I recently spent two weeks in Nashville, where I spent time with old friends, played music, and caught up on the years we’ve missed. I attended a function hosted by my publisher, and got to meet many fellow authors, and I made some new friends. It was a wonderful time, a period of self reflection, hope, and sentimentality all at once, and I learned a tremendous amount. The most important part of the trip, though, happened on the way home, somewhere between Valdosta Georgia and the Florida state line.
I’ve struggled for the last year or so with my faith. It’s almost funny, because one of the central conflicts in my first two books revolves around the battle between faith and doubt as darkness closes in. My own internal war ended up mirroring some of the strife I’ve put my characters through; my characters dealt with this better than I did personally, and when I wrote those books, I believed I’d put that particular struggle behind me. I was wrong. I’ve been embattled on a variety of fronts for the last year, and it took a hard toll upon my soul until it reached a point where I began to question that which I knew to be true. I wondered where God was, and I went so far as to question the validity of His promises, to wonder about His goodness. Heresy, I know, and wrong-headed, but I don’t think I’m alone in this kind of battlefield. Somehow, I’d managed to succumb to a sense of hopelessness, and I’d put myself in a cave.
A man bereft of hope is like body without bones; there is nothing to hold him upright and together. I’d become that guy, without really knowing it, without seeing a way out. And when that happens, the instinct is to retreat, to become defensive and withdrawn, to cast blame and doubt around with careless abandon. We isolate ourselves, which only makes things worse.I felt very much like an Object of Wrath, ignoring in my own mind the second part of that very important verse in Ephesians.
So, driving through the hills of Alabama, the long stretches of construction south of Atlanta along I-75, I had plenty of time to think. Mostly, I listened to music on Spotify, and I reflected on the new friends I’d made and the old friends I’d reconnected with. Right around Valdosta, my phone died, and the music ended. I couldn’t find anything to listen to, so I hit the “seek” button on the truck radio, and I heard Dr. David Jerimiah begin to speak.
It was a sermon titled Praying From the Cave, based around Psalm 142. David (the king, not the preacher) was in a cave, running from Saul. He was depressed, isolated to the point that other men did not care if he lived or died. Yet within that dark place, David cried out to God, thanking him and praising him, laying his burdens at God’s feet, recognizing his own pain, and turning to God for refuge.
About ten minutes into the sermon, something happened.
I’ve had times where I felt God’s presence, singing in church with hand held high, a joyful noise on my lips and a connection to the Creator, like an electric thrum of peace and rightness. I’ve been touched by a sermon or a verse, and felt convicted, nudged, and I’ve had verses jump out at me as though they were highlighted in bright yellow.
This thing that happened somewhere in Georgia was different; God hit me in the head with a ball bat. I was driving down the road with tears on my face, broken. Facing myself and my doubt, my mistakes and delusions and bitterness. God slayed me, and I was shattered. I prayed then, and I could almost see a darkness, like ashes swirling in the wind, leaving from my chest. It sounds nuts, but there was a palpable, physical sensation of great weight being lifted, immediately followed by hope and joy.
I thought I’d cried out to God before, and I’ve been on my knees. But there was something in me left then, some element of reserve or doubt or perhaps pride which prevented the profound kind of healing I so desperately craved. I understood that God had been right there with me all along. That no matter what happens, I’m still a part of his plan, and that even though it may not seem so at the time, in the end, all things do work for His good. I’d forgotten that my hope lies with Jesus, and everything else is really the small stuff. I’d neglected certain things and ignored certain truths. These things were made clear to me in an instant. I’ve got some work to do, but I’m not alone, and I never was.
Somewhere in Georgia, I reconnected with my best friend, the most important friend I’ll ever have; he was beside me all along.
“We were by nature objects of wrath. Because of his great love for us, but God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved.”
“Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Set me free from my prison, that I may raise your name. Then the righteous will gather around me because of your goodness to me.”