We’re continuing our series of guest blog posts— the first three were written by alumni of our Cultivate Cohort program. Our fourth post comes from Karin Johnson, a soon-to-be- member of Cohort Dalet, the next 40 Orchards Cohort.
I found myself in a dark wilderness. At first I fought against it. I tried to figure out what I did wrong to feel this way and what to do right to get me out. Then, about three years ago, I decided to engage with the journey instead of fight it.
I am learning to hear the voice of God and I am learning to speak my own voice.
Six years ago my dad passed away suddenly. For the following year, I hardly knew myself. I thought I was broken. It was dark and lonely. I felt abandoned by Jesus. My inner landscape was stark. I didn’t know what to do. So much of my faith was tied up in sorrow and grief. So much began to fall apart.
It was then that I began to sit with a spiritual director. Before this I had not even known what a spiritual director was. She was patient with me and each time we met, her gentle questions gave me a place to focus in the numb chaos of my soul. I began asking questions: the real questions my grief had produced that had been screaming in silence. There were questions that I hadn’t the courage to ask before. Through her faithful “sitting with,” I felt myself surface. Grief no longer dominated my daily life.
I also found myself to be different. I no longer had the tolerance for things I had once accepted so easily before. I was willing to be honest with myself and wanted to be that way with those around me.
I began to pay attention to what was going on inside of me.
I was angry, often and intensely. I began to ask myself what was triggered my rage. I began to see the wounds that were driving me I didn’t know were there. People, books, voices I had once trusted seemed to betray me. I was a mess. I longed for more. I wanted my faith to touch this deep place that I had opened up in my heart.
It seemed that most of the things I had been taught touched my head, but were not useful as I went deeper. So I just stopped. I stopped the “quiet times”. I couldn’t stomach Bible studies on Romans 8 any more. I was not interested in trying to figure out who was right or who was in. I didn’t want to strategize any more about ministry. I was tired of trying to fit into the mold of what a Christian woman should be.
I wanted to just be who I was: messy, angry, passionate, me.
All this was going on as I was living overseas as a missionary. I hesitate using that word. It is so weighted. It gives people a picture of a person who is not me. And yet, it is what I did. Due to this role, deconstructing was extra painful. What did this mean for my job? How could I take a break? There was guilt in feeling I was not being honest with those around me. But how do you send a letter home describing the process of deconstruction? I slowly stopped more and more activity. I tried to begin conversations with colleagues. Some reacted with judgmental silence and I wondered if I had crossed some line. Others admitted to some of the same questions and thoughts and seemed relieved to not be alone.
During this time, I was introduced to spiritual practice of solitude and silence. I tried to sit in silence for 10 minutes. It was healing and hard. It was about all I could do. And for those 10 minutes my heart and mind could be quiet. I stopped trying to heal myself and figure everything out. I wanted to see if God would still be there without all my effort.
Could I be worthy of God’s love if I did nothing?
Then I asked God: Do you want me overseas or should I go back to the US? I sat with this question for months. God answered that question by showing me how he had created me. The true me, not the person I thought I should be or strived to be. I began to feel stirrings of desires in me that I hadn’t listened to before. As I heard God telling me who he had made me to be, I realized my job was not a fit for me. My husband and I were walking through these questions together. In merciful grace, we both felt it was time for us to leave. There was this fragile sense that God loved us for who we were and would still love us stepping out of full-time ministry.
Together we wanted to follow to a place where we could be more our true selves.
We began the long process of goodbyes and moving. This meant an incredible amount of loss and grief, mingled with intense hope. That was a year ago. Everything has changed: my environment, my community, my job, and my identity. At the beginning, I felt as if I was walking on jello, never able to get traction and being irritated all the time. Everything took longer than I wanted and the transition was unsettling.
One of the things that kept me going was the Roots program. I noticed that I actually looked forward to reading the Bible. We were able to hold the tension of the text. There were no big red ribbons around a passage to say we knew what God had said.
As my whole life was in flux I found new comfort in tension, in mystery, in the hard questions.
It encouraged to keep taking steps to stay engaged with the journey.
Why have I decided to join the cohort program? Because I want to keep going.
I don’t know where the destination is, but I do know I want stay with the work of the journey. I don’t want to go it alone or be someone I’m not. I have this intense need to be authentic about everything, even the mess. I want to ask questions. I want a place where my heart can expand. My hope is that this journey will develop a greater capacity for compassion, humility, and love.
Wondering what’s next in your life? What if you had space for intentional discernment? How might a deep dive into study, community, transformation, and scripture impact your journey? Join Karin and wrestle with all your hardest questions in our next Cohort, which starts in September and is filling up now. Learn more HERE and/or register to come to our Midrash Meetup on July 22nd.