Some blogs I write in the thick of emotions. Others, I wait until I make it to the other side. This particular blog I am writing from the other side. Keep in mind that the thoughts and emotions I am going to speak about now, while recent, are no longer current.
For those of you just tuning in, I moved from the Florida coast to Nashville, Tennessee 3 months ago. Immediately after moving, I began Year 2 of ministry school. This school* was the sole reason I uprooted myself and children and moved states away from my family and friends. I had attended Year 1 of this ministry school 6 years ago when my husband and I lived in Nashville before. I firmly believe that Year 1 is the reason I did not go completely insane after Jon died. The school strengthened my foundation. Everything else in my life was destroyed but my foundation remained after the storm had passed. This is why I was so desperate to come back. I was broken and didn’t know of a better place to find restoration.
*I don’t say the actual name of the ministry school because I’d rather not have half the internet know my exact location each week. I love 99% of you, but 1% of you are total creepers and I’m a single woman with babes.
When it comes to matters of faith I knew that I was bleeding out. Jon’s death was like my soul experiencing a horrific car accident. I spent the last year and a half trying to keep my soul alive until I could reach the spiritual hospital that is the ministry school. In order to stay alive I kept my faith life shallow and at arms length. I went through the motions but I didn’t spend much time with God and when I did I kept it theoretical and in the past and steered clear of anything that had to do with the trauma that I had endured.
Once school started I was forced to stand face to face with everything I had been ignoring. All of the pain, all of the questions and emotions came screaming to the surface. I knew that I had buried some things. But I had no idea how violently the pain would overtake me. In the first week of school, I came to the revelation that in order to survive I had numbed out my emotions. We can’t pick and chose which emotions we numb so I had lost the good feelings as well. In response to this revelation I began to give myself permission to feel and the first emotion to burst forth from it’s confinement was seething anger.
I never believed in the “stages of grief “. If you look it up it’s actually based on people with terminal diagnoses, not people who have lost a loved one. Even so, I used to joke about how I skipped the anger phase. I’ve never been an angry person. I don’t have a temper, it takes a lot of work to get under my skin. So I was completely taken off guard at how swiftly and absolutely that emotion took ahold of me. How is it possible that I went so long unaware of the rage I was carrying just below the surface? But when it finally came spewing out it was all focused upward.
I wasn’t just angry at God, I was livid. My anger wasn’t hot and wild, it was icy and clear. He lied. He betrayed me. What kind of God does that? I had been so faithful. If becoming a pregnant widow was the result of living under His “blessing” and “protection” then I wanted none of it. I was done. I wanted out. My life would be so much easier if I just walked away from all of it. I got to the point where staying in my chair during church became an act of will. Everything in me wanted to walk out the door and never return.
It was such a strange sensation. Surreal almost. It was as if I had been clinging onto a rope dangling over a precipice and all of the sudden all I wanted to do was to let myself free fall. It was not something I was thinking about from a place of emotional turmoil. It was a shockingly calm train of thought. I was thinking through exactly what that would look like right down to what it would be like to raise children outside the church.
One church service I stepped out into the hall the middle of worship. As I walked to the restroom it was like an out of body experience. I used to be on staff at this church before moving back home to Florida. I had walked the halls many times. I could almost see the old me zipping back and forth from my office to the youth building. As I watched this ghost of myself I could no longer connect to her. “That Erica is dead. Maybe her faith died with her,” I thought with unsettling detachment.
When I found out that my chance to appear on the Today Show with Patton got cancelled it just added more fuel to the anger. It was the one thing in my life that I was excited about. The one thing that I was looking forward to… that made me think maybe something good was yet to come. And in a moment that one thing vanished. I think that may have been the first time I cursed directly at God. Not my finest hour, but I now can really empathize with the Bruce Almighty “smite me oh mighty smiter” scene.
I still hadn’t let go. But I had lost all motivation to hold on. It was like I was slowly drifting off to sleep. Still, I continued to go to church and school. Not so much out of hope but honestly, I didn’t know what else to do. My whole life is wrapped up in my faith… the whole purpose of my moving across states was to pursue God and healing. If I let go, then what? Stop going to school? Move back to Florida? There were things I had to think through before letting my actions follow the direction of my heart.
I continued to go through the motions. Monday came and I started a new week of school. Half way through the day the teacher instructed us to take some time to journal some prayers. As I pressed in, God started urging, challenging, commanding even… that the warrior within rise up and fight.
For the rest of the day I couldn’t get this quote out of my head:
“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Each school day starts with 30 minutes of worship before classes. I was in the back of the room and I couldn’t stand still. I kept shifting back and forth. Then God showed me in my minds eye a picture of me standing before a great stone wall. I knew I needed to get through it but I had no tools so I began to punch it. I could feel the anger in me and I saw myself wailing on the wall until my hands were bloody. And I heard God whisper “you need to shout it down.” I knew He meant literally but I did *not* want to shout.
Now, for context, worship at my church isn’t pews and hymns. (Not that those are bad things I grew up in lovely churches like that.) Worship at my church is loud, its undignified and everyone worships in their own way. Singing, dancing, kneeling, writing, painting, shouting… all are happening simultaneously on any given worship service. So… me shouting wouldn’t exactly be out of place. But it would probably draw some attention. And I *hate* drawing attention to myself.
The worship leader paused in the set and said that she felt like God was asking us to be brave and step outside of our normal worship posture. I knew that was the invitation. One that I immediately shot down. I was not about to yell. But I kept hearing a paraphrase of that same line… “do not go gently into the night! Rage! Rage against the darkness!”
I had been letting myself sink into the darkness. I was giving in. Sleep was taking me. But God wanted to wake me up. “Rage! Rage against the darkness!” He whispered with urgency. I could feel the roar bubbling up but I kept it down. The worship leader paused once more and reiterated that she felt like God wanted us to go beyond what we were comfortable with, beyond what we would normally do in worship. I could feel the roar in my throat but I clenched my jaw. I didn’t want to do it.
So then God started showing me a montage of female warriors shouting in battle, strong women and epic characters. Reminding me of who He says I am. Stirring my spirit and redirecting my anger from Himself to the darkness and the wall that kept me there. “You have to shout it down.” I was trembling from containment, but I did not want to shout.
The emcee took the mic signaling that worship was coming to a close, but instead of praying and then giving directions he paused and said, “I feel like we are supposed to give God a shout of praise before we move on.”
Now I had no excuse. Everyone would be yelling. The emcee counted to three. Everyone shouted praise. I roared a battlecry. I raged at the darkness. All of the anger that had been trapped within me was released in the sound fury that left my lungs.
Then the moment passed. The emcee closed the service and dismissed us to our classes. Everything around me was quite routine but I felt… serene. It was such a dramatic shift of emotions. It reminds me of the times in movies (I have no idea if its true in real life) when someone dislocates their shoulder. They’re in intense amounts of pain and then someone else has to twist their arm which causes even more pain until all at once it pops into place and the pain immediately subsides. Thats what it was like. I had been in pain, coming to the school increased the level of pain. Just because it was unto healing did not make it hurt any less. But then all of the sudden, in that moment everything that was out of line came into alignment and the anger vanished.
It’s been three weeks now and the anger is gone. There is still pain. There is still grief. But because that wall has been removed, I have finally been able to get answers to some of the questions that I have been carrying. And that has brought me peace and a steadiness that I’ve desperately needed.
When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed. Joshua 6:20