Two years ago, on a misty morning beneath a wooden cross, God spoke to me. He said, “Don’t crucify me again, Nichole. Don’t remake me in the image of your pain.”
How thin the line, if there is one, between warning and prophecy.
At the time, I was in awe, and grateful for a God who knew my tendency would be to run, to divide myself from Him, to define His boundaries according to the edges of my agony.
I thought, What mercy! Thank you for reminding me that when I deny who you are, I harm myself. Surely, now, I will do no such thing!
I recalled the story where Jesus warned Peter, “Before the rooster crows, three times you will deny me.” Peter insisted, “I will never deny you!” and yet Peter denied Him indeed. How relieved I was that God had protected me from such a fate…that He had revealed the traps ahead and that I had responded with a humble heart.
Are you laughing? I am. At least, when I’m not crying.
See, when God speaks, He does so with a perfect knowledge of all things seen and unseen. But we listen with faulty ears amidst the clamor of a lying world, our understanding beset with shadows.
I assumed God meant “don’t remake me in the image of your pain if your brother dies.” Oh, it was all of that. And so much more.
Months after my brother’s death, I found myself reeling not only from the loss of my physical family as I knew it, but also from the loss of my spiritual family as I knew it. I have compared the death of my brother to a chunk of flesh being torn from my side. Losing my church left me feeling like a limb that had lost her body – discarded, useless, helpless.
Everything – everything – was broken. My heart. My family. My church. My expectations. My faith. Shaken to the core. Fractured. Crushed. My life had become a labyrinth of cracked mirrors. Almost impossible to navigate.
I began to better understand Peter’s breakdown. How he fully expected to endure until all his expectations were shattered. How he intended to stand strong beside his King until the King refused to wield His strength. How Peter was certain of his own faithfulness until Jesus began to shake the very foundations of his faith. How he found himself disoriented, disillusioned, alone and terrified.
Maybe Peter didn’t lie when he claimed, “I don’t know Him.” Until that night, maybe Peter never really had.
On my worst days, I, too, cried, Who is this God? I don’t know Him!
Because in that labyrinth of shattered mirrors, I didn’t. I sought His face but found Him skewed, His features splintered across shards of glass, unrecognizable, like a Picasso painting.
In digital ink, I raged against this dying of the light. Some recoiled at my shameless telling of grief and anger and doubt and fear. Those I least expected pressed me to stop “lamenting” and “move on”. They questioned my faith, even accused me of heresy.
Forget Peter. Suddenly, I felt like Job. Only perhaps a bit less sure of myself. After all, Job seemed so certain of his righteousness and here I was literally confessing my hatred of God. But was I confusing Job’s righteousness with sinlessness? Certainly Job couldn’t be sinless. No man, save One, has ever lived a sinless life. No. Job’s righteousness wasn’t about sinlessness at all. Job’s righteousness was about His relationship with God. Even in the midst of intense suffering, confusion and doubt:
“Job sticks to God, retains intimacy, passion, and care, while the three friends are satisfied with correctness of words, ‘dead orthodoxy’. Job’s words do not accurately reflect God, as the three friends’ words do, but Job himself is in a true relationship to God, as the three friends are not: a relationship of heart and soul, life-or-death passion…God is infinite love, and the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. Job’s love for God is infected with hate, but the three friends’ love for God is infected with indifference. Job stays married to God and throws dishes at him; the three friends have a polite non-marriage, with separate bedrooms and separate vacations. The family that fights together stays together.” (Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life)
I know now that if I’ve done anything right during this season, it has been staying in the fight, wrestling with God instead of walking away, choosing loud fights and broken dishes over polite indifference and separate bedrooms.
So last spring, when God invited me away with him, I went. Three days. Alone. With God. At whom I’d spent the last 18 months throwing dishes. (If you still think I’m a heretic, do I at least get points for bravery?)
I could write ten thousand posts and never cover the height and depth and length and breadth of what God gave me in those three days. But perhaps the words this God-denying, alleged-heretic most needed to hear from the Lord were these:
I know you are hurt.
I am not asking for more than you can give.
You need me to enable you to show mercy, to let go.
You can’t do it on your own
and I’m not pressuring you.”
In wonder, my heart cried: Who is this God? I don’t know Him!
In some ways, maybe I never really had.
It’s an uphill journey…this getting-to-know-God business. I know it’s hard. Maybe you’re tired or thinking of giving up. Right now, my only advice is this: Stay in the fight. If all you can do is throw dishes, then keep throwing dishes. His unfailing love for you will not be shaken.
© Nichole Q. Perreault