It all started with a random thought about my brother-in-law, Leonard Hursh, who is in ministry with the Eastern Mennonite church in Pennsylvania. That thought took me back to my own days in the Mennonite culture and I started recalling the preachers of my childhood. Some were dynamic speakers with passion for truth, regardless what their perception of truth was, and these men inspired me even where I did not agree with them. Some were very on target in their teachings, almost charismatic. Others were dryer than dinosaur bones. Yet others manipulated the mind out of a need for control and power. We saw it all, as most denominations and cultures do—the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
This thought led me to asking the question, Where was God? In a culture that had so much good in it, how was it that the true God seemed to have slipped into the shadows for many? Hidden at times, angry and in your face at other times. In a culture that prided itself in two main things—peace and humility—how did God become so violent and angry for some, or even for many?
This was not true in every conservative Mennonite denomination, or in every preacher, but my experience from age nine to fifteen often felt like a ‘graceless’ existence. Because of the hard-handed distant leadership of some key preachers and authority figures, I became disillusioned with God, faith, religion and, particularly, my denomination—the Conservative Mennonites. I have since learned to know many kind and caring individuals there, who are Born Again believers. Even in my childhood memories I can now find the good in those years of anxiety and fear, but at the time I was a lost child who mostly felt the anger, fear and shame.
Today, as my brain stumbled through the past, one memory overtook the others. It was not a one-time thing. It happened repeatedly, starting at age ten until I was about fourteen, in the days before my heart was completely hardened.
The song leader would get up, go to the front of the church, perch his Hymnal on the music stand, clear his throat, and announce the song number. As we began to sing, tears started to pour down my face and I could not stop them. There were a few songs that did this to me, but two especially disarmed me. I didn’t understand why then. I felt ashamed. Angry.
I presumed anyone within earshot of my sniffles or sobs, or anyone who saw the tears fall, silently prayed that I would repent, assuming I was feeling convicted of some great and horrible hidden sin. That was the only time we really saw tears in church. And that is why the tears made me angry, because I wasn’t convicted of sin.
Hidden behind that surface anger were feelings I couldn’t identify.
I recall one morning when the song leader chose both of the songs that so deeply touched me. Today, as the memories returned, I revisited the words of the songs and I started to let myself feel all of those things again. As I did, I allowed myself to explore those feelings and discovered a deep heart cry that I believe most of us have, if not all of us.
The first song, Precious Memories, tore at my heart. The only ‘memories’ I carried were of pain and trauma. I wondered what it would be like to sing that song and burst with joy, to know that the memories of family, love and closeness would go with you for life. Depressed and sad, tears spilled down my face. I wanted desperately to know love.
The second song, had I understood it all back then, was the definition of true love.
“I come to the Garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” (Couldn’t resist sharing…. As I wrote this I listened to Elvis Presley’s version of In The Garden on Youtube.)
A prayer I have prayed for years, and continue to pray, is that people will know me as someone who loves God and considers God to be my best friend, through Jesus. I want to be a friend of God. More importantly, I want God to know me as His friend—someone who is not afraid to identify with Him, even when it’s not popular.
James 2:23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.
Like Abraham, who made some pretty messed up decisions, and was still called God’s friend, I want that to be my story. Though I’d be happy to do without the messed up decisions, it’s too late to avoid that part… I’ve already made those.
As I travelled down memory lane and felt the same emotions in these words, I realized that the tears were the tenderness in my heart for God, as my Friend, in the midst of the chaos and hell of the abuse and violence in my childhood. Reliving the memory, I see myself sitting in the Lakeview Conservative Mennonite church as an eleven year old girl, crying. I see Him walking beside me in a cool and quiet place—the garden of my heart—reminding me that I am His, engaging in conversation, listening to my pain, and telling me that I will not walk the path alone.
The song ends with needing to go, bringing with it a sense of sadness at needing to part and reminding us that our ‘this world life’ awaits, drawing us away from that sweet connection with God.
Thirty-two years have come and gone, since that beautiful spring morning when my heart cried out to know God that way, to be close, to be confident that I am His friend, that He values me and delights in me. Thirty-two years… and many, many rough waters later I see that I have what my heart cried for that day.
Life isn’t perfect. Heck, I’m not perfect so how could life be? I mess up. I sin. I fail. But always, always He is there, my ‘walking buddy’ ready to lift me up and encourage me to keep walking when I fall.
© Trudy Metzger 2012