One week after graduating from college, I met with a therapist for the first time. I was depressed, anxious, and I felt hopeless to know how to change. In our first meeting, my therapist said, “because of your ability to deny, we need to meet twice a week.” Thud. I was desperate for change, so I started meeting him twice a week…
One day after a session, I went on a drive to get some space to think and process. As I drove out of town, down a country road, I felt the ache in my body: the pit in my stomach as if I was bleeding on the inside. I guess I was really—just not physically—these prior several weeks, I had been traversing the emotional wounds of my past sexual abuse.
Metaphorical suitcases that I had made sure were locked, bolted, and hidden away in a very dark corner began to tumble out and land open. My life, as I had known it, began to fall apart. Stories I had told myself were “not a big deal” began to be seen through different lenses. The skeletons of years of sexual abuse were coming back to life; I could not hold them back. I was forced to name my abuse for what it was, and not for a supposedly more palatable version of a story.
I asked my therapist, “what is the point of all this anyway?” He looked at me, over his reading glasses, and said, “truth.” UGH!! We had just spent the hour going back and forth about “truth.” I was struggling to admit what my body had already known. I didn’t want to call it abuse, I didn’t want to be powerless. And again, he kindly but precisely exposed the harm that had been done to me, that I had somehow taken into and onto myself as a dark reflection of me.
As I drove down the country road, the agony in my body felt intense and I was desperate for God to speak. “Say anything!” I didn’t feel like I could go on any further down this road of “truth.” I didn’t believe I could continue on in the pain and the agony of looking at the destruction this abuse had had on me.
I pulled the car over on the side of the road and I got out. Not knowing what else to do, I began to pray, asking God to do something. “Say something!” “Show up!” I opened my Bible to John 6, and there I found this verse: “The work of God is to believe.”
I was humbled, and I began to cry. Not only had God answered my desperate plea, he had done so in a way that invited me to continue to engage the process of faith. He acknowledged what I had been feeling. Yes, God, it is work to believe!!
It is work to believe that looking deeper into my past is worth it. It is work to believe He cares or was present. It is work to continue on this path– It is WORK to BELIEVE!
It is work to believe what we cannot see. It is hard to have faith when the pain is so great and seems like it will never end. It is difficult to trust when you just do not know what tomorrow will hold. It is work when everything inside of you feels like giving up. And yet, we are called to one thing: to believe.
Twenty-one years later, I am struck again. God is calling me to believe, as I look to embrace my body, my relationships, my sexuality. Often I want to push past the moment and know the end. It is hard to live in the in between: in those areas that require work to believe. I want to know how this puzzle is coming together. I do not want to live in the ambiguity or waiting. But then, a soft whisper reminds me, I am called to the work of today, which is believing.
I am immensely thankful that Jesus calls “believing” work, because in so many moments of my life it does feel like work. When I feel invited to bring a voice of a different opinion, when I believe I just do not have the capacity, energy, stamina, or gifts for what I need to do: it is then I am called to believe. In the moments when I just do not think I can parent another minute, or have one more sleepless night, or engage one more bickering or whining child, it is then I am called to believe.
The work of God is to believe, and She has made it possible for us to do so. Even so, God still calls it work. I am so thankful we have a God who meets us where we are, calling out more from us, and at the same time giving us what we need, if even for the moment at hand.
In the areas where you feel like you just can’t step one more step, I hope you can join me in taking a deep breath and working to believe. God meets me where I am, and God meets you where you are. In the very places we feel desperate, aching, lonely, God meets us with Her loving arms and embraces us so that each of us can engage all that is set before us to believe.
Laura Wade Shirley is a wife, mother of three, therapist, and teacher. She lives in Seattle and teaches at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. During summer she enjoys camping with her family, hiking, and gardening when she can find the time. She loves triathlons and running, though sitting in a quiet house reading a book sounds delightful too.