The Day The Church Stole My Joy (And How Jesus’ Love Restored It)

January 13, 2010 | 24 comments

You don’t forget a moment like this, when you’re so giddy with God’s love springing up like a geyser that you just have to tell someone what happened.

I rushed into the church on a Tuesday morning to tell a friend. He was a seminary student who worked there, and I was eager to share how God was remolding a doubting heart. Because this heart — this one that now beats for the Messiah — used to doubt His very existence.

That day, I was like one of the shepherds, those hillside wanderers who showed up at the side of a feeding trough more than 2,000 years ago. I had discovered God Incarnate. I was rendered breathless and dizzy — and head-over-heels-in-love — with a Savior who was as real as skin.

I had to tell.

The friend was just leaving the church for a meeting when I caught him in the hallway behind the empty sanctuary.

“You got a minute?” I asked.

And he did. He set his briefcase on the carpet, and he leaned against the wall as I spoke.

I tried to hurry, to tell him quickly what God was doing in me,
and how the Lord had been working overtime to erase doubts that plagued me,
and how I knew
that I knew
that I knew
that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
And how, at long last,
I really believed in the work of the Holy Spirit.
And how …
And how …
And how …

Oh, it felt impossible to boil down in three minutes the depth of love I felt. It was an
Emmaus-style burning that stretched to the tips of my toes. How could I put words to this?

I was, at last, in love with a Savior. Like a bride, I had shouted YES! to the proposal of the Messiah, and I was as certain as I’d ever been that He’d slipped a wedding ring on my finger!

The seminary student listened intently, studying my exuberance, and he released a heavy sigh that felt like a wagging finger. “Now Jennifer,” he began.

“Now you know that you didn’t really ‘ask Jesus into your heart,’ right?” he questioned.

And it was as if someone was trying to pull the wedding-band off right during the honeymoon.

“Wh-what?” I stammered.

“You didn’t actually ask Jesus into your heart,” he instructed sternly.

“But I …”

“It’s not possible,” he said. “You don’t choose God. God does the choosing. Go read John 15:16.”

I’m sure he said more. And he probably was more reassuring than I remember all these years later. But today, all I can recall is him picking up that briefcase and walking out the door, leaving me deflated.

And right now, as I tap out these words on a keyboard, fresh tears sting these eyes. I didn’t expect these tears today — all these years later. But that cut deep, and I bled for a while.

I wondered that day: Was what I experienced real?


Years later, I can answer the question beyond a doubt: Yes. What I experienced was most certainly real.

I don’t believe the seminary student intended to deflate my faith; in fact, I think he’d be crushed today to know how much pain it caused. In hindsight, I also understand the theology of what he was saying — that we can’t take credit for our own salvation.

And, indeed, in typical God-style, good has come of the pain. Because the student’s instruction prompted me to dig deeper, to explore why I believe what I believe.

Still, it hurt. It felt like the church and its leaders left me in tatters in the hallway of an empty church.

But God …

Oh yes. But God. (For every pain in our life, for every hurt in our heart, there is a sentence that begins like this: But God … )

I had been wounded that day, but God pieced me back together.

In that empty church, I felt the Love of the Father perhaps more strongly than I ever had up to that point. I was a hurt and wounded traveler, on my own road to Emmaus. But God walked up beside me that day and threw an arm around the shoulders of this shuffling pilgrim.

Out of that vast storehouse of love, Jesus made the first move: He chose to love me and to die for me and walk with me on this road.

And, I made the next move. I did make a choice: To accept His offer of love.

And with the Love of the Father
And the Love of the Son
And the Power of the Holy Spirit in me,
my own heart still burns within … even today.

This. Love. Is. Real.

Father, Thank you for loving me through my hurts. Thank you for reassuring me that your love is real. Thank you for never chastising me, even when my theology looks more like a toddler’s than a scholar’s. Help me, in turn, walk alongside weary travelers on their own dusty roads to Emmaus. I want to love like You love. Amen.

holy experience

Each Wednesday, I join Ann Voskamp as we explore spiritual practices that draw us closer to his heart. Today, we contemplate this: “Loving Like Father.”

PHOTO: A small excerpt of surrender, from my first-ever prayer journal.

by | January 13, 2010 | 24 comments


  1. Bina @ Bina's Pad

    I have had moments like that…moments when God took time to move creation and space to reach out make me take notice only to have it down-sized by someone I trusted to tell… I have felt the deflation…and then I have felt my "…but God" joy when He reached down to minister and remind me that it happened…it was real…and He loves me.

    I know it hurts…and I thank you for sharing your tears with us this morning!

    Muuuwah! Bina

  2. elizabeth

    You have ravished His great heart Jennifer…never forget that, never let anyone or anything rob you of that by quibbling over semantics…You are His beloved Bride and He is your head over heals in love with you Bridegroom.

  3. Kelly Langner Sauer

    Wow. You say I express what you feel? You feel what I've felt. You've heard the same things I've heard, the impossibles, the set-downs, the where-you-should-be. I had this same knock-me-over crush on God a few years ago; now I'm the seminarian in my own life, setting me down, analyzing, reminding myself of semantics that just. don't. matter.

    But God…

    This is grace, loving Him where we are as children when He lets the little children come. And really, for all we know in our human, we do choose Him, we do open our hearts and respond to Him. This is the miracle of His Spirit at work in us. It just takes a childlike faith to realize that what Jesus said about choosing us is all our joy, that we thought we chose Him, but He enabled us and equipped us Himself – when we thought we'd chosen Him ourselves. Silly us, wonderful, wonderful miracle!

    I've been burned by Churchianity and its leaders and by believers who needed more grace than I knew to offer them. Yet God is patient with them as He is with me, and I love how you pointed out the gracious embrace of the Father's love in the aftermath of this conversation. I took my own crush to a friend who had lost a bit of her fire, and she encouraged me to keep noticing God in that way, to enjoy the crush. And like all crushes, it didn't last – but I'd like to think that my knowledge of Him has deepened and is still deepening in the intimacy that comes in "marriage," in that serious love relationship that cannot be described.

    And oh golly, I just wrote a book. Ten minutes free, and you got them! 😛 Great post.

  4. Claire

    I grew up knowing Him, learning about Him, loving Him and then last year my foundations were shaken, to the very core.

    An unknown anger boiled up inside of me and I had to wade through a muffled mess of very big unknowns.

    The church then entered the equation and every line you have written here I am able to identify with.

    But as I type this, I feel my heart breathing in rythmn to His in a way not previously known and I am thankful that God is greater than church or individual.

  5. Lyla Lindquist

    Funny (well, not so much) that we can take something like God's earth-flipping, heart-melting truth like I chose you and make that into something that restrains us. How can such a thing make us reasonable? How could we dream that would settle us down, extinguish the fire?

    And yet, it does. We use it to put ourselves in our place.

    And we miss that place all together.

    Jennifer, oh Jennifer. He chose you. You know this, and it still makes your toes burn. I can see it. It's getting me excited — that He would choose any of us, leastwise the likes of me.

    I'm so glad you went back and looked. That you see that we love because He first loved us. How else could we?

    He first loved you, chose you, and you answered in that "sincere and desperate way." (Yeah, I saw that.)

    This is Long Comment Day at GDWJ. Thought I'd better do my part…

  6. jasonS

    If only this were an isolated incident, but so many are cut off at the knees at the beginning of their journey. Glad you didn't let go and dug deeper to find the truth and the real. Thanks Jennifer.

  7. alicia

    Waving back at you! Thanks for stopping by my place. I have been checking in to read your amazing posts off and on for a few weeks. You amaze me and they God uses you is awesome! (I am in the NW corner of Iowa also!)

    Thanks for sharing this story today- you are so right at the end- You chose to accept Him, that's what its about!
    God Bless!

  8. David Rupert

    I often have been the person with the briefcase. I had all the knowledge in the world but never really expereinced grace. I had it all together — until it all fell apart.

    I'm sorry to you and all the others like you I crushed.

    God's now teaching me humility!

    [email protected]

  9. aimee

    I know all to well how the church can steel joy… and how Jesus restores it! THank you for sharing your heart, your words, your journey. It has greatly blessed me today.

    grace and peace,

  10. Beth.. One Blessed Nana

    I too have experience something close to this.

    The devil will use anyone and any opprortunity to try and steal our joy and we just have to be more determined than ever to keep that from happening.

    I love your heart. I love your posts. I resonate with you my sister.

    I am from a small farming town and so much of what you write hits home.

    Love to you Jennifer!

  11. Pam

    Very cool. Thanks for posting.

    Dear God, may I not be the one who steals away the joy that you put into a person's heart. May my words lift up and be full of grace, vs causing someone to hurt. Oh, Lord, may I also remember how amazing it is that you chose me, full of sin and self and dark ways. And I thank you daily, that I said yes; and will keep thanking you and keep saying yes with all my heart. Lord, bless this woman in a mighty way as she speaks out for you to a hurting world.

  12. Beth E.

    BUT GOD knew that this post would be exactly what so many of us needed to hear!

    God's timing – and yours – is perfect.

  13. katdish

    Our church plant is full of broken people. I mean, everyone is broken, but many of the cracks are more visible here. I've been disappointed and heartbroken over some of the things I've seen in church. Time and time again when I talk to people who say they are mad at God it turns out that they were wounded deeply by a Christian. It's infuriating and heartbreaking sometimes. But then I think of the story of the Prodigal Son, and how much the older brother was in need of the father's love, just as his younger brother was.

    Beautiful, as always Jennifer.

  14. Jennifer

    Some of life's worst hurts, that continue to bring tears years later, come from our interactions with church members. Been there. Still feel the wounds. But I katdish. The world and the church is full of broken people. And many are like me, striving to serve Jesus and tripping over their two left feet.

    It was real. Jesus loves me. Jesus did a work in me. I feel your heart in those last lines of this post. And my heart speaks the same message…although not quite as eloquently put. 🙂

  15. Kay

    Wow Jennifer, what a powerful testimony. It really makes me think about how much I NEED to think before I speak. Hopefully you're right and that seminary student didn't mean to do such damage, but how sad to be responsible for such pain even if he didn't mean to be. Makes me think that I really need to be careful how I respond to others.

    I'm so glad those doubts no longer nag you. I think doubts about our salvation are one of the enemies sharpest weapons.

  16. Joyeful

    Oh Jennifer! I can't even express how your words in this post resonate with my soul! I have seen that finger wagging in my own face, have cried over those that believe God doesn't give us choice. Yes, He chooses us! What grace! And yes, we respond to him. It wouldn't be love any other way! He woos us as a lover does, and we fall head over heels for Him!

  17. simply anne's

    Unfortunately, young believers and those searching have been burned by well meaning believers or those with a face of Christianity. I pray I am careful with my words and speak as He leads. This is always a much needed post for many Jennifer, including me. Thank you.

  18. Stacie, A Firefighter's Wife

    Isn't that just like the enemy to use a Brother to create doubt to your salvation experience. God used it though, because you went even deeper with Him still.

  19. A Simple Country Girl

    Oh yes, when we bounce our feelings and our very selves off of another, what comes back is altered, sometimes even chipped or cracked. How we pick up the pieces and put it all back together is what matters. Do we choose to reflect what He has done in us with our beautifully unique hearts? Or do we sweep the pieces into a heap?

    Praise God for your boldly beautiful, out-loud love for the Lord!


  20. Kelly Langner Sauer

    I mentioned you at my blog today. I just wanted you to know I appreciate you!

  21. Rose

    I understand how you must have felt and at the same time I thought wow, how true the statement was. And you said it, 'we can't take credit for our own salvation." We can't save ourselves and God does not share HIS glory with anyone.
    But, when we are crushed HE is there to pick us up and show us how he loves us.
    You just keep on sharing the joy in your heart! God honors that.

  22. Shirl

    I've been in spots similar to this. It is one of the things I wish we could change about the church; however, we are all human. Thankfully, God can rescue us from this sort of thing. Sometimes the church is the only army that shoots its own.

  23. hope42day

    God may do the choosing but sometimes it is because someone prays for Him to enter the heart to heal and restore. And it is then that both unite at the love that is given and the love that has been received.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest