Tonight I am thinking about my faith journey over these past few years since my daughter’s divorce and the subsequent upheaval that engulfed my family like flames. Many knew nothing of it. I knew it all too well.
In response, I narrowed my world to what I could handle; specifically the one mile between Christ Church and our home. I almost completely stopped all outside speaking, consulting and writing. I honestly didn’t feel like I had much of anything to say. I went to work every morning and came home every evening to feel sorry for myself. Sometimes I left work early to get a jump on it. I just hurt. Every day.
Some weeks I wondered how I could even preach. The foundational monument of my “perfect” family in which I had so prided myself was violently shaken and its level foundation was rocked to the core. Everything was not perfect. Who was I?
I must say that for a while “it was not well with my soul.” The pain of dashed dreams and inward fears was overwhelming as changes I never requested or imagined ravaged my soul. “Dear God…anything but my family.”
And yet every Sunday, I declared the goodness of God and preached this wonderful Gospel of a Christ who heals broken hearts; silently praying God would heal Melissa and me and the hearts of our children and grandchildren.
As I look back from the safe distance of a “new normal” on this side of the tsunami, I find, to my surprise, that there are sunny days again. And even days like today when the world is a snow globe and the shaking of it produces unexpectedly beautiful and wondrous things. I dare smile again…and hope…and dream…and breathe. Breathe! I even say “yes” these days when I am asked to write, to lead or to speak.
By my own estimation, I emerged from this difficult season somehow more humane, forgiving, empathetic, decent, approachable, humble and well…Christian. I am not damaged. Only things like unforgiveness, bitterness, anger and hate can damage us. I have chosen love and have chosen well even as I am reminded again (for the first time) that my rightness with God is based on the work of Christ, not my work for Christ. And my ministry is based upon the permanence of God’s call, not some temporary, illusionary and unsustainable perfection once represented by a family photo.
If you are traveling a rough stretch of highway, fear not. The journey may be jolting but the pain need not be wasted. Through the hurt, devastation and disappointment you may find that God’s work is being done in you and that someday, somehow; quite inexplicably you will be better for it.
Peace be unto you dear friends whether you are walking through the valley of the shadow of disease, divorce, hopelessness, rejection, bankruptcy, vocational uncertainty, addiction, loneliness, estrangement or death itself. None of these things can separate us from the love of God. None of these things!
This relentless, forgiving, loving God who has brought you safely this far, will walk with you the rest of the way. The sun will break through. That is the promise. That is enough.
I have now walked the shadowy path. My footprints join those of so many of you. God is for us and not against us. Of this I am now certain.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois