Growing up, I longed for a dramatic story of faith and fear, some striking experience of God’s presence to share with others. I didn’t long for the suffering, but a part of me envied the certainty it seemed to produce.
I struggled to forgive, but now I understand!
I had always had doubts, but after cancer, now I believe!
Once I dealt drugs, but now I love Jesus!
In public testimonies, struggle took place in the past tense. In that time, the goodness of God seemed distant and difficult to grasp. But now (after the fight, the upending move, the death of a father) the sweep of Providence becomes clear. The Almighty feels close—big and powerful and good. Whether a broken world brought about the suffering or the speaker was the maker of their own suffering, the hurt drove them into the loving arms of God.
Most days do not share the scope and drama of those stories. We wake and eat and sleep, and then we wake and eat and sleep again. We layer in the rhythms of friends and family, work and worship, and any new faces and places soon blur into habit. Slowly, yet all at once, the supernatural becomes a distant echo, muffled by the din of the day. Heaven is abstract, and Earth is complicated. I believe and I do brush each other in the crowd then awkwardly shuffle back to their usual positions.
As the years passed, I started living the sort of narratives I had once heard. Hospital visits and tear-drenched conversations: wouldn’t these be the narrative peaks of my journey with Jesus? Wouldn’t they be the moments I could cling to, the experiences where I could spy Christ in the corners?
And the answer came: sometimes. Reality didn’t obey the rules of the genre. Health scares didn’t end: they dimmed or sometimes lengthened. His job searches brought new, satisfying work: hers only seemed to produce disappointment. Even faith itself had to be untangled from the drive to be a good daughter, a good son, a good person worthy of being loved.
None of our realities constricted neatly into the expected arc. I knew providence had to root deeper than appearances; I knew perspective wasn’t a superiority to lord over others. But I wanted—want—to dwell in a story more clear, more personal than this:
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Even when I was surrounded by dramatic stories, I could remember that faith usually developed in much more mundane circumstances. I could tell anyone who asked that these narratives were the exception, not the rule.
But knowledge and desires are siblings, not mirror reflections. Melding the two together will take more than a simple statement of what I believe. And it will take more than a good story, a few moments of clarity, or even enough time in reflection.
Some days, the presence of God has the acidic taste of Communion wine, the bitter sting of blood on our own hands. Sometimes the saints provide the faith we cannot bolster on our own, and sometimes they offer less forgiveness than a mob of criminals.
Sins, sorrows, and stains do not control goodness, and providence does not play by our narrative rules. Maybe the only resurrection I witness today may be my own, but it will not be the only one happening. I will probably never feel comfortable capping an experience, rounding its edges into a neat, tidy expression of faith. Yet that discomfort can be a gift, even for others in the body of Christ. Dramatic and emotional stories are true, but incomplete; when the part becomes the whole, our desires become dangerous.
Even the quiet expressions of faithfulness can pulse with life. And sometimes we can only nod and pray that doubt is not everlasting.
And we whisper Amen.
Courtney Zonnefeld graduated in 2018 with a degree in writing. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she works for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and saving up for more herb plants. You can usually find her wandering a farmer’s market, hunting for vintage books, or browsing the tea selection in coffee shops.