Resistance is Futile

I used to think it was my job to fix people.

Years ago, I would meet weekly with a friend and we would talk about God and her decaying marriage. I would pray that God would fix their marriage and fix my friend, but I left her house every week feeling the futility of my vain attempts to talk her into a relationship with God. Eventually, they divorced. Our friendship has lasted, but it now has a much different context.

I used to pray in a similar way for Max, even before his transition to atheism. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was wrong, but I begged God to fix him, to heal him, to make him into a mighty man of God. My prayers were stale and full of fear and I could sense their futility, but I didn’t know what else to do.

I still don’t understand exactly what happened to Max. As his wife of many years, I am convinced that he was a believer. He would say he used to be one too. I used to make myself sick trying to figure out what the exact catalyst was for his demise. For me, the situation came to a head one December evening when Max started telling me about the doom the Bible speaks of apostasy and how someone renounces God can never return because they’ve crucified Christ twice. He looked at me from across the kitchen and asked, “Do you know how worried I am about that?” With a smarmy look, he held up his hand and curled his fingertips to meet his thumb. “Zero.” As I replayed the scene when I had a moment alone, my sobs doubled me over. How could I have hope or peace if he’s condemned?

I didn’t read my Bible for a while after that because I was terrified of what I would find. When I finally picked it up again, it first seemed my worst fears were confirmed.

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. Romans 9:10-18

The implications of these verses were startling.

The hard truth is, God is GOD. He can do as he pleases. I don’t have to understand it. I don’t have to like it. He can save someone. Or not. He can harden someone or he can bring them to conviction. I believe this is the very truth that sent Max packing—that God is the One calling the shots and what he decides/allows is sometimes unfair/awful/horrible, etc.

I considered being mad at God. After all, he’s the reason Max and I married in the first place. We felt it was his will and, even looking back, it seemed his hand was involved in every aspect of our union. Why would God knowingly allow me to marry a future atheist?

Why indeed.

Why did God allow Joseph’s brothers to come to hate him and sell him into slavery? That seems pretty harsh. But when the dust settled, Joseph’s take on what his brothers did to him is thought-provoking.

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:19-20

God saw the entire picture. He knew the heart condition of Joseph’s brothers at the beginning, and after what they did, all hope for redemption seemed lost. But God also knew what their heart condition would be at the end, and that their hearts would one day be open to conviction and repentance. God knew reconciliation would happen.

Years ago, when Max was still on staff at a church and all seemed well, a woman at church came and spoke words to me I did not understand. She talked about Max being on the verge of bursting forth with true worship on stage. She said God deliberately put Max and me together and said I am like Max’s heart—what will enable him to transform into the man God created him to be. She related my spirit to Mary’s and told me to read about her in Luke 1. Verse 45 stood out to me, when Elizabeth speaks to Mary. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.

I did not ask for this turn of events. I do not like it. It hurts in ways I’ll never be able to put into words. It causes more horrific conflict in our marriage than any other issue we’ve faced. Did God cause it or did he allow it? I refuse to waste any more time wondering. The real question is, will God use it for his good?

Yes. Unequivocally. I believe that there will be a fulfillment of what was spoken to me from the Lord.

Fear used to drive me to pray against Max developing any sort of relationships with other atheists. Now, trust drives me to pray that God will allow the relationships and developments he has in mind; all of them, no matter how awful they seem to me. The place to which Max has wandered isn’t exclusive to him. One day, when God draws Max back to himself, it is certainly possible that God can use him to reach a formerly unreachable people group. “…but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Psalm 37:3-7

In the Thick of It

I knew it was coming, I just didn’t know when. Anna was working her way to a colossal mess at the dinner table, Linus and Gwen were gumming each other’s toes in the pack and play, and Max and I were unloading the dishwasher. Max casually said, “I’m not upset or anything, but I want to talk through the other night so I can understand a few things.”

He was referring to just before bed earlier in the week, when Anna said she wanted to talk to Daddy God, which is how I refer to God when I pray. She then proceeded to chat with God for long moments before she turned to me and asked if I wanted to talk to him. Heart pounding, I quietly thanked God for a few things and wrapped up my prayer. Then she turned to Max and asked, “Do you want to talk to Daddy God?” He replied, “I don’t talk to him.”

It wasn’t a bad response when I think about what he could have said. Silverware clanked as he asked if she was learning that at church or if it was from me. I told him I was the culprit. He iterated why he detests Anna saying Daddy God and said it makes him feel like some sort of earthly stepfather to a not-good guy who doesn’t exist in the first place.

I responded, “I am doing as I promised. I preface everything I tell her about God by saying ‘I believe this to be true.’ You are not doing the same.”

A few months back I’d overheard Anna tell Max that Daddy God made her. My stomach had instantly begun to churn. These were words I’d whispered to her before she drifted to sleep, words I’d prefaced with “I believe.” Max’s response to Anna had been swift. “No he didn’t. Mommy and Daddy made you.” Instant irritation had made my face feel hot. I had done my best to respect his wishes and he had trampled all over mine.

But that scene was a bad example to use with Max considering we were the ones who “made” Anna from a scientific perspective. Because I failed to make a logical point, it went downhill from there. Max said he doesn’t need to preface anything he believes to be true because it’s all scientific theory, which by definition is based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. He went on to point out that my “relationship” with God is purely my emotions running rampant. Goodnight nurseI had nothing. My pea brain sputtered so loudly I couldn’t process anything else he said.

The old Mae would have listened to Max and done one of two things: 1. Get defensive and make a nonsensical response that would have fast-tracked our afternoon to hell, or 2. Become terrified and get lost in the lonely abyss that is my current situation. Instead I asked the Holy Spirit for help on every level. I listened to Max as best I could and conceded his valid points. I offered no apology but did reaffirm my promise to preface my belief when I speak with Anna about God. And while I loathed every minute of being forced to engage in it, our conversation taught me a very important lesson.

I must always be ready.

A war has been raging since the dawn of humanity and I finally noticed I’m in the thick of it. If I won’t learn the discipline of a prayer warrior and actually engage in battle, those I love will die. I must make time to be trained by the Holy Spirit and then use every other precious moment my mind is not otherwise engaged to pray in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication.

I did not wish to become a prayer warrior. I despise words or ideas that have been bastardized by over or misuse, which is why to me, prayer often seems like the churchy tactic of last resort. But I can’t argue with James 5:16-18. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

I do not have the luxury of being married to an agnostic who doesn’t really care what our children believe about God. Max is actively hostile toward my beliefs and will aggressively counter whatever I say to our brood with his perspective. I must expect this. I cannot afford to be caught off guard. It is imperative I wake up seeking to be filled to the point of overflowing with the Holy Spirit. It is essential I allow the Spirit’s conviction which leads to repentance. I must ask the Spirit to clothe me in nothing less than grace, wisdom, boldness, courage, humility, and discernment in order to take up the full armor of God so I can stand firm against the enemy—which, by the way, is not Max.

It goes against every instinct I have, but it is only as I sink my knees to the soul-stained earth that God trains me to become a warrior. I am not left unprotected. I feel the earth tremble beneath me at the roar of my Protector just before metal meets metal and the death blow meant for me is thwarted.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. Ephesians 6:12-18

Written Out

As Max and I began to trudge through the murky road of his secret atheism, we were helpless to keep from being written out of the lives of our friends. The only thing I can liken it to is Matthew Crawley’s sudden departure from Downton Abbey, only Dan Stevens wanted to leave the show. One minute, Matthew was driving down the beautiful English countryside after the birth of his son. The next, the camera panned from the overturned AC Six Cabriolet and zoomed in on the blood trickling a path down his pulseless neck.

We were once main characters in our friends’ stories—years of countless afternoons and evenings spent together, enjoying food, movies, and laughter. Holidays with their extended families. But our exit from their stories wasn’t as swift and tidy as Dan’s was from Downton. It was a series of, “We’re busy this weekend,” and “Not feeling so well.” Six months later, it dawned on Max and I that we’d been written out and there was no going back.

Keep in mind that the people whose stories we were written out of are good people. I’m sure they felt the change in Max even if they didn’t know exactly what it was. I changed too. I grew silent about God anytime Max was around. I also couldn’t tell any of my friends what was really going on because it wasn’t my secret to tell. Since no real wrongs were committed, I did not have just cause to be angry. But what I did have was powerful.

Hurt.

Jealousy.

Bitterness.

Abject loneliness.

At the foot of Anna’s bed, I would weep in silence while she slept on, blissfully unaware of the way her mom tried to hold the pieces of herself together. I’d weathered dark days before, but I’d never experienced such a profound feeling of aloneness. I did my best to not entertain my bitterness, but since I’d already opened the door and let it into my heart, it became so pronounced I could barely stand to hear the mere mention of a few whom I’d once considered my close friends.

I knew I was in the wrong. I also knew I could not change in my own power. So, I went to God, though it was pathetic at first. I’d rant about this and that and how it made me feel. And how much I knew I needed to forgive Jane Doe for what she’d done to hurt me, but I just wasn’t ready to let it go yet. Because most of the time, self-righteous bitterness feels good. I began to revel in it and play out mock scenes in my head where I gave Jane Doe a witty verbal smack-down and she was reduced to hiccuping sobs over the way she’d cast me off. I mean, is a bit of groveling too much to ask?

It is.

Especially when I consider all the hurt I’ve caused other people in my lifetime and how God forgives me every single time. As God slowly brought me to my senses, he began to grant me what bitterness stole—the want to forgive. The want to see those who have hurt me thrive and flourish. The want to love them in a new, fresh way. Now, every time bitterness pounds at my heart’s door, I send God to answer it—and it’s coming around far less. I’ve come to realize Max and I were never written out of our friends stories. We are still loved; we just play far less important roles.

I now believe these roles were meant to change. There are different friendships for different seasons and there is a natural ebb and flow as is the case with anything organic. The unwanted ebb of some of my friendships deepened the flow of a few others. Walking with a friend through tragedy and pain has a way of cementing said friendship in sweet ways.

Sweeter still was, and is, getting to experience a deeper friendship with God. Years before, I’d learned how to laugh with him. But had I never been so deeply wounded, I would never have learned how to be so deeply comforted. Countless times, I would ask God to hold me while I cried, which might sound dumb unless you’ve been there before. Every time I asked, I could feel him wrap his arms around the pieces of me. I felt his breath as he leaned down to kiss the top of my head as he listened to the newest thing to hurt my heart. He listened. He understood the depth of my pain like no one on earth ever could. He cared. He saw me when I felt invisible and friendless. He whispered to me time and again that he will never leave me or forsake me and that even if I took the wings of the morning and dwelled in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there his hand would lead me and his right hand would hold me. If friends had physically been available to me at my deepest moments of despair, I would’ve traded divine arms for human ones.

And truly, there is no comparison.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. Isaiah 49:13

Foundations

June 14, 2010
The cold metal barrel of my 380 Keltec felt odd as it pressed into my temple. Especially since I was the one holding it in place. “I HATE YOU!” My throat immediately felt raw from the force of my words. “YOU’RE TOXIC!” My eyes bulged and nostrils flared.

I’m not sure why I’d put the gun to my head when I’d felt so much rage toward Max. In retrospect, the only thing I can come up with is that I’d wanted to demonstrate the severity of my feelings. We’d had a repeat argument. The kind where the roots were so intertwined and widespread, neither one of us had the strength or wherewithal to completely unearth the growth. And so, our repeat argument became more firmly entrenched.

February 13, 2011
I am, unfortunately, worth more to my husband dead than alive. Tried to look up my insurance policy to check on suicide coverage, but my policy wouldn’t show up online. Everything else was there but mine. Thinking they would be the same, I tried to look under Max’s, but it timed out. Then I just got pissed. Why do I need to be alive anyway? I’m done being a bother. I feel like a dog tonight. A flea-infested, mangy mutt that isn’t even worth the vet’s bill. I just want to go home. Someplace safe. Where someone loves me.

April 1, 2011
Today was pretty much horrible. I left the house last night because Max and I fought and I did not have the desire to come back home. I actually attempted to sleep in my car in the parking lot at a restaurant. Too many sirens though. I kept thinking a litany of cuss words and then tried to apologize to God for thinking them. At some point, I realized the ridiculousness of it all, considering I was contemplating ending my life. But since I’m writing this, I obviously did come home.

May 31, 2011
All that’s fueling me right now is Diet Dew and rage. Composed my own suicide note this morning:
Dear Max,
F*#@ you. If I were your boss, I’d fire you for being an impostor. How’s this for doing what I say I’ll do?
Mae

June 5, 2011
I could barely get out of bed this morning. Max came home from work yesterday, hopeless and yearning for something better. I felt very alone and unsafe. All I could think was, I want to go home. To that elusive place where I feel secure.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I penned these journal entries during Max’s transition to atheism. He was still working for a church and growing increasingly unsettled. I, on the other hand, was experiencing God in new, profound ways. It would have been a time of pure joy for me. But our repeat argument continued to gain traction. And so, I often asked God to just take me out of this world so I wouldn’t have to do it myself.

The entire time, I’d thought our repeat argument was the problem and if we could just unearth the roots of it, we would be fine. But my suicidal thoughts, rage, and hopelessness were only side-effects of the real problem. With mud and dried sweat caked on his brow, God painstakingly unearthed every offshoot until he brought the end of the poisoned root into the light of his glory.

My insecurity.

You see, I’d been placing my security in Max ever since we starting dating in high school. He was a man of God before it was cool to be a man of God. Instead of learning to go to God with my needs, I relied solely on Max. I thought I was being submissive to Max as leader of our household—he should hear from God and disseminate the information to me. Please don’t misunderstand me. I sometimes tried on my own. And I believe being a submissive wife is God-honoring. But I allowed Max to become my God-between. I would take my problems to Max first. I would take my hurts to Max first. I would take my joy to Max first.

Max had become God to me instead of God.

I no longer wonder why I was suicidal, angry, and hopeless. My foundation was built upon sand that sucks your feet down as the water rises. Nothing against Max—some of the very things I blamed him for were actually the result of my own problem. My downward spiral was destined to happen no matter where I laid my foundation, had it been laid anywhere other than on the Rock.

I can’t tell you the exact moment God opened my eyes to the truth of my situation because it was more of a gradual awakening. How sweet it was though, to finally blink awake and find our Savior at the edge of my bed holding the gnarled roots of my insecurity.

Life is different now. I won’t tell you that insecurity never threatens me anymore or that mine and Max’s repeat argument is gone. However, that’s the point of building my foundation on the Rock. Storms are inevitable.

But I am no longer moved.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. Isaiah 26:3-4