Discovering Jesus Despite Years of Church, Part 1
The first cracks in the foundation
It was August 2012, and everything was going to my plan.
We were happily married, just had a beautiful baby girl, and had some exciting new job opportunities opening up on the horizon. From the outside, it looked like we had it made.
Ariana and I both came from families that had grown up in church. My family and I had attended Elora Road Christian Fellowship for many years – a smaller congregation outside of Guelph, Ontario. When I was sixteen, our family made the decision to move to Koinonia Christian Fellowship just outside of Bloomingdale, Ontario.
My wife grew up having spent all of her life attending Koinonia with her family. We both considered ourselves great Christians with a good knowledge of the Bible plus a great heritage from our parents, and we had avoided most of the big sins, too. I had been homeschooled and attended Christian education for many years, so I definitely considered myself someone who had a great foundation.
We married in July of 2011. Apart from a few small bumps in the road along the way, our engagement, wedding, and early months of marriage were a dream come true for both of us. We were very much in love. Even though we didn’t have much money (who really does when you marry young), we had a small and wonderful home to call our own, and were the perfect match.
Neither of us were really ready for what was coming.
In hindsight, it’s all a bit obvious. We had never been in a place where we had to ask any tough questions about faith, church, and suffering. Everything had gone according to our plan, so our faith hadn’t been tested.
Christianity was really working out for us as far as we could tell.
The first sign of instability came early after our girl Breanne was born. One night, we were lying in bed when suddenly Ariana complained of feeling unwell.
I wasn’t alarmed. Nausea isn’t an uncommon thing, and so there was nothing to worry about. After the third hour of violent sickness in a row, I started to get a little concerned.
Nothing gets you praying harder than looking up symptoms on the Internet. Soon I was diagnosing Ariana with all sorts of maladies, and we were both praying for healing from whatever it was. I felt very out of control as a husband, and I didn’t like it at all; with a very small baby, a very sick wife, and a job that required frequent attention, I was starting to feel overwhelmed.
“By his stripes we are healed.”
“He heals us of all our diseases.”
Something wasn’t working. We didn’t seem to have enough faith to see Ariana get better. We kept praying, believing as hard as we could, but to no avail. This didn’t make any sense to us – wasn’t healing and victory promised to us as Christians?
Building a Foundation
Prosperity teaching had been a big part of Ariana’s family growing up, and it was taught every week at church in some form. We had checked off the boxes to receive our victory over the years: tithing regularly, serving and stewarding our time and resources, staying away from sin as best as we could, obeying leaders, and we gave extra offerings for breakthrough in our life. We had put a lot of gas in the tank in case anything went wrong down the road in our lives.
We were sowing hard, and we were going to reap big blessings down the road. Our little family was going to be protected from the curse, and our lives were going onwards and upwards towards the call of God.
I had grown up in a church that didn’t emphasize these teachings the same way, but attending church for years had shown me the power of believing. Many respected businessmen, church leaders and their families had obvious signs of God’s favour – building large and profitable companies and having families that seemed to have it all together. Our congregation had grown over the years, turning into a church ready to change the city and even have influence in Canada.
I wanted that future. I knew God wanted me to be rich, have a big family, be happily plugged into my church, and influence people so others could have the same thing as I did.
I Hate Hospital Rooms
Ariana was not improving. After bouts of vomiting, I was about to give up on my faith when I called my dad. My parents showed up thirty minutes later ready to help even in the middle of the night.
Leaving our three week old daughter with my parents and with a sick wife in the front seat of my car, we headed down to Grand River Hospital in Kitchener.
I wasn’t thinking totally straight at the time, and it wasn’t long before the front seat was covered in vomit. I made a note to bring a bowl next time.
The emergency room was full of people. The nurse on duty told us there was a three to six hour wait to see anyone, which wasn’t the response I was expecting at all. I felt like I was losing control of the situation even more, and I hated the feeling. We needed a different plan.
Glimpses into the Future
In 2011, Our engagement was pretty short and relatively uneventful. Much of the planning for our wedding was done by Ariana, and that was totally fine by me. Ariana’s parents were very gracious and helped with some big costs of the wedding at their own expense – which is something we are still very grateful for.
Some of our family differences began to surface early on, though. My dad had had a great sales career, and we lived as a close-knit family in a large house in the country. Ariana had lived happily in a smaller semi in the city. Ariana’s parents had given faithfully to church and various other ministries over the years, yet didn’t seem to experience financial blessings like some of the other families at church.
I was a logical thinker, and Ariana was an emotional feeler. We quickly discovered we saw God differently. I saw God as the rewarder of those who served him, who dedicated their mind to understanding Him. Ariana saw God as a person who would touch your heart after you worshipped Him.
We both thought we were right.
We were both wrong.
Coming into Ariana’s family, it was easy for me to point fingers – at least internally. Finances had been a struggle for them, and the easy answers were there for me. All it took was better stewardship and more faith, and then results would come.
Family wasn’t always smooth sailing either, and again, I had the answers. Right choices, decisions, and following Biblical principles would help the family get on the right track.
I cringe at my naivety now, but at the time I was genuinely wanting to help. Every week we were taught principles about how to achieve God’s best for our life, and I had a year of our internship program that taught me even more about how the Christian life works.
Family problems? I knew the right answer for that – pulling out my relationships book.
Financial woes? Make sure you tithe, steward your money properly, and the floodgates of heaven will open!
Want to see your business grow? Just head over to the plethora of other marketplace ministry teachers for your answer.
Need healing? Tough pregnancy? Wait for the altar call and get ready to receive your miracle.
Please Fix My Problems
Grand River Hospital was full. I had to make a decision.
Even though I had paid for a night of hospital parking, we decided to leave and drive to Groves Hospital in Fergus, which was fifty minutes away. I was a bit panicky. Our reliance on faith had failed us, and now the back seat was also covered in vomit.
We were admitted within an hour. With an IV in her arm, Ariana looked pale. I was also wrestling with questions. Why didn’t our prayers work? What if this is the end? How do I raise a baby on my own if I had to?
Where was God?
People say you’re never prepared for a being a parent. I would agree. Seeing a little one you’ve helped bring into the world really messes with you for a bit. Each new step and transition seems to teach you as much as your child is learning.
But even a couple of weeks of parenthood had taught me that when your kid is struggling, you do everything in your power to help.
I was very confused. I thought I was God’s kid.
Victory in Principles
A couple weeks later, after another trip to the ER, the doctors finally had locked down a cause of the illness. Ariana had gallstones – a painful condition, but nothing out of the ordinary for someone who had just given birth.
We had to avoid any fats in her diet or we would trigger more attacks. Incidentally, this helped us both shave off the newly married weight we had both gained, but it was still a couple of weeks before Ariana had surgery to remove her gall bladder.
I was sitting outside the operating room when Ariana came out. It was a sigh of relief. The surgery was successful, and we could close that chapter of our life. Though I had doubts during the process, those were forgotten pretty quickly after settling into normal life.
It looked like God had come through, and we could get back to pursuing our destiny in Him.
The Problem of Pain
Months had gone by since the gall bladder incident, and our little family was doing well. Breanne was growing up beautifully, and she had captured our hearts. Apart from a boneheaded move by me to feed my infant Doritos, we felt like good parents and could really sense the blessing of God on our lives.
Ariana and I always planned to have a big family. I grew up with five other siblings and shared a room with my two brothers. Even though I was five years older than them, we had tons of fun together and got along for the most part, too.
Bigger family was better. I saw parents with one or two children and wondered why anyone would choose that path.
My wife had 3 other siblings, as well. This was a view that we both shared. Before getting married, we talked about baby names and whether we wanted more girls or boys. It was exciting to see that God had put this desire in our hearts, and we were looking forward to what He had in store for our family.
Around this time, church started to get a bit interesting.
We both served on the worship team, and that gave us a viewpoint to see the congregation in a different light. Looking around at people week after week, it’s easier to see people’s stories and difficulties than just walking through the foyer of a church.
While there were people in obvious suffering, there were relatively few of them. It was easy to point fingers and single out the obvious ones. We wondered what they were doing wrong to miss out on breakthrough in their lives.
Didn’t these people want to see their loved ones saved? Healed? Prosperous? Why couldn’t people just get their act together and obey God? The answers were preached at them every week.
We started hearing rumours of people becoming disgruntled with church. Problems with leadership, teaching styles, corporate structure, or theology conflicts were just some of the issues, and it was a little unsettling to us.
We were confused why anyone would want to leave a growing, big church that evidently had the call of God. Who would argue with a message bringing blessing, hope and restoration to people?
Apparently people had some deep-rooted sin or spiritual problem they had to deal with. We focused extra hard on making sure we didn’t fall prey to these sort of thoughts and supported our church as best as we knew how.
Healthy Things Grow
In February 2013, we found out Ariana was pregnant.
We were very excited. Sleepless nights and crying were part of the journey with Breanne, but we loved being parents, and our second child was right on time for us.
In March, our lives changed forever.
Early one morning, Ariana started spotting. Remembering we had the same thing happen with Breanne, I dismissed it, but soon the spotting turned to bleeding, and Ariana felt that something was wrong with her body.
She had a miscarriage at seven weeks.
This was the moment that we weren’t prepared for. We had already thought about this little one and threw around names, and in a day our dream had been shattered. I knew I had to keep it together on the outside to provide some stability for our family, but Ariana was a mess.
I was at a loss on how to apply my faith from here. Victory and breakthrough were out of reach, and we had our little one in heaven. There was no way we could go back on that, and the finality of the miscarriage left us hurt and broken. For the first time ever, I didn’t have an answer for our situation, and no amount of principles, success, or influence could change the fact that we had lost someone we cared about deeply.
Little did we know that others around us at church were going through a similar crisis of faith. My awareness grew, and we started to hear stories of family situations, staff departures, and business failings all around us. We soldiered on, believing that loyalty to what we’d been taught would save us.
Then our friends started leaving church.
New Voices, Old Concepts
Conversations around tables and campfires about church and Christianity began to bring back memories of being a kid at my old church, Elora Road Christian Fellowship. Every year (and still to this day), the church would gather for a week in the summer and camp all together in the back field of the church property. I have many fond experiences at this yearly event – playing all day long with friends and furiously eating supper before we all headed off to the nightly service.
As I grew into a teenager, my old church approached a leadership transition. My grandfather had been the pastor since the beginning of the church, and there was a fair amount of church history there that I wasn’t fully aware of. A church split over leadership differences back in the eighties had caused the church to stagnate in growth, but as the leadership transition approached, there were many people hopeful for change and a new era for the church. I remember my dad being knee-deep in study, holding his copy of The Purpose-Driven Church, and asking the hard questions.
What is the point of church? What does church look like? How do we be the church?
For a couple of years, the yearly camp at church was defined by those questions. I remember all the younger parents, people who hadn’t been at the church when it started, sitting around the campfire and questioning.
- Why had people left over the years?
- Why had most of a generation turned their back on the church?
- Why we were focused so much on morality and right living?
- How come people aren’t getting saved like they used to?
- What can we do about it?
Hearing these same questions, I realized we had come full circle again. Except this time, it wasn’t my dad’s generation asking these questions.
It was us.