In the beginning, I had a box. It started out small, in black and white with hard edges. As I grew and experienced new things, my box grew too. I decorated it with colour, and as I pressed against the walls, they moved outward. There was room to breathe, to expand. I grew to be happy with my box. It was safe and secure. Everyone I knew and loved was in the box too. We rejoiced in our box-ness. We felt sad for those who were outside the box. The box wasn’t perfect, but it was ours – everything I had ever known. 

Image used with permission.

But one day, the bottom of the box fell out from under me, and suddenly I was, for the first time, outside​. I didn’t want to be outside; I had loved my box. I was angry and afraid, disoriented. I tried to go back inside, but it didn’t look the same anymore, and it felt claustrophobic after the expanse of outside. I didn’t want to stay in the box as it was, but I didn’t want to be outside either. And so I sat, half in and half out, wondering if I’d find another box that would fit. 

I can pretty much pinpoint the exact moment that my box started to break. Or perhaps more accurately, it was a crack in the foundation, which eventually, with pressure, caused the floor to give way. The hospital room was dark as I stared up at a screen and saw a tiny baby with no heartbeat; I should have been three months along. It was a moment where everything shattered, one of those defining moments that alters the trajectory of your life. That trauma ushered in a period of intense pain, an anxiety disorder and ultimately the dismantling of my faith as I knew it. 

To begin at the beginning, I grew up conservative evangelical-ish, my formative years spent at a Baptist church in Southern Africa before moving to England in my early teens. My early Christian years taught me about the goodness of God and the kindness of community – but also who was in and out, the rules to follow. It was later on in my teenage years, through experiences like Soul Survivor and going to a small, vibrant church at university, that I really felt the ​presence​ of God. Being a Christian then, felt inspiring and exciting. It gave me purpose and belonging and life made sense. 

Yet it was suffering that changed everything, years later. As I battled anxiety and grief over my lost baby, I felt God’s presence so closely around me. Yet it didn’t change my circumstances. And it was ​that ​that changed everything​– ​when prayer didn’t work and didn’t seem to make a difference, when all the answers I had no longer made sense to me. I felt an intense anger that cut me to my core as I raged at God, at church, at Christianity. 

Once I pulled that thread, everything else started to unravel. I listened to new voices with different theologies and suddenly I wasn’t so sure about anything. Questions which had never bothered me about life, the universe and everything felt more prescient. ​Why ​did God create us? Did I believe in hell? Was Christianity the only truth? Some days I wasn’t 100% sure I believed in God at all. I still miss my box – my easy, comfortable, has-most-of-the-answers faith. I get mad at the box, at the people who have never left it. I know plenty of others who have experienced intense suffering but have not deconstructed their faith. If anything, it’s made them more sure, and I envy them. But at the same time, I’m not sure I’d change anything. My faith is different now, but it’s still there. There’s a new depth to it, despite the uncertainty. I love my church and there’s plenty that I love about Christianity, but I don’t feel fully ​in it. It feels as though I’m still in the in-between, half in and half out of the box. I don’t pray a whole lot, and I don’t read the Bible. I’m still angry in ways that I can’t completely understand, angry at things I believed that I no longer hold to be true. But after everything, it’s my experience of Jesus that has remained. I’m not sure about much else, but Jesus I’m pretty sure about. When I walk into my garden or I’m out in nature, I feel the wind blow against my skin and I sense the Spirit. I long for a world and a self made whole, without suffering, all things redeemed and restored. 

Catherine Gale

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  1. Rachel Apr 30, 2019

    Wow, Catherine. I can relate to this in so many ways. Thank you for sharing your pain and vulnerability. When I went through a very painful situation I just wanted to hear about authentic real life stories like this one. Thanks.

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