I found out yesterday that a local pastor used me in an illustration recently in one of his sermons. This was brought about because the pastor had seen a conversation or two that I had been in with a friend of mine that attends his church – now, the pastor did keep me personally anonymous but I wanted to hear this for myself.
When I listened to this I expected to become angry and to write a letter or blog calling this guy out, this didn’t actually happen though. What I felt, as I heard my story story simplified and the death of my god minimized into a decision to “Just give up” a flood of memories hit me as I remembered the great pain I felt for those years as my faith slowly died. All day I sat there reliving much of that pain – as if this wound from over 4 years ago now had been reopened. Just as one might still feel the sting of losing a parent or loved one years after the fact, there are times that are increasingly rare that I remember this long struggle.
Please understand that I don’t share this in order to cause havoc in this man’s life. He meant no harm and we have emailed each other now a few times and I found him to be both gracious and very apologetic….I think he understands my point of view at this time. I would like to share with you both his sermon and my response to him because I feel that it illustrates quite well that for an ex-christian this is rarely something taken lightly and one should never assume that this is the case.
The portion of his sermon where he talks about me starts at around the 20 minute mark – the full MP3 audio can be downloaded Here.
Below is my response.
Jimmy Garrett provided me with the sermon from August 8th that you gave regarding a Warrior Mentality and Persevering Till The End – in it, at around the 21 minute mark you made a mention of Jimmy’s atheist friend – that friend being me.
I don’t know precisely what conversation it was that you followed that helped you come to some of the conclusions that you did…but as I listened to this sermon a flood of memories engulfed me as I pondered the most difficult time of my life.
Words often fail to express what those two years were like, when god was fading away – when I was losing my grasp of a worldview that I was absolutely sure of. I’m going to do my best to explain it though. I’m going to try to avoid tears the best I can in doing so.
Part of your premise was that for many believers turned otherwise the point in which they “quit” is a result of bad life circumstances, or an idea that when the going gets tough we simply bail out. This premise seems unreal to me, as I observe this country and this community I see people clinging to their faith or searching harder to find one during times such as these – the worst that have occurred according to quite a few generations. Tough times, it seems, is a catalyst for people to become MORE devoted to their faith – I don’t know that I was any different than the majority of believers in that way. My trials put me on my face, bowing before what I knew to be the almighty – weeping for his guidance.
No, tough times had little to do with the final destruction of my deep faith. Mine was ultimately rent asunder by nothing more than a desire to know god better, to feel closer to him, and a willingness to accept whatever purging was necessary to get there. If you will, imagine Isaiah 6 and desiring nothing greater than to be within the perfect and whole will of god. My every thought and action was intended to be a devotion to him…I just wanted to be in the Throne Room. – I’d bet that you can’t name one person in your congregation more willing to die to self than I was.
It was that greatest desire to know god intimately that allowed me to doubt the beliefs I had previously established. From that point on those glorious yet painful doubts were able to redefine everything about my world.
For two years I wished I had left well enough alone and been satisfied with the faith I had. For two years I felt the agony of darkness and emptiness fight with the god I once knew. For two years my heart was crushed by the weight of the burden of watching the only Father I had ever known die excruciatingly by my own hand. For two years I grasped at the remnants of my faith with no idea that I could ever live a life without my god. I don’t like to claim that I’ve felt a pain that is particularly worse than anyone else ever has, but I find it hard to imagine any pain greater than that which I felt during these long two years.
Much like you might hurt when you lose a family member and you go through the stages of grief, so did I. I denied the reality of what I was experiencing, made excuses for it, called it a trial and convinced myself that I would come out of it eventually with the closeness that I had originally desired. I felt all the pain and guilt that comes with death and leaving behind a ministry and I blamed myself for everything that had occurred. In my anger I bargained for a change in this reality and although it did take two years I eventually worked through it, found peace outside of god, found happiness again.
I did not endure those years because I quit. I endured them because I couldn’t let myself quit. Your sermon made it sound so simple, so easy, and I can’t dare sit back and let that idea be promoted. That simplification of what I experienced hurt me far more than I thought it would. I wouldn’t want anyone to be fooled into thinking that this road is either a choice or an easy one. This is the last thing I ever wanted – but now I can’t go back. I cannot believe. I don’t want to believe anymore but more than that I am simply unable to and when I wanted to I couldn’t. Please, don’t dare make it sound like I took the easy way out. The easy way out would have been a bullet through the temple…and I weighed that option more often than not.
You can’t know this unless you’ve been there, so I forgive you for your lack of understanding and for making this sound easy – trivial even. If you would like to use any portion of this message to make an illustration I ask that you do so with kindness, and if you have further questions about a falling away – especially my own, I ask that you ask me rather than make assumptions – I promise to be honest in my answers.
I will probably post this, along with your sermon on my website at http://ragingrev.com – but I can assure you that any response you make will be kept private
Any comments are appreciated.
Edit: After posting this the pastor asked that I post his response as well, so here it is:
Thank you for your note. I had no idea that Jimmy had provided you with the message. And I apologize for any offense that this may have caused.I assure you that I have studied this experience from many hours of my own personal pain. The old church masters from 100’s of years ago describe a process known as the ‘dark night of the soul’. I simply call it ‘the Joseph Principle’. I wish the diary of Joseph was available. I can only imagine the pain that a 17 year old boy went thru because of the rejection. I can only imagine the nights that he cried out to the God that he had heard about all of his life. I would love to read the prayers for deliverance. I would love to hear his complaints. I would love to hear of his doubts. I would love to read his words of anger.I was fired from my church in 2000. I had discovered that one of my leaders was having an affair. I went thru the biblical procedure of dealing with this but in the end, the church asked me to leave and they kept him. I had done the right thing and had used the right procedure. But I had gotten the shaft.I thought that I would just put out the resumes and a church would pick me up. It did not happen. I received 6 months severance pay. We were ok for that time period. No church called. I sought work as an interim pastor…no one was interested. The financial obligations began to mount up. I have 4 children…at that time, two were in college. We had had savings and stocks and bonds and all kind of material stuff. We ran thru our savings, 401k, our stocks and bonds. No church called.I went to the pantry one day and pulled out every remaining canned good that we had. I was praying to the God that I had been taught about all my life…the same God of Joseph. I got the addresses off of every canned good…I sent out resumes to those companies….I thought, I have 3 degrees. Surely there is something that I can do to make a living. I sent resumes to companies all over the southeast. In one week, I sent out 256 resumes and not one responded.I went 8 years with no income…I even went to Kroger and took a sign off of the window that was advertising for workers. I took the sign to the manager and asked for a job…he said that I had too much education. I did get some parttime work at Lowe’s making minimum wage.I still had credit cards…I was desperate. After selling everything that we knew to sell, I hit the credit cards just to keep a roof over our head and feed my family. We ran up a bill to the tune of $50,000. I could quote Phil 4:19 with the best of them. Every month when the mortgage was due, we would claim Phil 4:19 and nothing would happen. Still God was a silent like nothing I had ever seen.My wife was devastated. My children lost of their friends. One of my sons ended up turning to cocaine and rebelled. I was ostracized as a pastor. I had a flag on my name. I had been terminated by a church. We ended up losing our house in Florida. We moved back to Georgia thinking things would be different.It wasn’t. God and I had some rough times. i just could not let go of what I had been taught, what I had personally experienced. I longed for those times that I remembered my conversations with Him. I remembered seasons when prayers were answered so quickly. But now…heaven was shut up and no sound was coming.I remember one night sitting on the side of the bed in my daughters room. With tears in her eyes, she looked at me and said, “Daddy, God has abandoned us!” I don’t know if you have children, but at that moment, I was broken. I turned to look upward, I screamed, “God, get off your butt and do something.”In the back of my mind, I still knew that I had done the right thing…that was what was so hard. Eight long years. My daughter was 12 when it started. When our dark night of the soul ended, she was 20. Her teen years, she heard nothing but questions of ‘how are we going to survive or what are we going to do?”Joseph went from slave pit to being falsely accused to prison to being forgotten and scripture says that the whole time…he had the favor of God on him.Matt, I have no desire to have a running battle with you. I apologize for using an illustration that I should have gotten your permission. Please accept my apology and I hope that some of my people have not been a problem to you. That will not happen again…and no one knows your name…at least not from me.This was my Joseph experience…similar to Job’s. It was what the masters call ‘the dark night of the soul’. It is that time when God throws out the cute little formulas and the ordinary and replaces it with ‘resistance training’. These are the times that God was testing me to see if I valued the blessings or Him. For Joseph and Job, it followed this pattern: pain, perplexity, and promotion. It is my contention that many fall away during the perplexity part of the process.I have only shared a small portion of the eight years. It left us with scars. There are still things that we remember and it is like a shadow that hangs around. But…my faith in God has never been stronger. My wife serves at my side. We still have a massive debt…that I believe God will one day pay off for me. I have two sons who lived thru these 8 years of darkness and are now serving in Hollywood as missionaries to the film industry. My third son came thru the cocaine and is now serving God and is married to a wonderful Christian girl…he witnesses in the music industry. And that 12 year old girl is now 23…graduated from college and made a conscious decision to keep herself pure all thru college and now serves the Lord faithfully.Was it hard…yes! I am 61 now…I lost 8 years of my life. I cried so many tears and I told God off so many times you would not believe! But in the end, I looked up into the heavens and I told Him one day, that no matter what you do to me, no matter how long this goes on…I will still trust you and I will still serve you and I will still love you.Joseph came thru the pain and perplexity…God promoted him to the second highest position in the land. Job came thru the pain and the perplexity…and he said, ‘God, though you slay me, I will yet serve you.’ And then God restored to him his property and gave him more sons and daughters.I don’t share these kind of sermons out of a heart that has never experienced pain. This was an awful period in our life. My guts were hanging out most of the time. Everything I believed in and preached was challenged and shakened. I considered suicide. I considered walking away. I even told God the same thing that Jeremiah the prophet said, “I am not going to say one more thing about You.” But in the end, I made a decision to hang with God and He brought me through.God used a book by a lady named Nancy Missler to help bring us thru this. It is called ‘Faith in the Night Seasons’ and it is located at http://www.khouse.org/articles_cat/2010/nanscorner/faithinthenightseasons/ .I am not sure where your journey will take you. It is certainly not my intention to create any more pain or discomfort for you. I would love to one day sit and share war stories. But I assure you there will be no more references to you even in an unnamed version.I hope this has helped you to know where I am coming from.Matt, I believe in prayer. Can I pray for you from time to time when God brings your name to my mind? Call me sometimes…we will sit down and talk about war stories.Sincerely,Billy Daws