“In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.” – Vincent Van Gogh
When traveling, I love to look at ruins – cathedrals, castles, homes, forts, etc. Each of these places tell a story. They are the forsaken, the bombed, the war-torn, the silent storytellers of our world. Not all ruins are dark, miserable stories. Some are stories of triumphs, some are of defeats, and some explain the origins of peoples and histories.
Our lives are dotted with our own ruins – past places we lived, pictures hanging on the wall of yesteryear’s memories, the lives we’ve touched either out of joy or out of pain.
Yet, we forget the stories these tell. Sometimes we would rather allow nature to overgrow and overtake our stories than for people to stumble upon them. We deflect pain, we bury, we “hyperspiritualize”rather than deal with our ruins.
removing the overgrowth
March 2020, I attempted suicide.
Everyone saw Stephen as the intelligent, gift teacher and writer. Yet, inside I was imploding. The foundations were cracking. The wood beams I buttressed my life with splintered. Fear ruled my life. What if I was found out? What if people knew the real me? I would lose everything. Looking right and being the right image of a Christian became as routinely as showering, brushing my teeth, and dressing myself. Not only did I have to put on clothes for work, but I had to put on the right clothes, the right face, the right labels and beliefs, and the right Christian.
No one could know about my depression. Struggles, where I was, silenced. For ten years, I learned from this place to hate myself until I removed everything unwanted. God became interested in me only when I was good enough. I only saw a a Jekyll and Hyde wanting the transformation to stop. It was like climbing up a descending escalator. I couldn’t go on. I had hurt many people. I had hurt myself. If I continued, I only saw hurt and darkness. I was a burden that needed to be lifted.
At 7:30am on a Saturday, when everyone was out stocking up for Covid, I took the keys to my car and drove down the wrong side of the road. The only thought was, “God, I guess I can only be used as a bad example.” I almost ran into one truck head on. Something in me jerked the steering wheel, and I pulled into a parking lot.
It was that day I realized I couldn’t stay where I was. I had to leave.
the ruins of an altar
The place I was at was Bob Jones University- undergrad, seminary student, and graduate assistant faculty teaching public speaking. Ten years of my life was spent there.
During my student years, I opened up about struggles. I was told to pray things away, I was told to read my Bible, I was told opportunities wouldn’t come my way until I proved myself. Each morning I read my Bible in the open desperately hoping someone would see how much I wanted to change. But, the change was not good enough. I lived in a “Christian version of 1984.” Image was everything. It did not matter how good you were with your classes. It was how good you were seen. My disability was doubted. Each semester I had to provide a doctor’s note proving I’m disabled. When I went forward about being molested in high school, I was told, since I was a theatre major at the time, stop being over dramatic in order to make people feel sorry for you. I was told God made me with a purpose being disabled, but how many students, with a pro-life attitude, mocked me. If only I trusted God better, was the solution given. I had to learn to trust God and lean on him only. The school began to bar me from having close friends and watched my interactions closely. Soon, the fire of my struggles spread and people knew me as the “weird guy on campus.”
When I graduated from seminary in 2016 I knew two things- 1) I had the skills to be in ministry, but 2) I had to prove myself to be seen as useful to God and others. God would never use me unless I was good enough, mature enough, or had all the right things lined up in my life.
When I began teaching there in 2018, my mind began seeing things that didn’t seem right. Things didn’t match up with the Bible. So I began challenging thinking on this blog. Then March 2020 came. The place and culture poisoned my thinking of God, myself, my life, and of others. Everywhere I walked on that campus I could only see an inferior person playing dress-up perfection.
When I left, I had sent a video to my students, after receiving emails about rumors of me leaving, explaining why I was not returning. Nothing was mentioned about my suicide attempt (very few even knew about it). Yet, I said I was disassociating myself from the university. I was called into a meeting with the president as he told me I was an emotionally immature person, needing to pull on my big boy pants, and because of my actions God would limit the opportunities he had for me.
I left the altar of fundamentalism
I left alone, shipwrecked, and on a path I did not know where it would lead.
Burying and exhuming
After the meeting, I continued to blog. I blogged to deflect the pain I was feeling. I blogged in order to change others. However, I did not blog in order to change me. I had a mindset filled with lies about God, myself, and Christian life. I wanted others to change in order to accept me, but I hadn’t accepted myself.
No one could know I was hurting. I “hyperspiritualized” everything by writing. I buried everything from the past. However, burying things with heartbeats tend to beat louder and louder until they rise.
July 2020 came. An archaeologist stumbled into my ruins. He didn’t have a map or a GPS. But, he had his story to tell. The only things in his hand were a shovel and water. He saw how thirsty I was, and yet he knew bodies needed to be exhumed. He began by saying I needed to be honest with the ruins and mass graves around me. Honesty is the shovel that exhumes life.
I opened up to my wife, to my parents, and to friends. I began to remove overgrowth from ruins I wanted to forget. The murals and mosaics mimicking mires of pain I put vines and flowers over so I didn’t have to see. I began to remove skeletons out of their graves. The data collected revealed what I buried. I was betrayed. The betrayal was through emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse.
Confronting this brought the skeletons to life. My honesty and truth was met with “since you have no evidence none of this can be corroborated.” Gaslighting had made its appearance. Discussions went round and rough with people from my past.
Exhuming always comes with a price when the truth is unburied. My cost was the loss of my family to no longer be privy to family matters and the loss of friends who turned away from me as I left the altar of fundamentalism.
the clean up of the ruins
February 2021, I put myself into a recovery program and shut down my blog. I had to deal with all the exhumed. My heart wanted to run from Jesus, but at the same time it didn’t. Instead, my heart wanted to run from religion and being deceived by religious people.
My wife and I joined a new church. Through this church, my walls began breaking down. A community began helping me clear the rubble and lay the bodies to rest.
One Sunday, our pastor said, “Your experience of God will be no greater than your revelation of God.”
He’s right. My revelation of God was filled with wrath, judgment, fear, right labels and positions, image, and militant warring against sin.
My revelation did not include the true heart of Christ – Gentle and Lowly
I read through Galatians and saw the truth for the first time.
In my journal I wrote this prayer:
“Heavenly Father, I have been deceived about you, your gift of salvation, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and me. I believed I wasn’t good enough. I had to prove myself. All my years I tried to feel your love when it was already there. I believed you hated me and cursed me because I couldn’t reach the next spiritual level. I believed, but I believed a lie. I lived out this lie and it affected and infected everything. It became about me proving myself to you and others to hopefully be blessed. That is the lie I lived. I lived a false gospel. Jesus was just a means to an end; not a relationship of freedom to live. I repent of this lie in my heart and mind. I turn from it, and not to a way of rules and right living, but to Jesus. You love me and want me, so you sent Jesus to free me to be who you you created me to be – not a slave, but a son. A slave is only loved by his performance, but a son is loved unconditionally. So God, heal my mind from these lies. Forgive me for living contrary to your gospel and give me a heart to follow Jesus’ love and grace. I believe and confess this is what is true. No more proofs, rules, standards, and images – only Jesus. Thank you for revealing this blindness and opening my eyes to the truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
The Beauty of ruins
The beauty of ruins is the story they tell and the secrets they reveal. My ruins tell the story of leaving fundamentalism and beginning to live who God made me to be: Stephen Field. It has and still is difficult to wash this mindset away. Leaving fundamentalism can be compared to leaving a cult.
My wife and I cry over the past, are still working on getting our feet stable, but we see the beauty of the ruins. June 24, 2021 I will turn 30. It is a great age to begin seeing beauty again.
If you walk through my ruins you will see a broken 5 year old, an abused 12 year old, a very dark and angry 16 year old, a spiritually abused 20 year old. You will see a disability from birth, you will see the altar of fundamentalism cracked, and you will see a man stepping out of the dark into the light revealing he is same-sex attracted, married to a woman, and is a Christian. You will see a strong, beautiful woman take his hand, kiss him, and say, “One day at a time. I get to live the perfect rom-com with you; married to the love of my life and my gay best friend in one person.” You will see her calm his fears. You will see the two of them not give up on each other. You will see a group of men helping this man learn to live and walk with Jesus as he faces various mountains.
Yet, if you stand on top of the hill and watch the sunrise hit the ruins, you will the shadow of a cross enfolding this story in a gentle and lowly embrace.
It was discouraging even to think about taking up writing again. But, Jesus didn’t come for the perfect writers. He came for the imperfect ones. He came to show us, not how to write perfect characters, but how to allow him to write the perfect story.
I have the love of Jesus. That love brings beauty out of ruins. That love allows me to celebrate 90 days walking in victory over depression and suicidal thoughts. That love allows me to be real and follow Jesus. His love opens my eyes to see beauty again.
To quote my wife’s favorite classic author Lewis Carroll, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
As the sun begins to rise, I need to think of the most impossible thing…
There is beauty in ruins