pity. What’s worse than feeling sorry for someone? I’m not sure, but whatever it is, that’s what it appeared she felt.
“We’re not supposed to completely understand God’s ways,” she answered softly. I blew my nose to avoid the temptation to quip Ain’t that convenient.
What I didn’t tell her, and perhaps should have, is that this sermon happened three weeks before the big one-year anniversary of losing Dad. No wonder my emotions were so fragile. But when it comes to a doctrine such as this, my feelings aren’t the worst part of struggling to understand it. No, the biggest struggle for me is what to do with this teaching that provides inspiration and proof of providence to so many people, but threatens to rip the remaining straws of faith out of my bony fingers. I could pray, but what prayer is or is not supposed to do is too tangled in this spiritual web to be of use to me.
I told Veronica I appreciated her talking to me, and quickly exited the bathroom before she could say any more. I pushed through the door and stepped into the hall- way, where my husband was waiting.
Excerpted from Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter.