Reconstructing the Bridge Metaphor

by Addie

“The cross is not a detour or hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom.”
~ John Yoder, The Politics of Jesus

jesus bridge illustration reconstructed

The first time I went to a therapist, I was shattered at the rock-bottom of my life.

It has been a year of Depression and anger. A year of drinking too much too fast. In a thousand small ways and a few really big ways, I’d been hurt by the churches where I sought refuge. And so, in many ways, it was the loneliest year.

I went to the therapist after the almost Thing with the man who was not my husband. I went with a certain kind of desperation. I was at the edge, and I knew I had to reach out and grab something, so I grabbed the first name on the In-Network list and called.

The first therapist belonged to a Christian practice, which I chose on purpose. I knew I needed to sort through my tangled evangelical relationships, and I wanted to do it with someone who might understand. I was thisclose to giving up on faith altogether, and I was looking for someone to help me keep holding on.

I remember that it was fall and it was sunny. I don’t remember the therapist’s name, only that she was small and severe, and she had that tired, middle-of-the-afternoon look about her.

I sat down on the couch, and she sat at a desk, her body turned toward the window. When I launched headlong into my story, she stayed bent over her yellow legal pad, scribbling. I sobbed, and she gestured toward the Kleenex box without looking up.

I told her the whole thing, from the very beginning. I told her about the old on fire for Jesus days and the slow burning out. I gave the details, the pain. I told her about those mornings that I spent with my Bible, needing God so much I could barely breathe…and feeling only silence.

I told her about the tequila and the churches and that boy I should never have started talking to at the coffee shop that day. I told her how close things had come to falling apart.

When I was done, the therapist tapped her pencil, got up, and walked to the white board on her wall. Silently, she drew a crude drawing of two cliffs, a cross spanning the gap between them.

I’d seen this illustration approximately 800,000 times before, ever since they first trotted it out in Sunday School one morning to explain, visually, the heart of the Gospel. Without God, there is sin and death. With God, there is hope, life, joy. And the only way across the abyss is Jesus.

“It sounds to me,” the therapist said, “like you’re trying to get to God on your own.”  She drew some little squiggle lines exuding from the stick figure (meant to be me? I guess?). The stick-girl was on the “sin” side of the cliff, and the squiggle lines represented the “good works” she was doing to try to get to God. They were, naturally, coming up short.

The therapist explained it slow and patronizing, and my mouth fell open a little because she was saying, “Jesus is the only way to bridge the gap!” like it was brand new information.

I was thinking in all caps and profanity-laced anger. DIDN’T YOU HEAR A THING I JUST SAID? I was thinking, I believe in Jesus, and I am desperate to keep believing. I am seeking, and I am asking, and I still feel like I am falling.

When I left the office that day, I barely could muster up “goodbye,” and I knew I’d never go back.

And it’s this same Before-and-After hoax that has us giving three-minute testimonies, telling about how life was crap before we met Jesus…and now it’s so fulfilling and joyful and peace-filled.

Bullshit.

There is truth to the Bridge Metaphor. I will never deny that for one minute.

But it’s also an oversimplification. It’s not like you say a prayer, and then you walk happily over the cross-shaped bridge to Eternal Happiness.

No. You choose this. You choose Jesus because you believe that this whole, wild thing is true. And then you spend the rest of your life clinging to him. You hang on for dear life, because you are aware – for the first time ever maybe – that you are suspended over the bottomless void of your own selfishness, your own hate, your own broken heart. That the only thing steady here is this cross.

And she was a bad therapist, but, in many ways, she was a pretty typical Christian.

Instead of looking into my eyes and seeing that I was fighting to hang on, she assumed that my doubt and pain and struggle was symptomatic . She assumed it pointed to a faith that had never been there, and so she sent me back to the beginning to take a first step toward God.

But the truth was that it wasn’t a broken faith at all. Just the normal middle of things.

In the end, faith is so much about uncertainty. So much about struggle. You hang on the best you can, and you try to remember that even if you lose your grip, this Love will not let you go.

 

The next therapist I went to was a great therapist.

She sat across from me in her swivel chair and she said gently, Let’s check in, and the way she said it and the way she listened was Gospel. It was like she was saying, Look, this is hard. You’re all tangled up in the darkness. But you are not failing. It was like she was saying. You are still held. You are still loved.

You are suspended over the void. You are holding onto that cross with one baby finger, feeling like you’re going to lose it if God doesn’t grab hold of you.

You are in the hard, beautiful middle of faith. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

 

88 Responses to “Reconstructing the Bridge Metaphor”

  1. Natalie Trust March 7, 2013 at 1:06 am #

    Addie, thank you for sharing your experiences. I wish I could say that all my counselors and psychologists were wonderful, but my truth is much like yours. It took some time to find someone to cradle me and all the trauma and anxiety with compassion and insight.

    • Addie March 8, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

      Yes, I’m finding that this is the case for more people than I imagined. Thanks for sharing Natalie.

  2. Linda Stoll March 7, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    oh, Addie, when I hear these cringeworthy stories of horrible, incompetent counselors, everything in me as a pastoral counselor cries out. but how thankful I am that you found someone who was oh-so-present for you and validated where you truly were …and modeled a bit of Jesus’ grace and truth.

    blessings …

    • Addie March 8, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words, Linda. (So glad I was able to find someone wonderful in the end too.)

  3. Laura March 7, 2013 at 5:30 am #

    The first Christian counselor I went to was very nice but she did nothing for me except perhaps let me vent. Several years later I went to another counselor, thinking I would only be there a couple of months. Fourteen months later I came out a mended person. She was a secular therapist, but I know (through a series of circumstances) God directed me to her. It made all the difference for me.

    • Addie March 8, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      That’s great. I was with my second one for over a year too…until I had my first baby and could no longer afford the expense. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

  4. Ashleigh Baker March 7, 2013 at 7:30 am #

    This one, THIS one, Addie. These words hit me in the gut. The bad year, the desperation, the unhelpful therapist, the normal middle, the holding on with a tiny finger. I’ve known all of it intimately.

    Question because I’m curious: Did you end up with a Christian/spiritual therapist? One could imagine a Christian therapist best helping a wounded Christian sort it out, but obviously, that isn’t always reality. In my case, the first secular therapist I saw couldn’t hide her fascination with the thinking and practices of my fundamentalist upbringing and I wound up feeling like a source of entertainment to her. Each tiny reference required educating her on the basics of evangelical Christianity before delving into our extreme version of it. And maybe it was just a run o’ the mill bad fit. But I’m wary of a Christian therapist for the very reason you’ve mentioned here. Until I know where that person falls on issues of faith, I won’t feel safe. So I just stopped seeing anyone… because that’s toootally the answer, right?

    • HopefulLeigh March 7, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

      I had a great experience with a Christian counselor and I have a number of friends who are wonderful Christian counselors. Similarly, I know wonderful secular counselors. And we all, unfortunately, have horror stories about each. The good ones are out there. It’s just not always easy figuring out which is which from the start. I find the counselor’s website to be a good way to sleuth it out. (I know we’ve already talked about this but to anyone else perusing comments: Please don’t go to a biblical counselor. They are not accredited and while there are good ones out there, so much spiritual abuse occurs in those settings I cannot recommend them. Full disclosure: I’m a social worker.)

    • Addie March 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

      Thanks so much, Ashleigh. The second therapist was a Christian as well, but her and her practice were highly recommended to me by a couple of different people. She told me once that started out as a writing major, but switched to counseling because she discovered what she was most interested in was listening to people’s stories.

      I appreciated her because she was able to help me sort out the bad stuff from my evangelical past without letting go of the whole thing. She pointed out areas where I’d been manipulated by faith leaders. She was the one to give me a book on cults, not because she ever believed that Christianity or evangelicalism itself was a cult, but because it’s possible to experience those manipulative, abusive hallmarks of cults even within good theology.

      She was exactly who I needed. I feel like she helped me untangle my strangled faith from everything that was killing it.

  5. kelli woodford March 7, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    Right. I’ve seen those tired-like-the-middle-of-the-afternoon-eyes, myself, in the face of my honest passion and pain. And then felt the dismissal in their words. Validation is a gift that is often severely underrated. I’m so glad you finally found someone who “got it.” And who didn’t hand you pat answers.

    Addie, my husband is on the road to becoming one of those Christian therapists. Such good stuff here for him and those he knows. Will be passing this along for sure. Thank you.

    • Addie March 8, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

      I love this: “Validation is a gift that is often severely underrated.” Thanks so much for sharing and for the kind words.

  6. Jody Lee Collins March 7, 2013 at 8:03 am #

    Addie, I believe what this not so helpful therapist should have drawn was a cross connecting the cliffs…not a bridge. I’ve been in the middle walking away from a marriage because of my own sin and selfishness and a lust that drove me to do stupid, very un Christian like things. It was God’s grace alone that kept married in spite of many of my Christian friends who advised me to follow my feelings. Shocker.
    Why come back to the all too familiar illustration? Because it still holds true. Jesus died to set me free and I get to run to him every time with my garbage and he gives me forgiveness.
    He’s been there for 40 years and never gets tired of seeing me come….

    • Jody Lee Collins March 7, 2013 at 8:23 am #

      hmmmmmmmmmm…..she DID draw a cross. When I was reading this post the pictures did not show up, so I assumed she’d drawn a bridge, train trestle like. No matter. You’re right, Addie–there is no ‘one step and you’re done’ to this walk of salvation. I ‘accepted Jesus’ in the 70′s and believe me,there was no dearth of hippie Christian-isms floating around. I’ve had to learn to find my own healing walking through my stuff, falling down and getting up and falling down and getting up, and sometimes (always) clinging to the cross.
      Forgive my jumping to conclusions about your point–you’ve shed light on a sad but true state of affairs. God, keep us walking in your light.

      • Addie March 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

        Thanks Jody (and no problem about the misunderstanding!) I love how you said it here: “I’ve had to learn to find my own healing walking through my stuff, falling down and getting up and falling down and getting up, and sometimes (always) clinging to the cross.” Thanks so much.

  7. Jen March 7, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    Sometimes, Addie, it almost scares me how your words speak right to me. :) Though the details are different, threads are woven through our stories that make me thank Him for you, saying what I need to hear when no one else seems to. (And I’m surrounded by Jesus-y stuff 24/7). But somehow, you GET it. Thank you.

    I would love to hear more of the latter part of the story, though. After finding a good therapist, and knowing it wasn’t about trying not to just “try harder” and working on not “working for your faith” (p.s. Everyone else – see why this is hard for us?) how did you get out of that dark place? Like you, I know the Christianese answer is “JESUS,” and the proper response to someone when they say “aw, that sounds hard” is “that’s ok, it’s just a desert season. I’ll just pray through it and be more thankful, then I’ll have unending joy and ethereal peace!” :P

    Maybe the answer IS “just do what Jesus wants and your life will be filled with sunshine, daisies and purpose!” but it just doesn’t seem enough. Call me heretical, but when we sing about “Jesus satisfies all our longings” I just can’t sing along because it just oversimplifies to the point of disaster… what if there is someone there (me) who knows Him, loves Him, is starving for Him… but He just has more planned for me than my longings and desires? And what if that plan is painful and hard and through the valley? But instead of hearing that, I hear: “if you just had more faith, served more, counted your blessings, etc., this wouldn’t be happening to you…”

    • Addie March 8, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

      I know how frustrating those phrases are, and I completely agree. I don’t think the answer is ever “try harder” or “have more faith.” That’s the American-bootstrap version of Christianity.

      I write quite about how the journey toward healing went (and is still going) for me over at my blog. But the short answer is that I spent over a year in therapy, untangling what was bad and destructive about my faith history from what was true and beautiful. I went on antidepressents for a long time. We left the church we were at that had been such a hard place for me, and we found somewhere else, and it wasn’t THE place that I had longed for, but it was a safe enough place for me to rest and recover for a while. We found a few kind Christian couples, and though it wasn’t perfect or easy all the time, they withheld judgment and they loved us and they let me tell my story.

      And I wrote a book. I wrote my faith memoir from the beginning all the way through the pain, and God met me in the writing. It was here the much of my healing work took place.

      Anyway, I guess I’d say there’s no formula. Only time and grace. Only one step at a time.

      • Jen March 9, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

        So cool how much writing and just being able to share your story heals. :) Going to have to check out your old posts from before I started following. I was pretty on top of things back around Christmas (yes, I was the Jen that won the “how to tell if you grew up with an evangelical Christmas” blog game. haha) Since then though… well, life hit. You know. In the process of that “only time and grace” part. Baby steps at a time. :)

        All this to say, thanks for your authenticity and grace and your writing which leads us fellow broken people to Light and Life.

  8. Courtney March 7, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    I will never look at that stick figure drawing the same way again. It’s not about walking across to bliss and ease, it’s about hanging on to the cross in the wild in-betweens. This was absolutely beautiful.

    • Addie March 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

      Thanks so much Courtney.

  9. Katie Gibson March 7, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    So moving and powerful, Addie. My husband is a therapist and I know he tries to be like your second therapist, instead of the first. Thanks for these words about the hard, beautiful middle.

    • Addie March 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

      That’s great. We need more therapists like my second one (and less like the first one!). Thanks Katie.

  10. Gregory C. Jeffers March 7, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Dear Lord, Addie, this is beautiful. One reason that I keep reading everything you write is because you so frequently have fleshed out in words my own emotion–you have named what I have been struggling to name. And it’s a bit of grace every single time. Thank you.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 5:40 am #

      Thank you so much for these kind words, Gregory.

  11. AlissaBC March 7, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    “And it’s this same Before-and-After hoax that has us giving three-minute testimonies, telling about how life was crap before we met Jesus…and now it’s so fulfilling and joyful and peace-filled.

    Bullshit.

    There is truth to the Bridge Metaphor. I will never deny that for one minute.

    But it’s also an oversimplification. It’s not like you say a prayer, and then you walk happily over the cross-shaped bridge to Eternal Happiness.

    No. You choose this. You choose Jesus because you believe that this whole, wild thing is true. And then you spend the rest of your life clinging to him. You hang on for dear life, because you are aware – for the first time ever maybe – that you are suspended over the bottomless void of your own selfishness, your own hate, your own broken heart. That the only thing steady here is this cross.”

    Yes and Thank You and Amen. To all of that.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 5:41 am #

      So glad that bit was meaningful to you. Thanks so much Alissa.

  12. Lisa Bartelt March 7, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    This is so beautifully honest and raw I want to shout “Hallelujah!” I’m so tired of “easy” answers and cliches and quick fixes. My husband and I are in the midst of a faith reformation, and we have no easy answers, only questions. JJ Heller has a song, “Who You Are” that is speaking to this: God, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who you are.” Sometimes I forget that, too. Thank you for this.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 5:43 am #

      I love that — faith reformation. (I called mine a Total Breakdown. That sounds so much better.) Yes, there is no quick fix. Just the daily work of slogging through it. Thanks Lisa.

  13. Anne @ anne b. good March 7, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    I lived this post. In my anger, I almost gave up on God because of Christians who misrepresent Christ’s love, as your first therapist did. Interestingly, I just posted about my experience with my two therapists. Although my experience was different (my first wasn’t a Christian although it was a Christian practice) I am so thankful for my second one. God loved me through her. // You’re absolutely right about the illustration. It’s an illustration of salvation. Period. When you try to make it anything else, it falls short. Christians who have walked the bridge to the other side are with Jesus. In their struggle they need to experience His love, not be sent back to the other side to start again. That’s silly. And hurtful. // I struggle, too, with the “before/after” simplistic attitude. Christians are promised struggles. Life is not easier with Jesus, it’s harder. Satan doesn’t like it when we identify ourselves with Christ. We should be able to acknowledge our pain, not be shamed about it. We need to encourage each other to wholeness.

    • Lori March 8, 2013 at 6:42 am #

      Excellent! Salvation and Sanctification are two different processes. The chasm sketch is somewhat true depending on your theology (I am Reform and do not believe we choose God but that he chooses and brings us to him). But most agree that the purpose of the illustration is for Salvation NOT Sanctification (our journey with Jesus on earth). So many modern evangelical churches make work righteousness the basis of faith. Burn out is always the result. God promises in his Word struggles, pain, temporal death -to carry our own cross by clinging to Him. Living Christianity is always the harder path and it angers me when the church and many Christian counselors lie to people with the bait and switch: if you come to Jesus He will make everything in your life perfect. Uh no. The bible is replete with the severity of the journey. Reading a few stories of historical and modern persecution of faithful ‘Christ’ians should disabuse anyone of the notion that God can be bought or bribed with our good works and man centered faith.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 5:46 am #

      Thanks for these great points you guys. I love how you get into the beautiful Truth of it and remind us to “encourage each other to wholeness.” Yes.

  14. Shae March 7, 2013 at 9:31 am #

    This is so beautiful. I love how stupid stating the most profound obvious truth is in the world. She messed that one up. I remember a therapist (also Christian… heaven help us all) and she spent most of my time there talking about what’s black and what’s white and what’s good and what’s evil and maybe sometimes there’s a middle ground. Pff. Grateful for those that have walked along side me using the Kleenex with me.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:31 am #

      It’s always sad to me when Christianity is used in a reductive way. It cheapens it. Thankful for people who believe it is strong enough to speak into the complications and the pain and the “gray areas” that you speak of. And yes, those with the Kleenex. :)

  15. Diana March 7, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Powerful and true, Addie. I advise people to seek a therapist often because I believe in therapeutic work, when it’s done well. And I always say, “FIRST thing to find out: is this person really skilled at what they do? THEN find out if he/she is a believer.” There are way too many lousy Christian therapists out there, that is for dang sure. And I am so sorry you landed in the office of one. Reading that interlude literally made my skin crawl, because so much harm has been done in the name of ‘Christian counseling.’ I am grateful that you kept looking and that you found someone who heard you. Because that’s what it’s about — listening well, with trained ears and open heart. (I also get the commenter who became a lab specimen because of her fundamentalist background and that’s the secular side of the dilemma, I fear. But once again – I would ask: was that therapist really good at what she did? And asking around can really help you find that out.) Beautifully done, as always.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:33 am #

      Great advice, Diana. Though my second therapist was a Christian as well, she came recommended. Thankful for those in that field who are committed to becoming skilled at this hard work of healing.

  16. Jake Brower March 7, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    Cuz, its just crazy what you can do with words… seriously, you could probably tell me my whole family is dying and I would sit their lost in the beautiful way you said it… you got mad skills lady.

    I was struck uniquely as I read your words this morning at just how broken people are. We are capable of taking the most beautiful story ever told and turning it into something so void of meaning that it is stripped of all its transforming power.

    The problem is, this is all of us. This is you, this is me. We as a race, are proficient at only one thing… destruction. We invent ways to hurt ourselves and others. Christians, buddhists, mormons, hindu’s, atheists, scientologists, everyone!!!

    Your words in this post make this reality more and more clear to me. Why is it that I cringe when I hear the word Christian? Because we some how have this expectations that being, “Christian,” should change something about the way we interact with people.

    It should. It doesn’t always. I am saddened by this reality.

    Still, we have the opportunity as broken individuals to allow our lives to begin re-telling the beautiful story of the cliffs and the bridge and the stick figure. We can’t tell it through words, or even grand gestures at this point, that has been done too often, and it is white noise to the world in such desperate need. That story now must be told in the way we look at, touch and speak to each other. It must be told in the way we love and serve. It must be told in the way give.

    I for one will not give up fighting to see the church being the light it was intended to be. Thanks for your incredible voice… thanks that it doesn’t end with just your voice, but translates to the way you love. Let it always be so. Love you!

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:35 am #

      Thanks for your kind words and for this beautiful thought: “We have the opportunity as broken individuals to allow our lives to begin re-telling the beautiful story of the cliffs and the bridge and the stick figure…in the way we look at, touch and speak to each other. It must be told in the way we love and serve. It must be told in the way give.” YES.

  17. Katie March 7, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    This is so raw, so beautifully open, and painfully real.
    Christians walk many treacherous lines… Many badly blurred by misconception and oversimplification.
    The cross is the immutable, strong and un-breakable bridge only when it represents the Gospel, the saving power of a Love that cannot be earned or lost. The cross connects those craggy cliffs as a reminder that the Gospel is all about how Jesus is reaching for me, holding me- the Gospel is not about a life-saving love that I didn’t earn but must strive to be worthy of… The Gospel is about how my Jesus is never letting me go, about how far He came to rescue us.
    The bridge between those cliffs cannot be my faith… My faith will shake, tremble, falter… But it is tethered to a true Love that cannot be moved.
    It’s heartbreaking how often we allow this burden to be yoked to us, how often we add chains to the Gospel. As if the saving, blood-soaked power of the Cross needed my help to build a bridge.
    I love the word cling… It is real, it is fingernails dug in and passion and sweat and tears… I will cling to the cross, to the Gospel, to Jesus.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:35 am #

      Loved this Katie: “The bridge between those cliffs cannot be my faith… My faith will shake, tremble, falter… But it is tethered to a true Love that cannot be moved.”

  18. Mihee Kim-Kort March 7, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    I would have lost my shit if a therapist drew that analogy on the board for me after I poured out my heart.

    This is an incredible story…thank you for sharing…

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:36 am #

      Ha! Maybe I should passive-aggressively send her this post. (But probably not.) Thanks Mihee!

  19. Jim Fisher March 7, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    As always, Addie, raw, honest, vulnerable — awesome.

    That metaphor is unfortunate in so many ways. It depicts our relationship with our Creator as a destination. A before-and-after. It depicts a distant God who just sits there on the other cliff. It is easy to imagine God not participating in the relationship.

    All relationships worth keeping are journeys, not destinations. I am honored and humbled to be on this journey with you all.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:38 am #

      I love this bit, Jim: “It is easy to imagine God not participating in the relationship.” I’d never put that together, but yes. You’re absolutely right.

  20. Alece Ronzino March 7, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    THIS, Addie. I have been there. Threadbare and lonely, in that dark deep place of depression and faith-wrestling and heartache. And I have had the most worst of counselor experiences and the very best of them. Oh how this post resonates with places of me I’ve never found words to articulate…

    I am grateful that you didn’t give up entirely after that woman so sorely mistreated you and your heart. That woman who should not be in that field, who should not get to even call herself a counselor, only heaped more shame on the pile you were drowning under. The fact that in walking away from her office that day you did not also choose to walk away entirely seems to me a sweet and miraculous grace. That you finally found yourself across from a real and true counselor who got down and dirty with you in the mess! (And I can’t help but wonder if she too was a Christian therapist or not…) That you still believe, that you still doubt, that you still grapple, that you still allow light to shine through your brokenness… THAT is wonder of grace.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:41 am #

      It absolutely was grace, Alece. And desperation.

      Also grace? The second therapist was also a Christian, but in the very best way. She was the one to help me untangle the mess of my faith. She was wise enough to point out what had been destructive, and while she never preached or “prescribed Jesus” like some kind of a magic pill, it was her grace and listening that eventually helped me find my footing again.

  21. Jen March 7, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Well, here I come with my cracked shell and vitriol. Dammit. This is exactly like kind of shit we Christians like to throw around as if it’s so easy to climb out of the muck just by knowing or thinking or whatever. If you could have, you would have. It is bullshit. And it makes me mad. Mad for you, to have to sit there, and PAY for help that is no help at all. It makes me mad for the people who don’t, can’t, catch on to one small shred. It makes me want to say, this is not the kind of nonsense I want to associate with. And it makes me want to drive north.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:42 am #

      “It makes me want to say, this is not the kind of nonsense I want to associate with.” SERIOUSLY. And also, you should definitely drive north. :)

  22. Faith March 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    “the hard, beautiful middle of faith” I love this description. This made me think of all the times I was that typical Christian who gave the pat answers and I feel convicted. But it also makes me feel connected because I’m in that hard, beautiful middle right now and didn’t know words for it. Thank you for sharing your story. It gives hope.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:43 am #

      Thanks for the kind words Faith. Grace and peace to you in your own hard, beautiful middle.

  23. Michelle March 7, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    Oh Addie, I don’t know what to say, you have me in tears. I read many Christian blogs but yours feels like you reached into my heart and put words to the never ending emotions I cannot articulate. After giving my life to Christ at 16 and being an “on-fire-for Jesus-Freak” I felt like it was all a bit….fake, you know? like I had to put my Christian face on when I met with my Christian friends? Surely it should come easier this being a “good” Christian. Having done the alter call and wept on my knees for Gods grace it should be a doddle now. Nope. And the harder I tried, the worse I felt because I knew my deeds and actions were not the right way and besides, they certainly didn;t measure up to my Christian friends. So do I NOT try? DO i compete?

    At 18, the guilt and shame was so heavy I took a paracetamol overdose. By God’s miraculous grace (and an emergency Liver Transplant!)I survived but I struggle everyday with the concept of being a “Good” Christian.

    Sorry for giving my three-minute testimony but you’ll note there is no after part – just me in the middle, clinging on, desperately going back to the Lord time and time (and time) again. Wondering, if I keep committing the same sins after seeking forgiveness does that mean I wasnt truely repentant the first time? If I have doubts about aspects of the bible does that make me a “bad” Christian? and who can I talk to about all this without sounding like I’m losing my faith when that is the one thing I cling onto.

    Sorry for going on. I am so happy you found someone to share your story with who listened and got it! I guess I’m just sharing mine so anyone else out there knows that they are not alone. I get it! (plus I refuse to edit this post as I know I’ll never send it otherwise)

    God Bless you Addie x

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:50 am #

      Thanks so much for sharing a bit of your story and speaking to us from your own hard middle places. This phrase struck me: “and who can I talk to about all this without sounding like I’m losing my faith when that is the one thing I cling onto.”

      I’d love to see the Church altogether get better at living in the gray places and struggling through hard questions together. Sometimes there seems to be so much fear — like if you question something and I don’t have the answers, can my faith survive?

      In the end though, it’s LOVE not Right Answers that casts out fear. May God give us the grace to believe that and to live it.

  24. Ambling Saint March 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    I think the problem is that most Christians don’t really know. Like, I know Jesus, He’s real to me and I walk with Him every day, both in my daily life and in realms unseen in the Spirit.
    Most Christians I have come across on my journey are stuck,for several reasons,unable to move onwards. Nobody helps stuck Christians because most helpers are also stuck.
    I think the gospel we’ve accepted is hugely watered down. If you read Galatians for example the first letter Paul wrote, he starts off pretty quickly saying that God revealed the gospel, revealed Christ in him, nobody taught him it, with little cliffs and bridges and stuff. He got it straight from the horse’s mouth, by revelation. That’s normal. To Paul. In fact he says he was never taught it at all.
    The cost of following Jesus is everything. Period. We sell the gospel at less than that and then folk will end up stuck down the line somewhere. People who are crying and hurting and trying to follow need to know they have already counted the cost and be able to say something like You died for me, I will follow You whatever the cost, gonna count all things lost. Yes, He tears and rends but He also binds up my wounds, I will love You whatever You do to me, because it isn’t love if it’s only when it benefits me.
    I know that my Redeemer lives, and I know that underneath are the everlasting arms.
    Go on, I dare you. Stop trying to cling to a wild cross over a chasm, and quit getting saved in your own strength, by which I mean your strength to keep clinging and your best efforts to help keep others clinging. What kind of faith is that? That’s faith in your own strength, not faith in God Who will hold you and catch you, that’s what!
    Stop rushing around like Marthas and hang about doing nothing with Jesus like Mary did. Spend ages thinking about that little sentence Apart from Me you can do nothing.
    Take Him at His word. I pray His Holy Spirit becomes your Counsellor and Comforter.
    Aside, I’m really sorry the first counsellor couldn’t help you, I pray you would see His love for you especially and how He bore your pain. He was there when you were being hurt, and He understands everything. He forgives with you and He will help you and continue to help you. It hurts me that you got hurt like that, but Jesus understands, because He is like that.i pray you will become able to look back and see Jesus there with you, forgiving because she doesn’t understand, she is broken and tired and joyless, and all she has is the bridge picture…
    She didn’t know, we need to know Jesus, really know Him, not just know about Him. Count the cost of the whole project of being a Christian, then having counted, decide. The cost is everything, but I tell you He is worth everything.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:54 am #

      Great perspective. Thanks so much for sharing.

  25. Jamie March 7, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    Addie – this is beautiful.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:54 am #

      Thanks so much Jamie.

  26. HopefulLeigh March 7, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    I am in awe of your bold honesty here, Addie. I’m in awe how you went to a second therapist, instead of throwing in the towel. Had my first counselor responded the way your first one did, I would have lost the shred of faith I had left. Hearing about bad counselors makes me so mad because they are directly impacting people’s lives and when you add Christian counseling in to the mix, they’re impacting someone’s faith as well. It’s not a responsibility to take lightly.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:55 am #

      Agreed. Such weighty work. So much at stake. Thanks Leigh.

  27. Micah J. Murray March 7, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    “even if you lose your grip, this Love will not let you go.”

    The part of faith when we’re barely able to hold on… that’s where our story really begins.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:55 am #

      Yes. Love that Micah.

  28. Jana Miller March 7, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

    “You are in the hard, beautiful middle of faith. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.” yes!

  29. Mary March 8, 2013 at 7:46 am #

    Thank you for sharing your story. You make it easy to look back and see how I too got hurt by the “church” because I could not be “good enough” and the shame and guilt ate me and drove me away. Praise be to God a good Alanon program with a woman who lived her faith and shared it and the unconditional love I found there helped me find God again and understand Him in a very different way, one that changed my life, because of love. I wish I could say that suddenly life became easy, but I have learned we continue to chose, we continue to struggle, we continue to move forward in God’s strength and amazing grace, with thanksgiving for where we were and the lessons we learned through it all. I would not be who I am today if life had always been a bed of roses. I would have been one of THOSE Christians, just throwing out words and not understanding. I believe God uses all things for our good, even unkind and unfriendly “christians” who mean well but have no idea what we are going through. Thanks again. You touch my heart. Keep writing!

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:56 am #

      Thanks so much Mary.

  30. Tracie March 8, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    This. Yes.

    I am right there in that hard middle place. And it has felt so many times over the last year that I will fall, that the falling is happening. But I’m still here, and holding on, and hoping.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:57 am #

      Thanks for sharing this Tracie. May you feel held by that great, unstoppable Love in the midst of all of it.

  31. Bernard Shuford March 8, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    As always, Addie, so spot on. Thanks.

  32. Lee Eclov March 8, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    I will share this with the seminary counseling class I teach. Thanks

  33. Deidre March 8, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    Addie, I only know your story from your blog. . . but mine mirrors yours in so many ways (the early years, the depression, the slow painful mending, the craziness with young kids). I don’t know if you meant it but this story made me laugh out loud. I can only imagine what my reaction would have been if my therapist had drawn that picture for me.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 6:58 am #

      Laugh. Cry. You know, both responses are totally legit. ;-) (Thanks Deidre!)

  34. Kathleen March 8, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    Thank you for your brave words. My experience with a therapist (first, second) was like yours only worse. Both were Christians. I have yet to untangle the mess I was left in, but I have learned a few valuable lessons. I have been in that dark place and it feels like you can’t get out but befriend it. It has much to teach. I wish I could say I found helpful guide but I didn’t. I could share some one liners or things that were said to me that would make you drop your teeth or maybe not given your first experience. I would like to hear more if you are able. What is saving my life now is the book of common prayer, baseball and peanut butter cookies. Please keep writer to those of who are wounded. Kathleen

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 7:01 am #

      Thanks so much Kathleen. I feel very fortunate to have eventually found a guide to help me through. :)

      As for hearing more of the story, much it is over on my own blog, http://howtotalkevangelical.com. Writing has always been a big part of my healing process, and this is where I continue to work through the particulars of my own journey.

  35. Kaley March 9, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    Thank you for this. I think we often do a disservice not only to fellow believers but also to nonbelievers with the before/after pictures we give people. It is truth but it is not the whole. We are encouraged to give a condensed version of our journey with God when we are asked for it at all and that can be misleading. I can honestly say God has worked a lot of change and healing in my life from where things were before I accepted Hom but there are still days/weeks/months where the business of life is just knock down, drag out painful and difficult and the most I can say is, “God, I’m not letting go, help me not let go.” I was able to know God because people were honest with me that life remains hard even with God. Now though, yes life is hard but I have hope. I didn’t have that before.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 7:02 am #

      “God, I’m not letting go, help me not let go.” – love that Kaley. Thanks for sharing.

  36. Tanya Marlow March 9, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    I have a secret: I actually like the bridge illustration. I have used it in chatting to people who have started eating about this Jesus stuff but are not sure all about it, or people who have heard the truth, know the truth and just need to be encouraged to take that step. It’s such a useful tool.

    Which is probably why my jaw dropped open when I read that’s what this counsellor did. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe she heard your story and did that.

    I am so grateful you got angry- it so easily could have completely silenced you.

    I can’t believe she did that to your story. I hate it – that feeling of just not being ‘seen’, turned into an object instead.

    I got 1/3 of the way to becoming a professional counsellor. She was indeed a bad counsellor.

    Argh!!!!

    I love the way you write here, as always. You write the things hot on my heart that I still need someone else to tell me is okay: the clinging on, the messy middle, the rejection of the easy answers which doesn’t mean I have abandoned the truth it means I LOVE the truth. Thank you.

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 7:04 am #

      Thanks Tanya. I’m so glad that this has been a useful tool for you. And while I recognize the value of the bridge metaphor to simply communicate a certain aspect of the Gospel story, I have some “Bridge Baggage.” Clearly. I don’t know if I’d ever be able to use it with someone without feeling all of those things I felt in that therapist’s office.

  37. Bethany March 10, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    Thank you for writing this. It reminds me of when my dad remarried shortly after my mother’s death, and when family relationships suffered, we went to a Christian family counselor. She told us kids to be obedient and left it at that. With no concern for the complicated issues, she blamed us for the tension resulting from my father’s disregard for our emotional well-being. In the name of following the Bible’s instructions. I think true Christian counseling is an absolutely wonderful thing, but what passes for Christian counseling is so harmful. I’m very happy you found someone better to help you through a rough time.

    I appreciate you sharing your story. The “bridging the gap” thing as it leads to “you can’t get to God on your own, you need Jesus!” has been a source of confusion for me for many years, also. In one sense, it isn’t that difficult a concept to understand (despite being difficult to carry out) – but if we say it’s difficult to do, then isn’t this again a thing that we must do in order to reach God? We don’t need to do works, but we need to successfully surrender to God properly. And if we don’t surrender properly, God can’t help us at all. I find myself going back and forth here sometimes. At any rate, it is not so simple as it is often claimed to be, as you say. :)

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 7:06 am #

      Thanks for sharing both your story and your questions here. Both are so valuable. (I have no answers. Theology often confounds me, as do rotten therapists — and yours definitely sounds like one of those.) Thanks again.

  38. Amy Young March 11, 2013 at 12:07 am #

    I hate it that she took your pain and did not honor it; instead she added to it. I’m glad you didn’t go back and didn’t give up looking for help!

    • Addie March 11, 2013 at 7:07 am #

      Thanks so much Amy. Yes, I’m so glad for the second therapist. It’s a good reminder to me that there are grace-filled, kind people out there and that if I give up too soon, I might miss out on finding them.

  39. the Old Adam March 11, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    “You are still held. You are still loved.”

    That’s the gospel.

    Thank you!

  40. Anonymous March 16, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    This post made me gasp and clutch at my heart. I’m not even kidding.

    In other words, I really, really needed to hear this at this point in my life. You encouraged me to keep trying, because that’s a valid and fine place to be at and it’s okay if you’re just barely hanging on. I love this image -

    “You are suspended over the void. You are holding onto that cross with one baby finger, feeling like you’re going to lose it if God doesn’t grab hold of you.

    You are in the hard, beautiful middle of faith. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.”

    ^This is how I feel and everyone around me tells me I’m not enough. Thank you for affirming me.

    • Anonymous March 16, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

      *almost everyone around me

  41. sallie sparks March 18, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    oh addie zierman, how i wish we could sit and chat and have diet coke or coke zero together! so many days when i read your blog and heart thoughts, i want to stand up at my desk and shout “this girl really gets the Jesus Life!” normally i just smile and immediately forward your blog to my favorite cousin and say again, another ‘real’ moment from my favorite blogger! how grateful and blessed I am that you allow God to work through you and share your life with us! ‘I am still held and I am still loved!’ as one of my favorite pastors would say, ‘There’s a sermon in there somewhere!’ Thank you, Addie!

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