The look on his face

The second retreat for this year’s Gotham Fellowship began with a thought exercise. We were asked to close our eyes and imagine the look on God’s face when His gaze came upon us. I sat in the room with my classmates, eyes closed, and I saw a look of disappointment. The only thing sadder than this look was the fact that it made sense to me — it was neither surprising nor unfamiliar.

I have been a Christian since I was five years old, and for as long as I can remember, I have believed that God was disappointed in me. A tumultuous childhood combined with being a pastor’s daughter fostered a tenuous and contentious relationship with the church and with many Christians.

In addition to my challenging childhood, I have spent 13 years as a social worker working with abused children and impoverished families. My experiences have caused me to question God’s sovereignty and care for the world. I have been so disappointed with Christians’ platitudes about suffering that I had completely given up on the idea that the Church could be a refuge for those who suffer.

Even after being accepted to the Gotham Fellowship, I remained skeptical. The thought of willingly entering a Christian fellowship made my stomach churn. The day before the first retreat, I composed an email explaining why I was dropping out. The summer had been turbulent, and I was not willing to face nine months of people cheerleading for God.

But I received my own email first. One of my husband’s friends sent a note to say he was praying for me, for the retreat, and for my upcoming year. It felt like an intervention from God — I couldn’t believe someone else cared enough to be praying for me. At that first retreat, I wrote in my journal that I needed spiritual surgery.

Now that I have finished the fellowship, I can say that God used the Gotham year to save my faith and give me a new life. I learned a theology that corrected the dogmatism of my evangelical upbringing. I learned how my idols spiritually immobilized me. I have been embraced by a community of believers who are loving, gracious, kind, and encouraging. I experienced a true shepherd in David Kim, who quelled my angst when I tearfully asked him to help me understand how a loving and sovereign God exists alongside the underbelly of humanity I face daily in my work with children who have been severely physically and sexually abused.

During the final retreat, we were asked again to visualize God’s countenance as He gazed upon us. I did so reluctantly. But this time, I looked into His face and saw him beaming with a smile at me; He opened his arms and hugged me. I wept, and my friend sitting next to me hugged me. In that moment I realized I had experienced the spiritual surgery I so desperately needed. I had the most loving, painless surgery from a Father who knew what his broken daughter needed.

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Articles in this Issue

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Mai Hariu-Powell
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An Everest-like effort and blessing: Vacation bible school 2015
Bruce Terrell