It was a dark and stormy night. Quite literally. Texas thunder, apocalyptic lightning, and a frightened 23-year-old girl pacing the carpeted hallways of her apartment.
I traced my finger along the words of scripture. As if I could read it again and find a different edge, a different meaning, a different way to interpret it so that I could fall asleep. On my laptop, I had pulled up multiple websites that told me what I was doing was ok. They had even given me scriptures. They told me how I was actually doing what was good, necessary, life-giving. I found comfort, ears brushed with a gentle breeze that told me I wasn’t walking into the blistered arms of sin. They told me the words I read were misinterpreted. They asked “Who really knows if the Bible is true at all?” They told me repentance wasn’t necessary. Suddenly the teachings of the church and of the Bible seemed archaic, outdated, and I was misunderstood.
But the scripture burned my heart. The Bible felt heavy in my hands, gravity pulling at its edges and my knees.
The words of Christ were the edge of a sword that was ready to cut me down.
From the outside looking in, things were going fairly well. To anyone who met me, I was living a decent life. I was a recent transplant to Denton, TX from New York. I worked long hours for the regional newspaper office as a page designer, writer, and occasional photographer for whatever event they wanted me to cover. I attended church and was making new friends. I was even in the process of becoming a member and had joined a small group. I went out with friends on Friday nights and introduced them all to my boyfriend as if everything was right, good, and not blowing up in my face.
Which it was, by the way. It was a massive dumpster fire.
Because my boyfriend was also someone’s husband back in New York. I had left New York when news of our affair became public and I needed a place to disappear. I wanted a new life, to start over, a new identity. For awhile, I considered even going by a different name. I tried, asking new friends to call me by my middle name. I could rewrite my identity, give myself a new name, create my own future.
I figured if I could change my home and my name and the faces that knew me, then maybe I could change the outcome of my life. Maybe I could change the verdict. If I didn’t want God or the church telling me what to do, then surely I could rewrite my own story.
I didn’t want to be told I couldn’t be with him.
I wanted someone to tell me it was ok.
I wanted the Bible to fit my story. I didn’t want any impositions.
So I’d spend hours at night, searching websites for a truth that fit what I felt. And I found it. Other people with the same story. People who knew what I felt and thought, “How could God possibly be against this?” I built entire friend circles of people who didn’t tell me I was wrong, who celebrated my freedom, who wagged their finger at those “judgmental Christians.”
I marveled at stories of American heroes like Johnny Cash and June Carter. If they could make it work and everyone loved them still, so could we.
And one night I faced the choice. The lightning lit up the parking lot and I could see the outline of the trees, the buildings, the alleyway where I parked my bike. It felt like darkness was hiding me in that small one bedroom and I rounded my shoulders under its weight. As I looked at the idea of Christ, and looked at what he had to offer, and then considered the man with whom I shared my heart, my home, my bed, I realized I didn’t want what Christ had to offer.
“If it’s you or him, if it’s heaven or hell, I’ll take this earthly joy and pay the price.” I slammed my Bible shut. I asked to make my bed and lie in it.
Even typing the words now sends a cold slice of fear down my spine as it did the day I whispered them.
Psalm 139 says “Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
Years later, I think of that girl. The one who thought she could run from the “Hound of Heaven.” I think of her, knees shaking, stomach knotted into nausea while she thought she could tell God to go ahead and let her go.
I thank Him that he didn’t take my direction. I thank God that He kept me when I asked Him not to. I marvel and wonder that He thought it best to hear my words and not willingly grant me my ask. That somehow within a few years time, when I had followed the path that gave me the most earthly freedom and joy and I realized it was all dust in my mouth and moths in my heart, He was still there. In fact, when I made my bed in hell, He was there. When I said “Let darkness cover me and the light about me be night,” He never once took his hand or eyes off of me. On my darkest night, when I whispered those words and prayed that the sword of the son of God would stop gutting me, He was immovable, compassionately detached from my pleas, sovereignly unmoved by my rebellion, eternally faithful to His own promise in my heart.
I couldn’t change my name, as it turned out. My identity wasn’t mine to write. By his mercy, he preserved me. He upheld me despite my kicking and screaming.
So dear friend,
when you’re wringing the words of Christ and looking for away to get out of your contract,
when the Bible feels heavy and the sword cuts deep,
when the words of the internet bring more comfort than the Spirit,
when you realize you’d rather make your bed in hell than trust him with your despair,
let me save you some time.
There is no greater joy, no greater pleasure, no sweeter love, no deeper knowledge, no truer identity, no steadier grace than the one that comes from the hand that preserves, that slays, that keeps. And my prayer is that you’ll see as I did—
One day he would let me die so that I could live.
That one day I’d see the bed I’d made was in His hands.