When The Bottom Falls Out
I recently interacted with a few people who went through a phase of their recovery that was a lot like what happened to me, and I can’t help but think there are more out there that might find it encouraging to know they are not alone. So here is my version of what it was like when the bottom fell out.
For me, it didn’t happen over night. I wasn’t even paying attention to see it, but it certainly happened: the bottom of my faith fell out. Slowly I sank deeper and deeper, away from God and away from my identity as a Christian. Outwardly, my behavior wasn’t any more sinful that it had been before. I was really good at doing the Christian life- but inside I was just about dead. My perspective of Jesus as central to my life was almost non-existent.
I remember going to a marriage conference just a week before the events started that would put a final nail on the coffin of my marriage. At this conference they went over all the typical stuff: how to communicate better, how to give of yourself and sacrifice in order to have peace, how to make your marriage a picture of the Gospel. I imagine those topics might be triggering for many survivors, but I stand behind each of them for a healthy and growing marriage. They were good topics and well presented. But my reaction was despair.
Because the thing is, I was good at all those skills. I spent years putting into practice every single thing they talked about. I probably could have given the course — but even having done all of that, my marriage was a failure and I was empty and in emotional pain. I talked to my pastor during a break at the conference and told him “I have done all of these things- so why is my marriage so painful?” And this question really reveals the thinking that had been growing in me for a long time.
I was losing faith in God. I was learning over and over again that doing things “his way” (as I understood it) yielded no fruit. That amazing marriage which the sermons and conferences promised (though I’m sure they’d swear they didn’t) was nowhere to be found. And while others might tell me I just didn’t do a good enough job, in my heart I knew. I’d given it my all, and in response I got nothing.
Yes, I realize “I give x and then I get y” is not good theology. That’s not my point. My point is that the God I was presented with was not trustworthy. I was having trouble believing him. I was having trouble trusting him. And I didn’t even know it.
And what seeped in was a desire to do it the world’s way. When “God’s way” (as I understood it) wasn’t working, I succumbed to the allure of the world. The commercials selling happiness through things pulled at my heartstrings. Finding my value in the love of another person seemed very appealing. And yes, I pursued these things, especially when the divorce was finalized and I was “free”.
Through God’s grace, he kept me from doing some REALLY stupid things. I had just the right people in my life that prevented me going off the deep end and permanently messing up my life. But man, on the inside I was a mess. I entertained thoughts I never thought possible, and I persued happiness in ways that were foreign to anything I’ve ever considered before. It was all very godless, and for a while it seemed like I didn’t even care. I just wanted to feel something. I was thrashing about looking for anything that might light a spark in my life again.
I know I’m not the only one who has even been there, below the lowest point I ever thought possible, persuing the world and not God. And if you ask me how I got out, I really don’t know. I think in some ways God let me see the emptiness of it all, showed me my naked self, and then reminded me that he was not the one who made all of those broken promises. And he revealed himself to me again and I saw him FOR REAL. That is what gave me life.
And now that I’m on the other side, there are a few things I want to tell anyone who is still going through this:
- You did not do this to yourself. I’m not saying that you are not responsible for sin in your life, but I’m saying you did not create this thought pattern that struggles to see God. People who misrepresented God to you did that, and unlearning what they taught is hard work. God will overcome it, but it won’t happen overnight. Now is the time to listen and be patient with yourself.
- The answer is not about stopping, but starting. If you are empty and looking for meaning when it’s hard to trust God, stopping the sinful behavior in your life isn’t going to fix anything. You’ll still be empty and searching. The key is to try to find God’s grace somewhere in your life and plug in the best you can. If the true God, not the misrepresented one, is in your life, he will take over all the garbage.
- Sin in your life does not justify abuse. It might be easy to look at your own sin and feel that it disqualifies you from fighting against those who have abused you. This is not the case — not all sin is the same, and sin that comes from a distorted view of God is far different than sin that comes from a heart of entitlement and selfishness. The former is a struggle against this broken world and the sinful flesh; the latter is the sign of an unregenerate heart who is hostile to God. If you are in Christ, there is NO CONDEMNATION, so do not buy the lie that you ought to be permanently condemned for your mistakes.
This is such a horrible place to be — but it’s a part of the process for many (at least, I’ve talked to many who have gone through this place). It hurts, but God will bring you through it. Many may judge you, but in the end, the only judge that matters is Jesus, and he is also your defense attorney. The bottom may have fallen out, but you will not free-fall forever. You are not alone and there are strong arms that will catch you.