The struggle to write about how I still have faith

Sometimes people ask me how I still have my faith after all that we’ve been through. I never know what to say. The truth is, I’ve been trying to figure that out for the better part of two years now.  Memoir #3 is hopelessly bogged down in this quagmire, my narrative arc looking like a half-built boat: it has a bow and a stern, but no center – the center being the place where God swooped in built new life atop the ruins of my blown-out world.  I’m missing the “Beauty from Ashes” chapters, because for the life of me, I can’t figure out what happened. 

There are few things more frustrating than reading a memoir that draws you into pages and pages of loss & sadness, stops cold with a single blank page to suggest a break in the narrative, then plunges you right into “Oh look! It’s all better now!”

I’m determined to fill that blank middle page.

Yesterday I sat down at my computer to figure it out. I decided to use numbers instead of paragraphs, because that would FORCE my story to cooperate, right? I mean, numbers DEMAND order, and I was DONE with chaos.

Here’s what I came up with: (cut & pasted directly from yesterday’s Word doc)

How I kept my faith:

  1. I didn’t. I gave it up entirely. (Which I guess means I was honest with God for the first time in awhile.)
  2. I stopped praying. I no longer believed it worked, and if it didn’t work, why do it? It felt weird to whizz by stranded motorists on the highway without asking God to bless and help them, but whatever. I called 911 instead.
  3. I stopped reading my Bible. It was filled with passages that clearly weren’t true, because I’d seen them be not true in real time. I was tired of twisting my mind into ridiculous excuses for God.
  4. I stopped going to church. My mind was screaming, “No. God is not good all the time. He’s not that simple, and life is not that easily explained.” There was no church where this was an okay thing to say, so I stopped going to church.
  5. I stopped feeling. Feelings were not helpful to me in this season, so I ignored them.
  6. I shut up. I refused to “process” this with people who kept trying to fix me, and only admitted what was happening to my husband and the one trusted friend who had never tried to fix me before.  Steve pulled out his copy of The Power of a Praying Husband and gave me extra long hugsmy friend said, “I’m fine with that. I totally understand why you’d be done with God after everything that’s happened,” then prayed for me behind my back. This might be the most important survival decision I’ve ever made.

A couple of years later, I heard my friend Jordan give a talk about how, during one terrible season of his life, he practiced living like he was dead. I thought, “Oh, I know exactly how that feels.”

***

That’s as far as I got yesterday. I was cracking up with giggles as I wrote it. It’s so not what you ever read about in inspirational books, at least not in the chapters about God restoring things! These are usually the pre-redemption chapters, the ones where you can tell that your main character is about to come face-to-face with the horror of her sinful ways. But nope. That’s not what happened.  All of this purging, as I chucked all of the stuff I’d been taught I HAD to do as a follower of Jesus, is, I think, what gave God room to do whatever it is He did to help me believe again.

I used to say that all we need for Jesus to transform us is to be willing, to invite him in. Now I think, Nope. Even that’s not necessary. 

I don’t get God. At all. That’s as it should be, I guess. I live in the tension of what was lost and what’s been found, and I have NO IDEA how to write the middle section of this story, because who wants to read 6 chapters about all the things I was not doing? But for the story to have any sort of integrity, structural or otherwise, I have to figure this out. So today I’ll pull out that Word doc and wrestle on.

If you’re in a space where all hope is lost, and you don’t give a damn about God or the rules or what well-intentioned people tell you about how you MUST do this or that, I give you permission: Walk away. Who knows? In a few months or a few years, you might have a story that has no discernible middle, but yet hints of a happier ever after than seems possible right now.

That’s the story I want to tell – the happier ending, the one where nothing makes sense but life is somehow better. But as a writer, I have to earn that ending. I have to figure out the middle.

7 thoughts on “The struggle to write about how I still have faith

  1. Brianna says:

    I walked away for awhile too and when I went back, our relationship was so much better. Hard to put into words. Thanks for being honest!!

  2. Melody says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I would like to read six chapters about all the stuff you didn’t do. That would feel refreshing and encouraging, I think.

    • trishryanonline says:

      I hadn’t thought of it that way. But I would have given my eye teeth (okay not literally. But I’d have given something very important to me, like my favorite pen) to have a book to read on someone else’s 6 chapters when I was in the heart of this. Thanks for encouraging me that this might be worth writing. *Starts new chapter: “Instead of Church, now I go to Target”*

  3. Kristy says:

    I so appreciated reading your list, b/c each number resonated with me. I’m there right now – the no-longer praying, the no-longer reading, the shutting-down and the walking-away. And sometimes I feel guilty for it, because isn’t the “right” Christian response to keep praying (harder), to keep clinging (all the more desperately) to scripture, to ultimately persevere in faith? At least I feel like that’s so often the “right” response that some authors and sermons and (well-intentioned) friends would present to us.

    We’re not often presented with the model of walking away. Of taking a break. Of gaps in testimony, because those were the hard years, the lean years, the years when we just couldn’t anymore. We’re not often given permission to stop persevering. Not even as a means to an end. Just as a thing that must be done.

    I agree with Melody. I’d like to read about the missing middle.

    • trishryanonline says:

      Wow, Kristy – thanks for being so honest with this. It’s such an awful feeling at first to buck all the pressure and stop all the stuff. And lonely. It’s one of the few seasons of life where I couldn’t find much to read about those who had gone before me, at least not by people whose lives felt a bit like mine. Thank you for encouraging me that these six chapters might be the most important thing I write. Because what I’ve learned is that God can handle it when we walk away. And He does stuff in that empty awfulness, while we’re watching the Sunday morning news shows and reading novels we grabbed at the library. Bless you in this season. xoxo

  4. PM says:

    I’d love to read all the gory details of what you’ve been through because starting about four years ago, it felt like God just walked past the table of my life and with a swipe of his arm, knocked everything off. That’s why I can’t bear to read the Psalms anymore with their verses of God not putting you to shame, of being an ever-present help, blah blah blah. You know, the sad thing is that it’s really freeing to stop praying, and I really wish all the verses of praying and believing weren’t even in the Bible. You may now call me Our Lady of the Bad Attitude.

  5. Laura says:

    Thanks for that! I’m in the midst of that list in my life right now. Glad to know others have experienced it and gotten through it.

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