I have a confession to make. In the spirit of honesty, and of the desire to consistently be and be known as a truth-teller, I must come clean.
Prior to last Sunday, I hadn’t truly felt God’s presence or felt close to Him in months. I didn’t even feel much desire to read Scripture or pray to Him. I was going to church every Sunday, feeling that pull during the service to run back to God, but as soon as I’d come home and the worries of the week would begin, that pull would loosen its grip on me and I’d sink back into mediocrity and complacency.
I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me. I’m a seminary student! I’ve been a missionary in India! I’ve dealt with demons attacking me both on their own and through human vessels! I’ve prayed for miraculous healings and seen them come to fruition! I’ve led people to faith and discipled young women! I’ve prayed for a job and gotten one the next day! I’ve prayed for wombs to open and sure enough, they opened!
But in this moment, I felt nothing. When I used to sense God calling me to grand things, and was able to see what He was doing and how He was working, I recently didn’t even feel His presence or hear His voice at all.
I felt no sense of a call, no pull, nothing.
What the hell was I doing in Augusta, Georgia? Was the work I did meaningful at all? Why was I having such difficulty at school? I was earning incredible grades, but I didn’t see myself changing at all. I felt tired, overworked, emotionally and mentally drained, and done with it all.
I was tired of fighting for a call I didn’t think existed anymore.
I didn’t see the point in fighting for a life that couldn’t ever be mine.
Then I took a break from social media for a week. I have a tendency to scroll through Instagram, envying other women’s bank accounts, achievements, bodies, hair, relationships, and makeup skills. I think to myself, “If only I had what she had. Then everything would be different.” This is the besetting sin of the Enneagram Four: Envy. If only, if only is a common refrain my brain sings to me when I survey my life and find it lacking. Lacking in what, exactly? It had been hard to name it, but now I think I can: community. I lacked community with other believers. I lacked communion with myself and with God. I abandoned social media for a week, amazed at how much more free time I had, and terrified of what would come to my mind when I finally paid attention to how I was feeling.
It was during this social media break or fast, whatever you want to call it, that I more deeply understood how distant from God and from others I had become. I was especially distant from myself, just going through the motions of daily life without checking in with myself. I was in deep need but had no idea how to begin to reconnect with myself, my Father, or others.
I spoke with my pastor a few times and she encouraged me, reminding me that the way is open. God’s right there. He’s here! He’s inside of us and all around us. The kingdom has come. We just need to take that next step. She acknowledged that the enemy was diligently working to destroy me, as so many things in my life had recently fallen apart. She prayed for a fresh indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I hoped that this powerful woman of God’s prayers would begin to ignite the change in me I couldn’t imagine for myself.
Fuller Theological Seminary recently hired a Latina chaplain. I hadn’t ever met with a chaplain before, although I believe that this is my calling. It’s a bit strange, when I think now, how little experience I had with chaplains (no experience!) and yet I knew and know that this is my calling, or at least a part of my calling. It’s truly beyond me and proof of this being in God’s plan for me, that He planted this idea in my head and this desire in my heart long before I knew what a chaplain was. That story will come later.
I made an appointment to speak with this chaplain and when we finally spoke, we spoke for an hour. She told me that chaplains are a non-anxious presence for people dealing with crisis and concerns. I felt in crisis. She was deeply understanding while I was blunt about my anxiety and depression. She encouraged and inspired me to press into my Latina identity, recognizing that we all view Scripture through our cultural lens, and that God made me Puerto Rican for a reason. She honored my ethnic identity and didn’t tell me to stop focusing on it and solely identify by my Christian identity. For a Christian of color, it is impossible to do this.
Fuller Theological Seminary has no female Latin professors and no Black women professors. Fuller Theological Seminary, a diverse seminary committed to the Great Commission, does not have black or Latin female professors. See? There’s something there. Christians of color are multifaceted people with multiple identities, particularly if we are women. We can’t escape our ethnic background or our gender. We must learn what God has for us with it and roll with it.
I told this chaplain that I hadn’t felt God’s presence in a while and that I felt little desire to spend time with Him. Rather than say that God feels distant because I chose to walk away, she uplifted me and reminded me that sometimes God is silent. Sometimes we are being tested. Sometimes we deal with such brokenness in our fallen world that we find it incredibly difficult to maintain strong faith and be consistent in our spiritual disciplines. Our spiritual life ebbs and flows, like any other relationship does. She also remarked that Fuller’s quarter system is not conducive to healthy students and that almost every student she speaks with experiences the same disconnect from God. Fuller’s students are overworked, burned out, and feel distant from God while we write papers about God. Fuller has the longest MDiv program in the country, about 120 credits, and is rigorous. Suffice to say, I certainly thought I was the only one experiencing this. While taking classes, I felt like I was sprinting through concepts that need to be learned over time, not in 3 days. I didn’t know that my seminary’s academic culture could cause some of this stress. Fuller is extremely difficult. Not everyone makes it. Many people graduate with an MDiv, but may find themselves unchanged or cynical from their seminary experience.
She thanked me for my honesty and prayed for me, saying that she was glad that I felt dead, that I felt numb. Because what comes after death? Resurrection. This astonished me. She was glad? This experience is a part of my marathon toward Jesus? This happens to other people? I’m not a fake Christian? I haven’t lost my salvation?
No longer did I feel the overwhelming weighted blanket of shame on my back, pressing me into myself in self-disgust. I felt hope. Hope presented herself as a small ray of light in my mental darkness, but she was there! She felt familiar and she reminded me that I once knew her well. She hadn’t left me. She had been obscured by the fogginess of my brain, but she was always there, waiting to be uncovered and explored with anticipation, no matter how tiny.
That following Sunday, during worship, my pastor approached me and asked how I was doing.
“Meh,” I replied.
“Let it wash over you,” she encouraged me.
I did. The best way I can explain what happened is by saying that something broke in me during that worship service. I don’t know exactly what it was, but some type of oppression or stronghold or darkness broke. Its power over me broke. It happened during “Nothing Else” by Cody Carnes, a song my church has recently adopted for worship. The lines, “Jesus, You don’t owe me anything” and “Take me back to where we started” knocked me out! I silently sobbed and stood there, overwhelmed by God’s presence and power.
I went home and after working out, took a shower and listened to Christian music for the first time in a while. Immediately I began sobbing and crying out for Jesus. I just screamed His name over and over again, feeling my body shake, and sensing something inside of me coming together again.
This brought to mind a dream I had as a teenager, a dream I now know to have been prophetic. In the dream, I stood on one side of an extremely high wall, looking up in an effort to see beyond the wall, although that was definitely impossible. The wall seemed to extend to the heavens. I stood on that side of the wall with countless other humans, all looking up, all screaming one word: “Jesus!” We called out for Him to save us. I woke up before He made Himself known.
During that shower, while I cried and worshiped, I felt something in me being restored. I knew that I was being healed, and I also knew that I would need to choose that healing over and over again because the darkness would continue to call me back, thirsty for my soul. Throughout my life I will have to always choose Jesus, every day, because the darkness beckons for my brain to submit to its evil power. Following Jesus and receiving His healing is a daily decision that is often hard to make, especially when our brains need His healing touch so we can think properly and choose the life He continually offers.
In the week since this encounter with God, I feel a renewed desire for Him, and for holiness. My ears are beginning to hear His call again, and are beginning to break it apart, piece by piece, understanding which piece is for right now and how to fully press into it. I’m learning how to claim what is mine right now and what will be mine in His time. No guilt. No shame.
I’m still struggling with controlling my sexual desire, my dark thoughts, my tendency to take offense to small things, my feelings of rejection, and my distrust of other humans. The point is that I’m struggling against it now, not just allowing these things to rule over me. I acknowledge that these issues come from my past as an abused child, and as a sexually assaulted young woman, but they need not have the final say in my life. I will not cower in shame, refusing to speak about my issues, but I’ll name them and then relinquish them into God’s healing hands.
Readers, there is hope. The Christian life isn’t about seeking that emotional high that often comes from well-produced worship performances or saying that we’re all perfect now that we’re saved and that we’ll never be tempted to sin again. It’s about being human, honest, open, and secure in the knowledge that Jesus has saved us, is saving us, and will save us at the end of all things as we know them.
He has saved us from being separated from God now and at the end of all things as we know them. He has brought the kingdom to us and extended His hand, inviting us to partake in His kingdom in this life. He speaks truth into the dark places in our minds and makes sense of the pain we experience in this fallen world. He lays a table before us, filling it with all we need, making sure there are more than enough chairs for each person to be included. He reunites us with fellow humans with whom we’ve been at odds, creating family where there was once animosity. He completely inverts traditional power structures and systems, challenging us to reconsider how we think and live. He asks us questions, wanting us to discern how we can best live as spiritual beings in human shells, both individually and collectively.
He is life, and He shows us how to live, now that He’s given us His eternal life.
This is what I’m fighting for. This is what matters. This is what I must choose each day.
Join me in this fight and find your life.