Let’s sing together, or not. Maybe the singing is too hard because the pain is too deep. The lyrics say what your heart longs to believe, and the songs we sing are the faith you desperately need. The world pushes and pulls you and drags you around. Your heart is trampled and aches at the sound. The melody feels false and true as you are torn in two. You want to believe, and you want Him to come through. So sit and listen while I sing for you. This is our song, and some day you will sing too.
Life is hard. It might sound obvious, but I don’t just mean your life. I mean all life. Life is seriously hard-for everyone. Although we all grapple with hurt, insecurity, loss, and fear, we can become isolated and alone in our struggles. We need to hear each other’s stories to remind us of our commonalities and to give us hope that we too can make it through the hard parts. God made life because there is so much more in it than the pain. In the struggles of living, there is brilliance and beauty. There is you.
There is a story worth telling in you. I don’t know your story, but I will try to tell you the story of how I came to find a hallelujah in the brokenness of life in hopes that it will give you a voice to discover and sing your own broken hallelujah.
My life was a bowling ball released with impeccable form headed down the center of the lane. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? The truth is the weight in the ball and the inability to find traction on a lane waxed to perfection were leading me to a loud, messy collision.
A few years ago, I bought myself a new Bible. In the cover, I wrote the Bible was purchased with the hopes I could find the faith to believe God’s love was for me. How does a girl who was raised in a preacher’s home, educated at a Christian college, and married to a pastor get to the point she no longer believes God’s love is for her?
I’d seen and experienced too much to deny God’s existence and activity with our world, and I had studied too much to deny who he was. However, life, my life in particular, made it difficult to reconcile the God of my theology with the God of my faith. My faith was broken because I was broken.
Look, there in the back of the classroom, I’m the teacher watching a presentation on the use of the atomic bomb in WWII. I look pretty normal standing behind the desks observing the students, but look closer. Yes, you see them now, the tears: quiet, warm tears. They are softly pouring down my face; they just do that lately. If I am not fully occupied, they come. They push their way out of me, releasing the sorrow I refuse to share. Now that I’ve let you see this moment, you must be expecting me to explain the tears, but I cannot. The presentation is over, and I have work to do.
In my life, I have learned there is no ache like the ache of empty. Empty wombs, empty arms, empty beds, and empty chairs at the table: these are the empty spaces. These are longing and aching representations of the heart with pieces that have fallen out of place. What was I to do with empty? Yeah, you guessed it: try to fill it. Fill it until it is cramming and sore with the stretching and pulling of fullness. One more cookie, one more drink, one more kiss, one more project, one more mile: I needed more. I needed to fill that space. I was so full it hurt, but that spot refused to close. It just taunted me with its dissatisfied ache.
It is not far from Mother’s Day, and I am not in my classroom today. Instead I am at a funeral for my mother’s cousin who died in a motorcycle accident. A group of us are discussing the oddity of Jalit, my cousin, not coming since she lives only a stone’s throw from the church. Maybe we should stop by her home because we haven’t had the opportunity to meet baby Harley. We are tired, and it is a long drive home. Maybe another day.
Less than a week later I sat on a couch in my aunt’s home in a state of shock and grief as an officer confirmed the causes of death for my cousin and her baby: Jalit had taken in more sugar than her body could process due to gestational diabetes, and without Jalit, Harley was alone. There was no one there to hold her, no one there to change her diaper, and no one there to feed her. My aunt wept in a ball on her floor crying out all the “if onlys”: if only she had realized something was wrong, if only she had stopped by or called, if only someone had heard the hungry cries of Harley….
I told you- life is hard. It is really, really hard. Remember seeing me cry in the back of the classroom? Now you know some of it. Unfortunately, this is just one piece of the story leading up to a broken faith. Even now, tears sting my eyes and refuse to be confined. My heart breaks again and again when I crack the door to my past open to view what has been. There is more behind that door. Eventually I will show you, but I have to pace myself to stay intact.
At Jalit and Harley’s funeral, two of Jalit’s siblings led worship. One of the songs they sang was “How He Loves” by David Crowder Band. Over ten years earlier this same family had unexpectedly lost their father, my Uncle Nate, to head trauma that occurred while playing basketball. In the midst of pain and heartbreak that seems to be on replay in our family, they sang of God’s love without any indication of doubt. They were singing:
If his grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
And Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about the way…
He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us,
I didn’t know how they could do it. Instead of feeling like I was sinking into God’s grace, I felt like I was drowning in doubt and sorrow.
Five months earlier I’d experienced my first miscarriage, and I was still wrestling with the pain of a lost child as we stood in the same sanctuary as we had for a funeral only a week prior. We had come together, like so many times before, to mourn tragic and senseless loss. I stood there singing words I desperately wanted to be true. I wanted to believe that God loves us so.
After that funeral, every time I stood in a sanctuary singing “How He Loves,” I would begin to feel the ache of empty inside. I could not sing without feeling overcome with sorrow and separation. My heart was torn. I deeply believed in God; I just couldn’t believe in that kind of love from him, no matter how much I wanted it to be true. Then, ever so slowly, God changed something: me.
My story involves sexual abuse, the deaths of many family members, miscarriages, and a failing marriage. My faith was broken by the unspeakable acts of others, the difficulties of life, and the mistakes I made as I struggled to cope. However, over time, the prayer I had written in my Bible was answered, and I was able to believe God’s love was for me. Now I sing “How He Loves” in worship instead of longing. Despite all the pain in my heart, I have been able to find a hallelujah because the empty ache has been filled with an understanding of God’s love for me personally. It is my prayer that my story will open your story, and that you, too, will find your hallelujah. I wrote this for you.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalm 34:18 (NLT)
This post is a sneak peak of Our Broken Hallelujahs– available at Westbow.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com. Ninety percent of what I receive as the author is being donated to Redemption Church Charlottesville.