Leaning into Grey: Learning How to Live in the In Between
I haven’t written a blog post in a month and half. I don’t have an excuse either; I’ve just been feeling like a mess and didn’t want to write. Honestly, I’m not sure if saying I didn’t want to write is true, but I definitely didn’t feel competent enough to put how I was feeling into words.
I still don’t.
But I’ve had enough of bottling it up and so I’m at least going to make an effort.
My head feels messy. Full of thoughts and emotions I don’t understand. Mostly anxiety with a hint of threatening depression, not knowing which way is up but feeling like I’m constantly spiraling downward. Nothing seems to be getting clearer or ‘better’ (whatever that means). My brain seems to be caught in a tangled web of tentacles consisting of lies, unwanted opinions, and a loss of hope for deeply desired dreams. All together in this menagerie of seemingly meaningless distortion, I’m attempting to remove the truth from the lies, become grounded in myself, and all in all, find out what I believe about God.
Towards the end of October, I went on a retreat with my church to the hills of West Virginia for a weekend. I had no idea what to expect; if anything, I thought I’d be renewed and rejuvenated, taking advantage of some much needed rest and one-to-one time with Jesus. Little did I know, my world was about to get wrecked. And not just like wrecked on a shoreline of a deserted island leaving me to my own devices, but rather more like the Titanic wrecked. Hook, line, and sunk to the bottom of the icy ocean with nearly no survivors.
Overall, the retreat was a positive experience. God addressed major issues in my heart that needed to be healed. He met with me in every session, allowing me to grieve parts of myself that had been stollen and beginning to restore those broken pieces. I felt hopeful and loved by God, a feeling I haven’t felt in over a year. I began to understand and crave more of His closeness. I was amazed at what He had accomplished in a matter of a few short days and I was charged, ready for whatever came next when I got back to Athens.
But with the healing, I also received advice and direction from some of my fellow retreat go-ers. Initially, the advice was seemingly harmless. The visiting pastor from the retreat met to pray with me and as I confided in him about some of the issues I was facing in my life, he suggested (fairly indefinitely) that I make a large life change. I was taken aback, so I ran to my small group leader’s wife and confided in her. She, too, agreed. I found another confidant; again, she agreed. I was blindsided. I had no idea that others around me had felt this way about certain circumstances in my life and had hid them from me. I was confused and terrified about what all of this meant, and I prayed to God to not let it be true.
Within the next week after the retreat, I prayed over this seemingly already decided decision I felt forced to make. I didn’t feel God wavering on what He had asked through these brothers and sisters in Christ. My hands were tied and I found myself, once again, walking into a situation which I believed was God asking me to give up something I loved solely because He asked me too, no ifs, ands, or buts. He wanted me to trust me. I did so, but with a heavy, bitter, and begrudging heart.
Six weeks went by and nothing had seemed to change. I had been overcome with paralyzing anxiety since the retreat. I felt unable to make my own choices or make any move without consulting people from my church. I believed I was less of a Christian than they and didn’t know God as well as these individuals, so instead of defaulting to God in prayer, I defaulted to godly (but human)counsel. (*Disclaimer, godly counsel is always wise. However, in my case I took it to an extreme and forwent any communication with God. Leaning on our church body is good, but it cannot be done in isolation).
Eventually I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t happy with the decision I made. I had no peace. I felt dropped off and abandoned by the people who had helped me ‘make’ this so called godly decision, receiving little to no support afterwards. So, I did the thing everyone least wanted me to do and I went back on my decision because I believed there was evidence for it to be good and I found it to be best for me. To my surprise, I didn’t experience any direct backlash, just more silence from the church. Quiet disapproval but no outward remarks.
So, I write to you from the wreckage of that weekend on my salvaged planks of wood that I’m using for a life raft, attempting to stay afloat in faith. I’m still just as anxious, if not more so than before all of this occurred. As I seem to be banging my head repeatedly against a brick wall, I haven’t been able to find God anywhere. There is deafening silence in my prayer life. Worship is dull. And His word seems flat. But I’m continuing to pursue and seek Him, because despite all of this I know He is still here somewhere.
These last few months haven’t been all bad and I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’ve discovered that I’m a black and white thinker (which was news to me). I see things as right or wrong; holy or not holy; from God or not from God. There is no in between, no grey. As I began to see a counselor in the last few weeks, she confronted me on this thought pattern. I was shocked. But as I’ve been searching my mind and heart since that conversation, I’ve come to the realization that I’m a very all-or-none processor and God doesn’t necessarily fall into that category. Don’t mishear me, there are absolutely elements of faith that are quite cut and dry, clear that there is a right and wrong. I’d even agree that often God works in similar ways in different people. There are patterns. But that does not mean that God has a cookie-cutter, step by step plan that He shoves each Christ-follower through in order to complete our sanctification process. God doesn’t put us in boxes, like we do to Him. But as we do this, we limit His abilities to work organically. We give Him timeframes in which to mold, heal, and reconcile our hearts to Him.
News flash: we DON’T decide how God works. And I found myself defaulting to what pastors and godly individuals had for me instead of what God has for me. Don’t get me wrong, if they were right and the decisions and changes they wanted me to make were from God, I will follow. But I want to consider the source and hear it from the only being I fully trust, however messy and confusing that looks from an outsider.
Thus, I’m attempting to sit in the grey, despite how uncomfortable and antsy I may be to skootch closer to the white or the black, to find the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I’m going to allow God to meet me right where I am and show me His truth and goodness in His own time, ripping the lies and misdirection of my own heart apart in the process to truly know Him for who He is, not who I think He is. To my friends who are also struggling with God in this moment, it is OKAY to ask questions; it is OKAY to be confused; and it is OKAY to wrestle with God. Jacob did for an entire night and God won His heart (Genesis 32:22-32). Don’t be afraid to roll around in the dirt a bit to find His truth. He is down in the mess with you.