Be still my soul

Guitar

My friend Kim is an inspiration; her Dad died of cancer several years ago. I met her after her Dad had died, before my mum received her first diagnosis, and I was amazed by her. She spoke about her Dad openly. She misses him and is so proud of him, but the pain hasn’t consumed her. Life has carried on, and with God’s help, so has she.

I didn’t tell her about my mum at first; I didn’t feel like my mum’s breast cancer diagnosis was anything compared to her Dad’s death. It was a couple of months before she found out, and then I was probably just as surprised by her reaction as she was to my mum’s diagnosis; she thought it was a big deal. After that, I was honest with her in relation to my Mum. I was worried at first, in case it reminded her of her Dad and it made her sad, but she reassured me that the reason she didn’t talk to me about her Dad was because he died, and she didn’t want me to think that my Mum would too.

When I moved away from the city, I continued to text and call her for advice. The weekend we discovered that the cancer had spread to her brain, I rang Kim. I was so scared. I had no idea how I felt, or what was going to happen to our family. Everything seemed to be moving so quickly, and the doctors were saying things that I didn’t want to hear. We talked, but her experience of cancer was totally different to mine, her Dad’s death no way like my Mum’s, but she did encourage me to pray. She listened to my doubts and questions, and assured me that God was real, he did love both me and my mum, and she would continue to pray for us. She told me a little of her experience, and encouraged me to make a mix-tape that I could listen to when it was tough. She told me the story behind the song, “Trusting in You,” by Ian Yates, and how that was written about a woman who lost her father to cancer.

The next day was a tough one. I found myself sitting staring at the railway tracks, when the song ‘Trusting in you’ came into my head. It was enough. I plugged in my head phones, and walked back to the hospital, crying and praying to God. I was desperate for this not be real, for my mum not to be dying. I felt powerless, and frightened, and so guilty. I was ashamed of myself, my behaviour, my inability to control my emotions. I told God everything, I begged him to help me.

A few days later, another song came into my head. I picked up my guitar and played around until I got the chords, and I sang it over and over again. It was basic, only a few lines; but it was a start. I sang it over and over; my prayer. A couple of weeks later, I added to it, writing the verses, until I had a full song; ‘Be still my soul.’ I really struggled to pray; what could I say to God when I still struggled with him so much?

‘Be still my soul’ really helped me to start talking to God again, pre-written words that expressed how I felt. As time carried on, I wrote more songs, each expressing how I felt and what I wanted to say to God.

 

 

Can I be honest with you?

Can I be honest with you

Lola was fantastic. I told her over the phone one evening, and she was empathetic. Apparently she had really struggled with her faith too, several years before slap bang in the middle of a dissertation on Christian Theology. She understood the difficulty in wrestling with God, whilst being tied to a Christian qualification and fulfilling various roles within the church. How do you teach a Sunday School class about the love of God when your angry with him? How do write a study for house group when every time you open your Bible you find another reason to dislike God? Lola encouraged me to hang on and sent me a book called Stumbling Blocks by Gavin and Anne Calver.

The book is really good. It’s about people who have decided to turn their backs on God and leave church. The book is not written to condemn them, rather to look at the reasons why they left and challenge these reasons. What encouraged me the most was that I felt that if I met the authors they would not see my questioning as a threat; rather they would accept where I am in my relationship with God and seek to walk with me into answers. They would understand my fear and hurt, and would care for me, rather than judge me.

Doubting God made me feel incredibly lonely, and I was very grateful for Lola’s understanding and willingness to talk through my doubts with me. Lola’s reaction encouraged me to share my doubts with more of my friends; and the more I shared, the less lonely I felt. Okay, looking back, I did bring some of that on myself. I mean, if I had been honest with those closest to me from the start, instead of trying to figure it all out on my own, I might not have felt so isolated.

I was honest, and to my relief so were they. They listened to my angry rants, and told me they were sorry. They were honest in their confusion, humble in how little they knew about their God.

I told Donna about my doubts, and a couple of days later, she came to church exhausted. I asked if she was okay, and she smiled, and told me she had stayed up late researching my questions, and had some theories she wanted to share with me. That helped. The information, and the arguments she had found were good, but what caught me was that she had stayed up because she knew the questions were upsetting me. That encouraged me that there may be a God.

You’re not real!

 

Tea for two

I had decided that God could not be both all-loving and all-powerful, and therefore was not real. I was now free to enjoy these last days with my mum, unburdened by the need to witness at her.

But then a strange thing happened. During one of our lunch time outings, my mum asked me questions about my teenage years and I struggled to answer them with God omitted. It wasn’t that I felt the need to tell her about God, in fact quite the opposite, I wanted to leave him out, but he was so weaved into my story that it just couldn’t be done. It didn’t throw me though. If anything, it only intensified my anger at the non-existent God. During my month of atheism, I told more people about my experiences of God than I had ever done as a Christian. I prayed more, albeit prayers of “I hate you! And you’re not even real!”

I was wary of who I told about my new found atheism; I had seen people’s reactions to my doubts in previous months and didn’t want to be preached at by a load of squirming, awkward, self-righteous nutters who feared for my salvation. I kept going to church, leading groups, life as normal. I was on a church internship, and I really didn’t want to end without finishing my foundation degree in youth work, so I decided that I would leave the church in September.

It was an intensely emotional time for me, and I think that pushed me to reconsider everything I believed. I absolutely did not just want to ‘have faith;’ if I was going to keep going with God when all this was over, I needed to know He was real. I spent hours searching the internet for people like me; I found that there are plenty of stories of people finding God, but not so many about those losing Him. This frustrated me; I needed someone to talk to, someone who could relate, someone who would accept how I was feeling and not freak out on me.

But who could do that? I was about to realise just how much I had underestimated the people around me.