And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
— Romans 5:3-4
In 2015, I felt like my world fell apart. While ultimately it didn’t actually fall apart, my life was changed irreparably, some of that has been for the better, you might even say, they were a blessing, just in disguise at the time. Three major events happened in my life that made significant impacts on my life: losing my teaching job, finding a new job 1200 miles away, and suddenly and tragically losing one of the best friends I’ve ever had. The first two turned out to be a blessing. The third sent me into a tailspin that nearly destroyed me.
I have never been one to go to church very often without being forced. However, my faith is strong. When I began to question my sexuality, I did not turn away from God. I turned to God for answers. I prayed and meditated. I questioned my sexuality, but not my faith in God. There have been a number of events in my life that did not go as planned, but I always told myself that I was on the path God had planned for me. I faithfully prayed that God would show me the path that he wanted me to follow. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” My journey to discover my sexuality has been part of that path. Many things have led me to where I am today: an accepting, gay Christian. I am who God created, and I work hard to be the person God wants me to be.
However, my faith did waiver once in my life. I almost lost all faith in God when my friend died just over seven years ago. I broke down completely. I had moved to Vermont away from my family, who at the time I believed were my support system. I have found that is not really the case. In fact, if it not been for Susan, I doubt I’d have survived this period in my life. See, I hate talking on the phone, but Susan is a willful woman, and I love her for it. She insisted that we talk on the phone. Now, we talk every day. Had she not insisted that we talk, I would have been alone. She carried me through that time in my life, and I will never be able to thank her enough. Many of you know the poem “Footprints”, also known as “Footprints in the Sand.” If you don’t, here is one version of it:
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
God doesn’t literally pick us up and carry us across the sands of time, but occasionally, he sends someone to carry us for him. For me, that someone was Susan. I felt adrift in life during that time.
These last two weeks have been so difficult. Why did God take my friend? Why would he let something so tragic happen to someone with such a beautiful soul? Some terrible things had happened in my friend’s life when he was younger. His parents disowned him for being gay, which had nothing to do with religion but pure homophobia. God brought wonderful people into his life and helped him through those difficulties. My friend had a difficult time understanding how such a great and loving God could allow tragedies to happen. Whether those tragedies were accidents or caused by someone hatred or cause by natural disasters, he wondered how God could let those things happen. I never had a very good answer for him. He had suffered in his life because of his family’s rejection, and I’ve never been able to understand how they could be so cruel.
These past two weeks, I’ve struggled with the same issues. I can’t help but wonder how God could allow him to die in an accident, while his hateful parents continued to live on. I admit that it has made me so angry at God. Being angry at God just compounded my sadness because I felt guilty for being angry at God and questioning the faith I have in Him to protect and provide for us. God took this beautiful man (and I don’t mean in just physical beauty, which he was, but also in his soul.) He was beautiful and so kind. God took him away from not only me, but the rest of the people who’d considered him part of their family: his boyfriend and other friends. For me, he was more than a friend. He was family. He was my confidante, and he was my confessor. He was the younger brother I never had. There are so many wicked and hateful people in this world that God could have taken, but he took someone who had the purest heart I have ever known.
I almost turned my back on God. I could not understand, and honestly, I guess I never will understand why God allows bad things to happen to good and faithful people. There is a song we used to sing in church called “Farther Along.” The first verse and refrain say:
Tempted and tried we’re oft made to wonder,
Why it should be thus all the day long;
While there are others living about us,
Never molested though in the wrong.
Farther along we’ll know all about it,
Farther along we’ll understand why;
Cheer up, don’t worry, live in the sunshine,
We’ll understand it all by and by.
Like in the song, I came to believe that one day I’d understand why. However, for a couple of years after the death of my friend, I was an incredibly sad person. I could not even speak his name or talk about him without getting choked up and having tears in my eyes. I did not want to continue living. As my faith returned, so did my will to live.
There are three verses in the Book of James that used to puzzle me. James 2-4 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James appears to be saying that when we face trials and tribulations, that we should “count it all joy” these tests of our faith. It’s sad to think that we have to face hardships just to make our faith stronger. Yet, I don’t think that is what James really meant. I think he is telling us that anything that strengthens our faith should be counted as joyful.
It doesn’t have to be tragedy, but any number of events in our lives that might strengthen our faith should be looked at as a blessing. God has his reasons for all things, but I guess I am a bit of a deist when it comes to this. Enlightenment philosophers and deists under the influence of Newtonian science tended to view the universe as a vast machine, created and set in motion by a Creator being that continues to operate according to natural law without any divine intervention. I think the natural world takes over and God does not intervene very much. If God intervened to stop evil and tragedy, we would be living in paradise, but that’s not how God works.
The death of my friend was a catalyst that began my questioning of God, but it also led me to trying to know God better. I had lost the anchor that was the conservative Christian faith I had been raised to believe was the only path to heaven. When I lost that anchor, I wasn’t quite sure how or where I fit. I felt disconnected from my values, disconnected from my faith, disconnected from my family. I had to rethink all that I had been taught to believe. What I learned was that my values were fine, my faith was fine, I was better off being disconnected from my family, and it was my conservative Christian faith that had actually let me astray.
I think any Christian would admit that they have had a crisis of faith at some point in their lives. For some people, that crisis of faith leads to a complete break in their faith; for others, like me, it makes their faith stronger. It is my faith that I think defines who I am. It is where I get my core values. It is why I believe that Christianity is a far gentler faith than most of its practitioners portray these days. Too often do I see people who disparage religion because of religious fanatics. The problem is, the fanatics are merely the loudest, but because they are the loudest and have been at it a while, those who believe in the type of Christianity that puts Christ’s teachings in the equation are a minority.
I may have had my crisis of faith during this time seven years ago, but I think the world is having a crisis of faith because non-Christians have taken over Christianity and have turned good people away from the religion. My hope is that one day Christians take back Christianity, and it becomes the loving and accepting religion that follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. First Timothy 6:12 says, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Maybe that’s what the past seven years have taught me. I fought the good fight, and I hope I am continuing to fight the good fight.
I can’t tell you the point where my faith in God was restored. I’m not sure it was one single thing. I do know that my life in Vermont has changed me for the better. In 2015, I started down the path of a better life and greater faith. I’ve had my ups and downs, but ultimately, I think I am better off where I am now.