“Your eyes look happy. Like there’s light in them again”
Of all days, today, on Easter Sunday, the day that we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead, one of my pastors told me that my eyes looked happy again.
Two days after the assault, I was in church. It felt strange - like I wasn’t in my body. I felt like I was watching it all take place while hovering above it. Everything seemed disjointed - like all the seamlessly moving parts were somehow now separate. Or maybe that was me.
I couldn’t say or sing the name of Jesus. I would will the word to come out of my mouth, but it didn’t. It was like pushing on the gas when the car is in park - screeching, spinning, dying, to be set free. I felt like if I sang those words of worship, I would be a liar. So I just stood there.
13 months later, I stopped going to church. The weight of that unvoiced hurt, anger, and deceit became too much to carry. I started to fear that people would see through me - that they’d see this ugly thing that I was so desperate to conceal, and that when they did, they’d reject me and no longer deem me fit to serve in church. So I left.
My last day leading my team, one of our pastors pulled me aside and asked me why I was really leaving. I said that my new job was very stressful and I couldn’t continue to lead and serve well while performing well at work. He asked me again. I said the same thing. He asked again and even, semi-jokingly, asked if it was because of a guy. I stuck to my script. On the inside I was absolutely screaming the truth, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it. My pride wouldn’t let me.
That’s the thing about pride - it steals the things we cherish the most.
First pride, then the crash - the bigger the ego, the harder the fall - Prov 16:18..
(Dang, sometimes the truth in love hits you where it hurts.)
My pride clouded my ability to see the truth. My church was my HOME. The people there were my family. The very last thing that they would do is reject me due to brokenness. It’s the exact opposite of who they are and what my church home is.
My pride stopped me from asking for help. Even with my pastor staring me in the face, my pride pushed those words of truth down until they were swallowed by an awkward laugh and a lie.
My pride didn’t want anyone to see me as anything other than great. When one of my leaders asked me, “hey- how are you really doing?”, my pride answered for me.
My pride couldn’t stand the thought of being lumped in with the stigma of victim.
My pride told me I could do it alone.
My pride didn’t like the truth - that I actually needed community to heal.
My pride lied, and then it led me to a dark wilderness.
In Luke 4, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness. (Luke 4:1, NIV)
It wasn't accidental, aimless wandering..the Holy Spirit LED Him there for a purpose. In reading it, one would conclude that purpose was to be tempted by the devil.
To me, this is one of the most beautiful depictions of Father and Son that the Bible offers. Ha- I can see your face in my mind, like - "tempted by devil, beautiful depictions of Father and Son…? Okay, crazy lady"- but bear with me, I’m going somewhere!
God needed Jesus to experience that wilderness. The Bible later says that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15.) So if He hadn’t been led to this wilderness and been tempted by the devil, that wouldn’t hold, which would make the word of God false. God, the Father, allowed, Jesus, His Son, to experience something really tough, knowing all along that He could do it.
But I wonder if Jesus knew that He could do it. I wonder if the human part of Him ever doubted His ability to make it through. He had to rely so heavily on His Father during that time - in fact, the only weapon He used to get through it were His Father’s words. I mean Satan was tempting Jesus. That means he was offering Jesus things that He actually wanted, and Jesus resisted for 40 days and nights - WITH NO FOOD. I think it’d be one thing to be constantly tempted on a full stomach - but to be tempted by someone that you can’t stand for a prolonged period, AND be hungry at the same time? No, freaking, thank you.
I also wonder what it’s like as a parent to know that you’re sending your kid into a hard situation where they can choose right, or they can choose wrong. God loved His Son, Jesus, so much (Matt 17:5, John 3:35,) and I just have this picture of God in my mind, cheering Jesus on from heaven - like - “C’mon Son, you can do it! What have I always told you? You’ve got Me, I’m all You need! Keep pushing. Keep fighting. I WILL get you through! Trust Me!”
And see, Jesus believed Him.
So how come in my own wilderness I had such a tough time believing that God would cheer me on, His daughter (2 Cor 6:18, Gal 3:26,) in the same way?
Maybe it’s because I couldn’t figure out if Jesus led me to that wilderness or if I wandered in on my own...
I’ve said before that I needed that wilderness - I needed to go there to get here. I’ve always been someone that insisted on learning my lessons the hard way (much to the utter dismay of my parents growing up.) But did God need me to go there to get here? I doubt it. But I don't doubt that He loves me so much that He allowed it to play out that way, keeping me safe as it did.
What I’ve realized is that how I got there doesn’t change that one constant - God loves me. He loves me wildly, fiercely, and passionately. It’s only a love like that that can light the way OUT of a dark wilderness.
Eight months later, I finally found my way back to church thanks to the unrelenting love of my friend, Andrea. She knew that I felt wildly uncomfortable coming back to church, but it didn’t stop her from making sure my butt was, and is, in a seat every week. She encouraged me to be honest with my pastors and stood right next to me while I tearfully opened up about what’s been going on and asked tough questions. She sat with me through tears and arm-crossed worship. She is the epitome of “a friend loves at all times” (Prov 17:17.) Our church has this hashtag #sheissisterhood - and that’s what Andrea is, she’s Sisterhood- and no amount of writing will be able to give her her due.
It’s been six weeks back at church and my pastor told me today that my eyes look happy again. I guess the eyes are the windows to the soul and all that... Because in all this time, it never even dawned on me that I was sad. And today, on a day when my eyes look happy again, I realize that for the first time in a long time, I am happy, and I feel the light beginning to shine.