I don’t want you guys to make the same mistakes I did. I spent the majority of my 20s in a depressed funk, wondering why my life didn’t seem to work. Yet I was a Christian who claimed to know the One True Hope. Was that hope failing me or was I doing something wrong?
Today, I breathe easier, and my faith is stronger. Is it because my struggles were finally rewarded? No. Is it because God came down and told me all the answers? Not even close.
It’s because I stopped asking what exactly God was doing and focused on who he is. But to get there, I had to hurt.
A Brief(ish) History of Struggle
PHASE 1: Become a Christian (2008). I grew up in the faith, but only really made it my own when I turned twenty. Okay, God, I’m all in. Now what fulfilling and “more abundant” life do you have for me? What’s that? I’m gonna be a writer? Sweet!
PHASE 2: Graduate to Nothing (2009). Well, this was my fault. I sleepwalked through life. But I still got a job. I mean it’s not in my field and I see no way of getting into my field on a livable wage, but I’m a Christian now, so things should get better by and by.
PHASE 3: Ministry Internship (2011). Now here we go! Sure, it’s unpaid, but God is telling me to have faith in him. And I love it! This internship is awesome. Can’t wait to see what God has for me next since I was obedient to his will! After all, Jesus rewards those who trust in him!
PHASE 4: Ten months of Unemployment (2013). I’m sorry, what? But…but I did what Jesus told me to. Now that leads to nothing? Okay…? Maybe I just need patience.
PHASE 5: Get a New Job (2013): Whoo hoo! I’m making more money than ever before!
PHASE 6: Discover the Job is a Soul Suck (2013-2016). I’m literally trying to bite through my wrists in the bathroom. The job sucks, the bills piled up to negate the awesome new income, and I can’t seem to get hired on anywhere else. Some fulfilling and “more abundant” life…
PHASE 7: Move From St. Louis to Denver (Early 2016). So God tells me we depend too much on safety, so we need to get out of our comfort zones and go somewhere only He can rescue us. All right, things are finally happening!
PHASE 8: Hate Denver (2016). Um, God? We’re making even more money and yet we can barely pay rent. Also we hate it here. I mean I know for sure you told us to move, so, um, where’s that rescue thing?
PHASE 9: Move to Idaho (2016). At last! Finally, God is doing something! Now life will start!
PHASE 10: Hate Idaho (2016-2017). ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! THIS is the rescue?!
PHASE 11: Depression (2017). So I’ve been following God for about nine years now, and every time I do what he says, things get better for a very brief time at best, then quickly start to suck. Now I’m at a job that pays crap wages and I have a child to support with another on the way. I’m dependent on my parents, I’m dependent on Medicaid, I’m a charity case, I hate my life of constant struggle without rewards, and I’m thinking about suicide daily.
The Wrench in My Brain
So what exactly was going on? Was I doing something wrong and God was withholding favor? No, God gave instructions and we obeyed. So then why was God holding out? Wasn’t life supposed to be easier than this?
Did you catch it? Wasn’t life supposed to be easier than this? Not perfect, not rolling in wealth and accomplishment, I’d never ask for something so selfish, just easier than this. That’s not selfish…is it?
At the bottom of my barrel, my dad told me something I’ll never forget: “Frustration always comes from unmet expectations.” I was frustrated, so what were my expectations?
- God told me I’d be a writer, so I should be on that road by now.
- God told me to leave my home, so life should be better than it was then because I obeyed.
- God told me he would provide, so I should be making more money than this.
- Life is supposed to go up, not down. Struggle should result in progress, not regress.
- God should give me the same blessings as others because his love is unbiased.
None of these was being met, not that I could see at least. But I kept digging, searching through my expectations to see what thoughts were fueling them. I found:
- I have obeyed, so God should have blessed me by now.
- God made promises, so he should have kept them by now.
- I’m almost 30, life should be going in an upward direction by now.
“By now.” And when I kept circling this intellectual drain, I finally found it: the one resounding idea that was the core of all my hopes and expectations:
“I understand God fully. Anything that does not match my understanding of God clearly is not God.”
There’s cocky, there’s arrogant, and then there’s me. I couldn’t see God doing anything good, so I assumed he wasn’t. As though I have all the answers in my little noggin. As though I can comprehend the vast reaches of every step a human makes.
Aaaaand, it got worse.
The Icky, Icky Truth
I picked up Tim Keller’s amazing Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering because Keller is awesome and I was hurting. He said that our modern, Western culture, unlike so many others before and now, believes suffering has no purpose. The goal in life is to eliminate pain because it is nothing more than a hindrance.
To greatly summarize, our culture believes that if we can’t see any good reason why we suffer, that there isn’t one. What’s more, if we can’t understand why God would allow evil, then God either doesn’t exist, or he is evil himself.
Ever look at a fun house mirror only to realize you’re not in a fun house?
When I realized that my near-thirty years of Christian life could be summed up in an atheist manifesto, I could hardly move. All my faith was no greater than someone who disbelieves or dislikes God.
See, the Christian hope is so much greater. It says, “God is bigger than me, therefore I cannot understand everything he does. If I cannot understand everything, then it’s possible God has a good reason for allowing bad things in this world. And if God has a good reason, then it is possible that this path of human suffering is in fact better than any path he could have chosen that did not involve suffering.”
Being a Christian is not about understanding God, it’s about trusting. We see this over and over again in the Bible. We’re told to trust God, not our understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). Jesus told Peter to walk on water without telling him how, or why he’d never do it again (Matt 14:22-33). And though God gave Job a new perspective, he never told Job why he suffered in the first place (Job, the whole thing).
I wanted a God I could understand, not one I had to trust.
So God wrecked me. He let me spin in my angry circles, to grasp at straws until none were left. He led me into pain and frustration until, after nine years of commitment, I would finally sit down and question my own assumptions about how my life would go.
As of this writing, it’s only been about three, maybe four months since I realized all this, yet already I’m seeing changes since I decided to quit trying to understand God and start trusting him instead. This has allowed me to see beyond my narrow scope.
For example, I got a raise. Now this raise does not take away my money troubles. In fact, months ago I would have wallowed in despair that even when I get a raise, it’s not enough to provide for my family. I still don’t know how I’m paying rent at the end of the month.
But now I know I don’t HAVE to know. I just have to remember that my paycheck is not God’s only means of provision. Surprises and miracles aren’t usually on the calendar, but they happen. Therefore, I can calm down and enjoy my raise, even celebrate it.
More than that, I can see how this job is actually excellent for me. Though it pays far less than my last one, it’s far more satisfying, and I’m coming home happier than I ever did when my wallet was full.
And when I was unemployed in Denver, that’s when I wrote and published Ferryman, a book every reviewer has enjoyed (as of this writing) and one I enjoyed creating. And when I was unemployed again in Idaho, that’s when I wrote “Hypocrite,” which is currently in a publisher’s hands. And last year, I wrote 200,000 words of the biggest and most ambitious novel I’ve ever created, “Dodecon,” and I’ve even been told it’s my greatest work yet (let’s hope an agent agrees!). So who says I’m not growing as a writer?
I’m excited to have another child, not wondering how he or she will go to college. When my van has trouble, I’m not panicking. And I haven’t wanted to kill myself in months. All this because I trust that my little struggles and major agonies have a purpose, even if I can’t see it.
The One Thing I Want You to Know
Aha! Caught you scrolling though to see if there’s a point to this, didn’t I? Lucky you, there is.
You’re either hurting now or you’ll hurt at some point in your life. And yes, God’s ultimate plan is to remove suffering entirely (Revelation 21:4). But right now, pain is still a problem.
I can’t possibly get into all the details on God and suffering in a blog post, plus Tim Keller’s book already did a thorough job and I highly recommend it. I just want you to know this: God will do things you don’t understand. If we could understand everything about him, he wouldn’t be God, but some made-up human construct. A real God would be bigger than we are.
When you have to know everything, you get furious when the answer doesn’t come. I mean couldn’t God have just come down from the heavens and explained things without making me struggle like I did? You start to feel God owes you an answer, and his silence is more infuriating still. You’ll rant and rave and cry and moan, not realizing the contradiction of understanding God, or that there are plenty of non-God things in this world we don’t understand and don’t lose our minds over it.
But there is peace when you trust. When you know God has you, even when he doesn’t seem to be nearby. When you know God is good, even when it seems like he’s the source of all evil. When you know God himself, not just his rulebook, agenda, or policies.
That’s what we call faith. Trusting when you don’t understand.
Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand,
But I know who holds tomorrow
and I know he holds my hand.
15 thoughts on “How God Wrecked My Life So Beautifully”
Hi Michael. I enjoyed reading this piece of introspection. These times come and they go, and life goes on. Your point about expectation is a good one. I’ve been inspired many times by the book of Job. He learned the same thing. He kept saying, this isn’t fair. I’m a good person. Today we would say I’m a Christian, this can’t be happening to me. But it did, and it does. Interestingly enough, God never really did explain what was going on. I suspect Job never found out about the deal between God and the devil. But by the end of the book, Job no longer cared. He had learned that God is so great that he could trust him no matter what happened. Even if he didn’t understand why. Even if he was hurting. Even when he lost his wealth. Even when all his children died. Even when his wife turned against him. Trust God. Obey him. Take time to fellowship with Him. We only see one side of all of this, because of our humanity. But there is another side — God’s side.
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Thanks for the encouragement. Yeah only recently did I see what the ending of Job was really about and it’s far more inspiring that way. He didn’t learn more about his circstances, he learned more about God, and what is more God still called Job his servant and took his sacrifice.
So good, comforting and inspiring.
When I first became a Christian, I asked God to make me more like Him. I wanted to reflect His glory in my life by my heart attitude. Then things got REALLY rough. I won’t go into details, but it involved so much suffering that I wanted to end it all. In the midst of this, I cried out to God and He said, “This is the answer to your prayer. I’m making you more like Me.” Oh. It’s true that some things we can only learn in a very painful place, things I never would have learned if God had let me live in comfort all my life. Now I can thank Him for the valley of the shadow of death, because now I know He’s there, too.
It’s amazing how when we ask to be more like Jesus we forget about the cross.
I really needed to read this. Thank you. I’m finding obedience a hard road and have been doing that constant ‘I need to understand this’ thing. Haha. How arrogant of me. And yes, I’ve asked that ‘isn’t life supposed to be easier than this’ question many times over the past few years. It’s so encouraging to read of the fruit of your obedience (even though you didn’t see it at the time), and that both your perspective and your circumstances are shifting 🙂 Some things, it seems, can only be learned through suffering – but it’s still good to read about your turnaround.
Glad I was able to help. Trusting is far harder than understanding, so contrary to our emperical reason culture, not to mention our own pride. Keep on trusting. Stuff goes wrong, choose to trust.
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My wife and I both enjoyed you article and humor. We are walking through some challenging things right now and we totally see how pointless it is to questions God. Now I say that not as a polished Christian but as a recent recipient of a boat load of grace. It has been amazing to walk in this realm of unknown but feel the love and power of his word comforting us. It that peace the surpasses all understanding. It was first sharpened in our understanding of how to trust the LORD when we read the life story of George Mueller of Bristol, England (highly recommend checking out his story through LibriVox or the likes). The man lived by faith all in. We were so moved by his story. This was greater power (the feeling of movement in our hearts) a well written biography. We believe it is a calling for us to try to live in such a way that we are able to encourage others by our life and trust in the LORD for his provision. I mean just think that we could live a radical life and trust God at his word. Deut. 31:8, James 1:5, and Phil. 4:6-8
Thank you for sharing and I want to thank Phil Penrod for sharing your sharing. Be blessed brother I have always be encouraged by your smile and attitude.
Thank you for sharing this. It’s definitely something I needed to read.
Now that I’m in my late forties, I’ve learned that the wrecking it seemed God was doing was actually building. All those tough moments ended up being important pushing me forward. I’m looking forward to hearing more of your journey. Thank you for sharing. And I will be praying for your family and His provision.
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I think you should know that you ARE a writer. This blog that you write in is one of the few that I follow outside of my niche (Star Wars). It’s so great to read your words, you inspire me, and help me through tough times (which I’m currently in).
I wanted to point this out only because maybe a writer in your head means one who writes novels and comes away with a published book in their hands. But maybe the plan God has for you is to help other people through blogging. Just a thought. Not that the novels might not be it, but it’s also another way to look at it.
Thank you for sharing your real life struggles. It’s a nice thing to read…and I mean that in a way that’s refreshing. Not everyone can share openly online about what they’re going through, so I appreciate that you do.
God is a revelation and not a discovery. He reveals whatever we think we understand of Him. He’s actually too deep to be understood, but He can be trusted over and over again. Lovely read!
This is really good. JV
I find the times when I get frustrated and frightened, and feel distant from God’s grace are the times when I’m ‘too busy’ to listen to him in his Word. It’s amazing how much comfort and peace he can offer in the midst of suffering, even when we can’t see the joy. My Bible pretty much opens to the Matthew “Do not worry” section 🙂 It’s always a blessing to be reminded that anything we go through doesn’t change who He IS, and what he has done in giving himself for our eternal good (no matter how much the road here stinks sometimes!) Great reminders, and I am glad to hear that you are doing better. Saying an extra prayer for you and yours.
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