After battling depression over the better part of the last two years, I am finally finding myself getting better. I sense hope again, I sense joy again, and most importantly God is more real to me that He has ever been. EVER. At the prompting of a friend, I have been reading “Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail” by Robert Webber. This book so clearly puts into words what my experience has been for the last month or so. While there have been many others who have gone through a similar process, I’m going to try to express my personal journey here. While some of the things that follow may sound very dramatic, I assure you that everything I’m saying here is a true and honest account of what I was and am feeling and experiencing.
I don’t think anyone in my life realized (because I myself didn’t) the extent of the spiritual barrenness that had engulfed me. To be completely honest, I was on the verge of losing my faith altogether. My depression was swallowing me up, I felt like my life was imploding all around me, and God was nowhere to be found. I prayed…BEGGED…Him to show himself to me and to somehow let me know that my existence in this world had meaning and a purpose. Whenever I went to church, I would leave more depressed than I was when I showed up. I had been taught all my life and truly believed that if I would attempt to engage with God, that he would in turn do likewise. Nope. Nothing. I know all the Sunday School answers to this, as do many of you, so I’m not going to waste any time explaining all the hoops that I attempted to jump through to make God notice me again. I became more bitter and more angry each passing day, because I was quickly reaching the logical conclusion that this God I’ve never NOT believed in was in fact a myth. Comfort for the weak. “Morphine for the Masses”, so to speak.
As I thought back on my upbringing and my life in the church, it became very clear to me that God had never felt real to me. I mean really REAL. I knew all the answers I was supposed to know, I trusted Christ, I was involved, I taught others, and I feel like I grew personally in the arena of spiritual knowledge. But God was never really anything but an enigma to me… it wasn’t that I was trying to fully understand God (that is an exercise in futility and frustration)… it was that I had absolutely no concept of how He worked in my life, how He ministered to me daily, or how He used me to minister to others. I also had no concept of true honest worship. NO CLUE. Sure, I had mountaintop experiences as we all do… but genuine, honest, consistent worship was something that never clicked with me.
Then I attended a service at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Waco. On the morning I attended, I left my house having no idea where I would end up. In the account of her own journey in Webber’s book, Anna Masi put it this way:
“The first time I experienced Anglican liturgy, I felt relieved. Just shy of my twentieth birthday, I wandered into an Anglican church down the street from my university as a last-ditch effort to salvage the remains of what little faith I had left.”
That is exactly where I was that morning. I literally told God before I left the house that if He loved me at all… if He cared about my life at all… if He existed at all… that I NEEDED him to guide me to something radically life-changing, or I was done. I meant EVERY WORD of that. I had tried every Evangelical avenue I knew to try… charismatic, traditional, contemporary… small, large… fundamental, moderate… staff leadership, lay leadership. Each and every path I took led to the same dead end of non-experience. God was always distant. No matter how much I prayed or read my bible, no matter how much I involved myself at church, it was still the same. I was convinced that there was something wrong with my faith because I never could seem to sense God’s presence. I never “won souls”. I never ached to have interaction with God, even though I knew I should (or at least was told that I should). I even entertained the possibility that John Calvin was actually right and that I wasn’t one of the elect. That would have explained so much. It all boiled down to the fact that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I trusted, no matter how many times I “gave things over to Him”, God never felt any nearer or any more real. I felt abandoned and alone.
That first Sunday I attended St. Alban’s, I was confused and as lost as Hogan’s goat. I had a tiny understanding from my time attending an Episcopal elementary school growing up in Odessa, TX, but I had forgotten most of what little I knew about the liturgy and how interactive it was. I’ve spent my entire life sitting in church being preached to and being a passive participant. The whole experience was totally mind-blowing and more than a little out of my comfort zone. But as the service went on, I began to realize that it was like God orchestrated that service for ONLY ME. Every single scripture, every prayer, every hymn, the sermon… everything. It’s like God had taken my years’ worth of begging and petitions and responded to them all at once – genuinely, tangibly and intimately. For literally the first time in my life, I felt God reach out to me where I was in all my confusion, doubt and fear, and pour His love on me in a very supernatural way. HE instigated the contact, and I didn’t have to do anything to conjure up that contact. I sat in the pew and wept.
In my subsequent visits and my interaction with the Parish Rector, it continues to almost creep me out (in a good way) how God keeps pouring on His love and healing exactly how and where I need it. I find comfort… true comfort… and rejuvenation in the scriptures and prayer of the liturgy and a renewed sense of Christ’s love for me every time I take Communion. Anyone who knows me personally will not be surprised by the fact that I’ve spent the better part of the last month researching, studying and TRYING to find something wrong with the Episcopalian Church. Every single doubt and reservation I’ve had so far, God has pointed me directly to the truth on each matter and abolished every single misgiving and falsity that I’ve held about other denominations. There are a few things that I’m still working through, and I may not come to full agreement with every element of the official Anglican position, but there’s also A LOT of stuff in the Baptist/Evangelical tradition that I vehemently disagree with as well.
One of the reasons I felt compelled to write this was just to get it in print and make sense of my own thoughts. Another reason is that I wanted to clearly explain and never forget how desperate and close to the edge I was. I know this sounds dramatic, but this experience has literally saved my faith, and in reality has saved my life. While I floundered in my spiritual desert trying to come up with some way to make God work in my life, each day I found fewer reasons to stay alive. Now I have found hope and joy in every aspect of my life as a result. I don’t know whether the depression caused my spiritual crisis, or whether my soul’s dryness caused the depression. My guess is that it was probably some of both. Regardless, God has used this to give me new life and has caused me to love Him and others more deeply than I ever thought imaginable.
As I continue down this “Canterbury Trail”, it’s looking more and more like I’ll be leaving my lifelong association with the Baptist Church and becoming Episcopalian. I know that going to a different church than my family isn’t ideal, but I also know that now I’ve experienced Him in such a tangible way, and this is where I’ve belonged all along. I now realize that the 3 years I spent at St. John’s Episcopal School in Odessa 35 years ago was God preparing me for this time. My perspective on my entire existence is completely different than it was a month ago, and God has forever changed my faith and life through my encounter with Him through the liturgy. As dramatic as that sounds, I totally believe it to be true.
Where this trail will ultimately take me, only God knows for sure. But for the time being, I’ve found a home and a place to serve that has ignited my passion for Jesus. He’s revealed Himself to me in a way I never dreamed, and it sure beats wandering the desert from oasis to oasis just trying to survive.
In Him – B