Lenten Reflection – Beth Willis

Lenten Reflection

From Beth Willis

Psalm 121: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, or the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

When Rebecca asked me to speak about my Faith journey during one of the Lenten Meditation Services, I immediately said yes. I have gained so much from Central, so of course, I wanted to give back in any way I can. Then I went home and thought about it, and got really nervous. Partly, because I don’t often speak in front a group of people, but more importantly because my faith journey is not all butterflies and rainbows. After more reflection, I came to the conclusion, that there is something to be gained in any kind of journey, so why not share mine.

I was born into my faith. It was not a choice for me. From the moment I came into this world, my life was dedicated to Jesus.  I grew up attending an Evangelical Covenant Church about 10 minutes from Central. It was my world and all I knew.  As an only child of a single mother it was more of a home than my actual house, the community was like the family I didn’t really have.  My mother was a member of the choir, ran bible studies, I was in the children’s choir, went to bible studies, Sunday school. I went to a Christian Academy for my school. My mom only listened to Christian radio or Christian music in the car. There was no other reality. I was taught that if you are good enough, do enough good deeds, you will be rewarded with heaven.  As long as I learned my bible verses, shared the good news with others, I would be ok.  I lived and breathed church and Jesus.

Around the time I turned 8, my mom adopted my sister. Kendra, was severally mentally and physically disabled from birth. Everyone referred to her as miracle, which she was, but to me she was just my sister.  My home life did not match what I was learning and hearing about in church, and as I entered into my teens, and simultaneously started going to public school, I became really confused and angry.  At church, my mother was considered a perfect example of motherhood, a saint some said. At home, she was anything but.  At church we were taught to love everyone, spread God’s word to everyone you meet, bring them to church. Unless they are gay, because then you were not supposed to talk to them. At 14, I had no clue who or what I was, or who I was going to love. I did know that I didn’t like judging people based on who they loved, and that I was not going to fit in this mold that I was being put into.

I think all people go through a phase of doubt, particularly in their teenage years.  For me, I never stopped believing in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  But all of sudden I was surrounded by a new reality that my entire life I had been told was wrong.  As I slowly explored this new reality and learned everything I could about ALL Religions, I realized, just because something is different, does not mean it is evil. And that I was smart enough to make my own conclusions about what was right for me. However, as I discovered this world and gained perspective, I became more and more angry. How could a loving God let me suffer through an abusive childhood, while the abuser continued to be seen as a saint? Why are some Christians acts better than others? How could the people that I had considered like family, be so judgmental to others who did not live a similar lifestyle?  Wasn’t it only God’s place to judge? These were just a few of the questions running through my mind.

When I turned 18, I had a sudden new control over my life.  For the first time I felt in control of my destiny. I didn’t stop believing in God, or the major tenants of Christianity for that matter, but I did stop going to church. I chose the method of, if I needed God, I knew where he was and how to find him.  Clearly going to church was not easing my suffering. Continuous prayer, begging God to ease my pain had shown no fruitfulness. I had been the best Christian I knew how to be, and was still left to suffer. I felt abandoned and was angry at God for not thinking I was a good enough person, for not listening, so why bother.  Then I fell down a flight of stairs, and nearly broke my back.  I remember saying to God, you have got be kidding me. Seriously, I haven’t had enough?

Over the course of the next few years, the weight of my past, the stress of putting myself through college, and the physical pain of my back injury sent me into a battle with depression. Although I was still angry with God, I tried going back to church. Knowing that my new educated liberal self was going to need a liberal church, I literally explored every denomination of religion that RI has to offer. There was always something not quite right though, and I would often give up going after one or two Sundays.

Five years ago, my battle with depression, and everything that had led me to that point, led me to a very dark place, and I wound up as broken as one can be.  In that darkest moment of my life, I remember crying out to God, that I just couldn’t take anymore. He had finally given me more than I could handle.

As I was recovering from that dark moment,   I spent a lot of time letting go. The phrase “Let go and Let God” always seemed cliché to me. How could someone let God, what does that even mean? However, I had nothing else to lose, so that is what I did. I put one foot in front of the other, and trusted that God had the rest figured out. He had to, because clearly I didn’t.

It was around this same time that I saw the movie, Evan Almighty. Not exactly the place to find spiritual guidance, but that is where I found it. In one scene, God (played by Morgan Freedman) is talking to Evan’s wife, who is at her wits end because her normal seeming husband has told everyone that God has told him to build an ark, and he therefore goes out into present day and starts building a giant ark, causing her family to fall apart. God says to her- “Let me tell you something, if someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If a man prays and asks for courage, does God give them courage, or the opportunity to be courageous? If someone prays for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them the opportunity to love each other?”

That was a light bulb moment for me.  While, I don’t think that Evan Almighty should be the beginning and end to spiritual inspiration, I can see the wisdom in this quote.  Because I needed to be in control, I was looking for the exact answer to my prayer.  I was expecting a zap of strength, not an opportunity to be strong. I was looking for God to rescue me, not give me different situations to continue my growth.  While I still may not be happy with God giving me ALL the opportunities to have strength that he did, I can now come to terms with the fact that he did answer my prayers all those times I begged him for strength and help. He didn’t abandon me. He just didn’t answer me the way I wanted him to.  Being able to see, and therefore accept that God isn’t always direct, but never abandons, has been a life changer for me. God, wasn’t the problem, he was always there caring for me, helping me, answering my prayers.  I just didn’t want to accept the help because it wasn’t coming in the form I wanted it to.  I learned to not brush off any situation that comes my way as insignificant just because it is not exactly what I want, or what I asked for. It could be God trying to give me something, and who am I to turn that down that gift.

With a new found peace both with myself and also with God, I was open and ready to rejoin a church community.  After more “church shopping” I wound up at Central on Palm Sunday. If there is a Sunday to start at Central, Palm Sunday is the one. It was a welcoming community, filled with families, music and joy. Not to mention the Donkey! When I looked at the families marching around the block behind the donkey, there were all different kinds and make-ups of families. Everyone was accepted. I knew that day this was the place for me. Looking back, I think my coming here for the first time on Palm Sunday was one of those gifts from God. After the positive Palm Sunday experience, I came to every service during Holy Week, and by Easter Sunday, I felt like I had been reborn.  Everything had been washed away, and it was a new beginning for me.

At Central you are accepted for who you are, and whatever your faith journey has been. There is no judgment. We all have a past. We have all made mistakes, and will continue to make mistakes.  We all have had dark moments where we have felt abandoned by God, possibly even doubting in his existence. We all have struggled with accepting help, especially if it is not the exact help we asked for.  At Central, that is not a reason to be thrown to the curb. That is all the more reason to welcome someone, so that we can all face those moments together. And I for one am grateful that I have community filled with love and grace supporting me on my journey. I hope during this Lenten season, we all can take a few moments to connect with God, and reaffirm that not only are we not alone in this community, but also that God never abandons us. If we are willing to be open to what God gives us, the opportunities and gifts are abundant.


Posted in Lenten Reflections.