Conversations about God can be really hard...
Each of our experiences with God and spirituality are so personal—they range from inexpressively beautiful to excruciatingly painful. Our experiences with religion and/or various characterizations of God can trigger a lot within us, from joy and hope to sorrow and trauma. They are ours—and they are real to us. I deeply believe each person’s story and winding path deserves respect and to be handled with care. Only God ever really knows.
I’d like to share just a small piece of my own experience with God because it’s such an integral part of why I decided to record this song, which I resonated with so deeply when Rich Uhl introduced it to me.
For most of my life I have felt a very natural desire to deeply connect with God and to better understand Him. I am seriously grateful my parents not only allowed me, but even encouraged me, to reach toward spiritual things. As a result, I felt free to forge my own personal relationship with Him. I have never been perfect by any stretch, but I wanted my relationship with my Maker to be personal, immersive, fulfilling, and honest—so, I have worked for that relationship. It has led to some of the most beautiful and inspiring experiences of my life, both in the good times—and in extremely painful times.
I am grateful to have seen God’s hand and felt His direction, mostly in small ways, but on occasion, in far more significant ways—often in ways I hadn’t fully expected.
That being the case, for much of my life I could not have remotely imagined being angry at God, and I couldn’t really understand how anyone could feel angry at Him, let alone question if He existed. My experience was that He loved us fully, deeply and personally. I had felt it. I had seen His hand in my life again and again and again.
And then about five years ago, at a period of time in my life of inexpressible despair, it happened. I could very much, and painfully so, understand it.
At that time of anguish, in the depths of my greatest griefs and heartache, it felt like my hope was literally turned upside down. And for the first time in my life, I felt like God had abandoned me. I felt betrayed by God—and by time itself. I felt hurt, hopeless, and very angry at Him. At times it honestly felt more realistic to question if He really existed at all and I figured if God did exist, He obviously didn’t care or intend to help. "The heavens are silent" no longer felt like something only other people experienced. It felt real for me now, too.
I also began to wonder—am I even worthy of love or hope? My thoughts became increasingly negative and I felt myself spiraling downward. I didn’t feel like my best self. And God didn’t feel like my best friend. What compounded that pain is that I felt shame for thinking and feeling all of these things. Yet I knew I didn’t want to stay stuck in that dark place—I couldn’t survive there. I knew I wouldn't. I wanted to feel light and hope.
Over that period of time, I had identified what felt like plenty of evidence that God didn’t care. I hurt hard and I craved peace in a way I never had. I also felt less love and less inspired (both things I attribute to a meaningful life). In the agony of that darkness, I began to consider what experiences had brought me the most light and growth in my life in the past. And I noticed that more often than not, they were times I felt God’s hand in my life.
So I made a conscious choice. I decided to look for evidence of God’s presence in my life, even though I still felt unsure. I decided to gingerly reach toward Him again.
I'm not sure I had any idea what to expect from it, but what followed ended up being one of the most profoundly beautiful experiences of my life. I learned something more about God's heart—and his unwavering, fierce love. In the very act of making the decision to reach, I felt God begin to quietly speak to my heart. There was no chastisement or shame or “Well you should have done this.” or “How could you be angry at me after all I’ve done for you?”
Instead, there was just,
“I love you.
I know this is so hard and I understand why you pull away from me. I’m not upset. I know the deepest parts of your heart that ache and feel raw and tired and afraid. And I am grieving with you. I know why you run. But I want you to know that I have never left you, and I don’t plan on it. I’m with you, even when you don’t notice or feel me. And I’ll walk with you however long it takes as you move through the process of this grief and other unfulfilled hopes.
I know you feel like you won’t be ok, but you will. I will help you be ok. I have not betrayed you. My Child, I love you more than the stars and the oceans I have created. Let me walk with you through this.”
The way I felt God speak to my heart wasn’t demeaning or patronizing or frustrated. It was just pure LOVE. And a genuine, undeniable understanding. I was reminded that He doesn’t want me to pretend I’m fine when my heart feels broken. He loves my honesty. He wants me to bring it ALL to Him. He is bigger than ALL of that stuff. And He loves me THROUGH it.
I felt His fierce belief in me—that He knew who I already really was—and was becoming. I didn’t immediately have answers as to why certain things happened—and my outward situation did not change at that time, but what I felt was his understanding of my situation and my imperfect yet striving heart. What I felt was His invitation to be brave and flexible.
He didn’t invite me to step around the challenge or pain, but to courageously move directly through it, with His help. And so I began to.
And I’m still trying to do that. I’m not perfect at it, but I try to give him my honest heart, wherever it is at the moment, the highs, the lows, and everything in between. He has my whole heart—even the struggling, imperfect parts.
Although it was very challenging, I don’t view this experience of feeling hurt by, or angry at, God as something ultimately negative or bad. Quite the contrary. In the end, what came of it has been one of the most profoundly beautiful (although initially exquisitely painful) experiences of my life. It secured me to God. It anchored me to Him and added richness and dimension to my faith. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I believe it is a beautiful, normal, healthy part of life to sort through and process troubling experiences and what feel like paradoxes: things that cause our minds and hearts to work, to deeply feel it all, and even to question. I believe He wants us to exercise our hearts and minds; that’s part of why I believe He gave them to us—and they can lead us to Him. I believe He wants us to fully engage in life and to search for truth, even in the pain.
I know I can’t speak for everyone, and I won’t try, but for me, this difficult journey ultimately brought me closer to Him than I previously even thought possible. In that messy, complicated process of working this through, with questions galore (and questions still), I ultimately ended up learning something very important about Him.
I learned that God can handle not only my deepest sorrows and fears (as I had already previously believed and experienced throughout my life), but He can ALSO handle my anger, uncertainty, questions, frustrations, and my walking away. Not only can He handle it, but He will love me with a pure intensity all the way THROUGH it—with a love that is so big and deep and expansive that I continue to be amazed. He does not deliver messages of shame. I learned that His love is there. The whole time.
He loves our multi-faceted, lovely, complicated hearts—after all, He created them. And I believe He knew exactly what he was doing when he did.
He is LOVE. Again and again and again. In and through, above and around and below.
For each of us. For ALL of us. His love never ends.
Track Notes: Lyrics & Music: Mike Donehey / Vocals & Producing: April Meservy / Producing, String arrangement, Guitars, Bass, Drums, Keys, Programming: Scott Reinwand / Violin: Aaron Ashton / Violin: Rebecca Moench / Viola: Leslie Richards / Cello: Michelle Kesler / Mixing: Marc Daniel Nelson / Mastering: Eric Boulanger (The Bakery) / Photo: Frozen Ivy Photography / Hair & Makeup: Brooke Roundy / Graphic design: Ricardo Rosas