The author of this post has requested to remain anonymous
Some friends of mine collect sea glass. It’s broken glass, which finds its way into the sea and is naturally weathered over time. For many years these shards tumble in the salt water until their sharp edges are made smooth and their colour mellows into something beautifully opaque.
Sea glass retains something of its original form. Yet it becomes something more than it was. A cheap, green beer bottle broken on the rocks can be transformed into a series of smooth, emerald-coloured pebbles worthy of any necklace.
My friends’ collection of sea glass has become a favourite metaphor to describe my experience in the church in recent years. Five years ago, the seemingly strong bottle of my Christian heritage was shattered. No less than three scandals in my Christian circles came to light.
The first scandal involved someone to whom my husband and I apprenticed ourselves as we considered future Christian ministry. The lies and deceit of our mentor caused me to feel both shock and disbelief. How could someone I trusted so deeply with nurturing our souls lie so prolifically? How could a Christian ministry that had seemingly born so much fruit turn so sour? Once the truth sank in, those feelings of shock and disbelief gave way to grief and disorientation. Others encouraged me not to let this experience taint my view of “good gospel ministry” and to move on.
A year later, another scandal broke from within my Christian spheres, and this time it was national news. Again, what I read in the papers seemed inconceivable. How could something so evil take place in a setting I so cherished? How could something so harmful remain so hidden – at least to some of us?
A year later, on the weekend of my husband’s ordination, the third scandal hit the papers. This time, it related to my former vicar – my pastor in the faith for many years as a young Christian. He taught me how to read the Scriptures. He conducted our marriage service. He met with us and helped to explore my husband’s sense of calling into Christian ministry. My world was in pieces. Who or what could I believe?
I couldn’t have identified the cracks in my faith at the time. Yet, now, having (somewhat) come through the weathering of God’s strange providence, I wish to share how the Lord has brought about beauty from my brokenness.
Reading the Scriptures
Francis Schaeffer writes about the undoubtable connection between an “orthodoxy of doctrine” and an “orthodoxy of community.” So, when the lives of my community leaders were shown to be unorthodox, the result was a dullness in my own hearing from God, for the dominant voices through which I’d heard the Scriptures were at odds with the Scriptures themselves. I wanted to read my Bible and find comfort from the Lord in these times, but I felt confused and untethered instead. Even my daily practice of a ‘quiet time’ was tarnished because the Bible study notes I relied on for many years were endorsed by discredited ministers. How could the Lord speak to me when the methods I learned for reading Scripture had been used for ungodly ends?
In more recent times, I’ve been grateful for God’s leading into a simpler and more dependent spiritual life of prayer and worship. Instead of a ‘quiet time,’ which, ironically, was so often driven by my own sense of urgency, the Lord has led me beside the quiet waters of his presence through the liturgy, prayers, and meditations of Christians outside of my tradition and outside of the modern era.
Sharing my faith
I also wrestled with how to share my faith. Having been driven by self-assurance and the sense that we – the conservative evangelical community – possessed unique knowledge, insight, and even personal strength, I lost my confidence in articulating the gospel. I could no longer pretend to myself that an outwardly successful Christian life would attract people to Jesus. In addition to this, I lost my sense of loyalty to the people and organisations with whom I previously worked, voluntarily, to share the gospel. On one level there was a sense in which that was liberating because for 10 years I had planned my life around the calendar of a parachurch organisation – for so long I didn’t feel able, or allowed, to leave without appearing disloyal or uncommitted.
It wasn’t until I experienced prolonged struggles in my life and self, that I discovered that sharing my trials and weaknesses in the Christian life was a much more powerful testimony of the goodness of God than any impersonalised method I could apply. Through this I have enjoyed a renewed sense of joy and purpose in sharing my faith with others. Jesus says that his “yoke is easy and his burden light,” (Matt 11:30) and he invites me to worship and receive from him before working for him. So, I no longer feel the burden of evangelism. Instead, I feel the freedom and delight of sharing Jesus and his wonderful grace towards me – even in my struggles, weaknesses, flaws, and sins.
Out of a desire to be faithful and fruitful, I prized productivity and efficiency, and I was hurried in life. I served until I collapsed. I didn’t believe in leaving margin in my diary. I rarely said “no.” I was in a rush with myself and with others. In discipleship roles, I played the role of the teacher, trying to move my students to see things how I saw them. If challenged in my way of working, I was defensive. Tragically, this same sense of activism, at least in some of those I looked up to, led to burnout, marriage breakdown, and spiritual harm.
The Lord has been remaking me in his service too, although I feel my growth in this area is only just beginning. It’s so much easier to do than to receive and rest. But I have gained a sense of rest and peace in knowing that God is not in a hurry with me. He is patient and gentle in all his dealings with me. Every person ultimately belongs to Christ, and it is his job, not mine, to save and sanctify.
Writing this has been painful. Instead of honest reflection, I still find myself wanting to remain loyal to many of the people and places I have loved. I did experience good in those Christian settings because God is good. In his kindness, Christ was made known to me even through deeply flawed people, and I pray others will be able to say the same about my mistakes. However, I also feel compelled to highlight what I now see as sharp edges in our Christian culture. We too are capable of shattering the brittle through harmful modes of discipleship. Yet, I also wanted to express in words how grateful I am of the Lord’s redemptive work in my life. He has been remaking me, softening my edges, and I pray transforming me through the buffeting of struggle and pain. At every point of repentance and grief, Christ has been there, more radiant and more in focus than before. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” (Psalm 42:7)
 Francis Schaeffer, “The Church Before the Watching World” in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, Volume Four, A Christian View of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1982), 152.