2021 was the worst year in all my 39 years on this planet.
It ripped me apart in more ways than one. It tore through my defences. It attacked my marriage and children. But, worst of all – it disintegrated my faith. It left me adrift and lonely, broken and beaten, disappointed in myself, and especially disappointed with God. It was the longest twelve months of my life and, in all honesty, the darkest.
I was bewildered because I’d lost everything I’d believed and put my faith in. I prayed, but the words just wouldn’t come. I wondered if God really existed – if He could hear my silent screams and sense my tearless pain. If He did, why didn’t He speak? All that I’d learnt thus far in my spiritual journey didn’t offer me any relief.
I did my best. I told myself this was just a ‘wilderness’ season. I fasted and prayed. I sang songs. I read my Bible diligently. But the silence was deafening. I couldn’t understand God anymore. He’d become a stranger. And in the silence, there was only a deadness. My faith seemed to have expired, mutely and unremarkably.
Still, I plodded on. Life was happening around me and couldn’t be ignored regardless of my inner turmoil. I went through the motions of being a wife and a mother. Honestly, it felt like I was pulling a thousand-ton truck all by myself. I was straining under the stress of carrying all the weight and had barely any energy left to even smile at my kids.
I broke many times. But on the darkest days, somehow, something would shift a little and the situation would ease up to be bearable again. Even though I never heard a clear word from God, I knew it was Him. And that would lift my spirits enough to get back to the grind. He did not explain why we were experiencing this terrible season as a family. But I sensed that somewhere far, far away - He was there.
It’s a weird sensation to have - when you lose faith in God’s character. I never doubted His existence. Just who He said He was. Nothing made sense to me. He didn’t make sense to me. The daily pain that I was living with, especially without any sign that it was for some greater good, made me question this God I had believed in all my life. At least if He spoke and answered my questions or even gave me a promise, I might have felt some peace. But the silence was deafening. My prayers were very one-sided – a lot of ranting on my end, radio silence on God’s.
And that birthed doubt.
I doubted Him. I doubted the Bible. I doubted all my ‘spiritual’ experiences thus far. I doubted the words of wisdom and knowledge that had been prophesied over me and my family. I doubted the promises He had given me. I doubted it all.
And living in doubt is the most wearying, joyless existence to be in. All that had been the bedrock of my life lay shattered and broken. I had nothing solid to hold on to. I had no answers anymore. My life seemed like a question mark.
As we came to the end of the year, I stared ahead at 2022 with hopeless eyes, dreading the same numb, miserable existence. Finally, I decided to pray one day in late December. But as I sat down to pray, no words came. So I picked up my Bible instead and began to read Luke chapter 5.
‘And when He (Jesus) had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him’. Luke 5: 4 – 11 (ESV)
That phrase ‘toiled all night and took nothing’ broke me.
It was like all the weight of those long, terrible months hung heavy on my hands. It was my heart cry. I was standing before Jesus and showing Him all that I had tried to do—to help my family deal with the situation we were facing, to find my spiritual legs again, to reignite my faith—but my hands were empty. I had absolutely nothing to show for all my effort. All my toil had been in vain. I was a failure.
Yet even as I wept and bowed my head in defeat, I heard the sweet, still voice of Jesus say, ‘I know. But put out again into the deep and let down your net for a catch. This time, I am bringing in the fish’.
It’s difficult to explain how one feels when the floodgates are broken and waves of emotion course through your very being, rushing into all those dry, arid places, drenching it with joy, love, and surprisingly - awe! Doubt slithered away. God was real again. He had not only hit the nail on the head with all the baggage I was carrying, but He also spoke gently and comfortingly, encouraging my heartbroken soul. He was offering me a place at the table. He was reaching out and pulling me in.
At that moment I realised something significant.
Jesus makes it all worthwhile.
I’m not trying to be brash, and I say this in all humility. Knowing that I will see Jesus face to face one day. Hearing His beloved voice again. Just sensing His presence. All these were that much sweeter and more precious given the months I had gone without Him. And knowing He understood every second of my pain. Knowing He cared about every tear I had shed. Knowing He heard every angry question and outburst yet did not flinch from reaching out to me. Knowing that in that darkest place, He had never left my side. Knowing that this life was not my home. Knowing that I would stand before Him one day and lay all my questions at His nail-pierced feet. Knowing Him, made all the pain tolerable.
I remember reading a quote by Christine Caine on Instagram that puts it all much more eloquently -
‘The pain has been excruciating, the losses too many to count, the disappointments never ending, and the pressure, overwhelming . . . The enemy has been whispering, "Give up, it's not worth it, it will destroy you, it's not true, it's not fair, it's not real, you'll waste your life if you continue." It looks so hopeless and you feel so helpless that quitting simply seems to make more sense than pressing on and persevering. I get it. But want to remind you of one thing. JESUS IS WORTHY. That's why we stay in it. That's why we will endure to the end. Jesus Himself will sustain you, carry you and be faithful to you. He loves you so much’.
That day I did not receive any answers to the ‘What-good-is-this-accomplishing?’ question. But I received something better.
And a resurrected faith!