The Bible tells us a story of an old priest named Zachariah. He and his wife “were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old.” Then one day an angel of the Lord appears to Zachariah and tells him they were going to have a baby. It would be easy to assume this “elevated biblical character” would have an idyllic response, one of praise, worship, and/or gratitude. Rather, in a form true to the honest portrayal of humanity within biblical texts, Zachariah’s response is, “How can I be sure of this?” The angel then says, “Because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.”
I have heard this story dozens of times over the course of my life and always believed Zachariah was punished for asking his question. Zachariah gives honesty and has his voice taken from him. How is God good in this? Over the last year, I’ve been able to understand how taking away Zachariah’s voice was actually an act of goodness and grace.
Over a year and a half ago the life Christina and I had known started to fall apart. From January – April of 2016 I found myself wrestling with the darkness and loneliness of depression. It became harder and harder to believe I could be honest about my own life and journey while being a pastor in full-time ministry. During this time, years of “deferred maintenance” on our marriage caught up to us and Christina and I spent the better part of six weeks living together but not speaking to each other. We realized for the first time how healthy marriages slowly find their way to divorce. With tears in our eyes, deep hurts, uncertainty, and trepidation in our hearts, we made a commitment to not give up on each other or the life that we were building together.
We began asking friends to have faith with and for us as we desperately prayed for clarity in how God would restore all that was broken and hurt. Through months of prayer and conversation we believed with our whole hearts God was “inviting us into a space he had created for us”. We moved without the certainty of future success but believed it was time to practice what we had always told others to do, trust God with your whole life. We were believing the space God was inviting us into would be a healing place where all our troubles would find their resolution.
What we experienced upon moving was not so much a year of rest and rejuvenation but a year defined by an onslaught of unmet expectations. We quickly discovered that our expectations of a restful and restorative transition were unrealistic. We realized we had put the idea of life near family on an unattainable pedestal. We discovered how much of our life was intrinsically connected to identities such as “pastor”, “doula”, “full-time mom”, “financial provider”, “California/Bay Area resident”, and even “church people”. All of these identities were taken away from us in one way or another and we were left with insecurities, continued bouts of depression, and fear that we had thrown our life in California away for nothing. Yet, anchored in the depths of our hearts were the words, “God has invited you into this space”. But these words seemed to ring out as an indictment against the goodness of God and we continually asked, “How can we be sure of this?”
I reached a point early on in our move where I felt my voice no longer carried the legitimacy or influence I had always been sure it had. I felt that God had quieted my voice as well as so hidden my identity as a pastor, teacher, leader, influencer, husband, father, and son. Over the last year I haven’t so much as prepared a sermon, let alone taught in any formal or informal context. I essentially stopped all social media postings because it all seemed like pretense. For the majority of the past year, I have only prayed in earnest a handful of times as any words I can think of seem to be hallow or disingenuous. All that was left was to do has been to listen.
From this place, I found new perspective in the old story of Zachariah. I see now a particular type of grace that was given Zachariah whose voice was taken from him. There is grace in having to simply listen to what God will say, when he will say it and look for God to do what he said he will do when he will do it, particularly when that which God will say or do seems audacious and impossible. Christina and I have had some of our most treasured faith assumptions called into question or deconstructed. We are now rebuilding what we hope is a richer, deeper, more authentic, and a more fruitful faith rooted in fresh readings of scripture and experience. Slowly, I am finding my voice. Along with Christina, I am learning to see that “blessings” and “grace” are not defined simply by the extent of our immediate comfort and abundance. Rather “blessings” and “grace” are the ways in which God chooses to lead us into deeper and more genuine understandings and experiences of his grace and love. From this renewed perspective, the space God has invited us into has been a place of blessing and grace on his terms, revealed in his ways, so that we may be able to know him as he would like us to know him. I am grateful for the blessing of this past year that has given me new ways of speaking of grace as we begin our second year in the place God has invited us to be.