Church. It has been my life. I love the church and I am thankful for the heritage of faith that I have. My story of faith is not similar to many people’s. I do not recall a time in my life when I did not believe that Jesus Christ was Lord or even that I considered myself lost or unsaved. Everything in my life was built around faith. My parent’s vocations. My friends. Most of my extracurricular activities. Faith and church shaped everything that I was or would become. Though I may love the church, my adult years would bring challenges to my faith with which many other people can relate.
For 30 years my life looked liked the exemplary lifelong follower of Christ. I was not perfect by any stretch, but it was clear where my priorities were and what directed my life. Even the most devout follower of Christ experiences struggles and temptations that everyone else does. The Apostle Paul would tell us that temptations are common and are faced by every man and woman. During this time in my life, some of those common temptations began to distract me and allowed other things to become more important than my faith.
I am not alone in detours of faith. Many others have experienced those moments when they took an exit from the “straight and narrow” for a detour that lead to disappointment and sometimes destruction. I ignored the truth that had always been my guide and got as far away from a lighted pathway as I could. I still loved the church. I just loved my sin more at that moment.
There is no pride in that. As a matter of fact, those years are littered with regret and pain; not just my own either. My poor choices caused others to suffer and struggle with their own faith as well. We don’t always realize the influence we have on others until we see the negative impact we have had.
It is in these detours of our faith that the enemy tries to convince us that there is no return. We feel shame and embarrassment and at times may even question whether we will be able to find acceptance in those circles again. It is staggering the numbers of people who stray from their faith never to experience that hope and freedom again. I can relate to that. There were moments on my detour that I questioned whether I could be forgiven or find acceptance ever again. I was deceived, but I was also convinced. Though we may doubt if forgiveness or grace can ever be found again, God never gives up on us.
I found this to be true in my own life. God was continually bringing me opportunities to see Him in my life. From people that I met to circumstances and situations that I had to deal with, God was constantly reminding me that He loved me and desired to be in close relationship with me. Even though I could accept this at times, I still found myself overwhelmed by the fear of others accepting me into relationship again. I think for many of us, that is the biggest fear to overcome: will people accept me.
What I found was an overwhelming love and grace from people. I found people willing to share their own story of how they had struggled in their own faith and sought to bring me comfort and hope in my own situation. I was truly surprised at the number of people who had similar stories and used it to bring healing to others, including myself. The truth is that all of us have stories that can encourage, help, heal and bring hope to others. These are not things for us to hide, but rather for us to share so that others can benefit from them.
I am not sure what your story of faith looks like. Maybe you have experienced a detour in your life and found your way back to a place of healing and hope. If so, don’t be afraid to share it. You could be reading this and find yourself in a place that you never thought possible; where the fear of rejection and the overwhelming feelings of regret and shame have you stuck. If so, know that God is calling you to a place of grace and peace and that there are many others who will encourage you along that journey. Don’t buy the lie of fear and shame. Get up. There is a loving God and a loving community of faith waiting for you. Maybe you know someone who has found themselves in a dark place. It might be your story that is the key to their freedom. Don’t be afraid to be the bridge of hope they need in their darkest moments. We all have a story and your story is the one someone needs to hear.