I can really relate to Jonah’s prayer when he says, “For You had cast me into the deep… But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.” It is my testimony in a nutshell.
I grew up in church. I was a preacher’s kid. I prayed to receive Christ when I was four. I never moved beyond the Sunday school understanding of avoiding the punishment of hell and being rewarded with heaven. I never had a real understanding of grace, of God’s love being free and deep and impossible to earn or lose. My relationship with Jesus was shallow and restricted to the times He was discussed among other believers. However, when I got married and moved away from home and we bought a computer, I started out using it to witness in chat rooms and message boards, even met a few times with one of the people to whom I was witnessing, but in the process I discovered there are a lot of doubts about Christianity, and I added those doubts to my own. I remember the night when the scales tipped and my doubts outweighed my faith – I had a nightmare that I was in the passenger seat of a car speeding through a hilly stretch of road and I could not make the driver slow down. I woke up terrified as the car launched off a cliff into the blackness of night. I was a lost, prodigal sheep for around five years. Even though I considered myself an atheist, I do not say I lost my salvation (I prayed to receive Christ at four), because God's unmerited love never changes. I just didn’t have a very real understanding of what it means to need saving and be saved until God brought me back. The way my brother says it is that my walking away from God was "just a chapter in the story" of my life as a Christian. I emotionally abandoned my family, paying as little attention to them as I could get away with, and invested all my spare time into philosophy message boards. I did a lot of selfish things I rationalized to be okay at the time as long as no one knew, but now I look back on those things with regret, because they caused a lot of pain, left a lot of scars – nothing that is genuinely good needs to be hidden. Really, I knew that, but I was ignoring what I knew, and God gave me over to that sort of delusional thinking.
By the time He brought me back to Himself, I no longer thought about God because I didn’t think there was a God to think about, and was pretty apathetic about life. I was teaching my kids that believing in God was like believing in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy, and butting heads over it with my believing husband. He had been saved when he was deployed to Panama six years earlier. There was the nagging question of why something exists instead of nothing, but it bothered me because I couldn’t answer it, not because I thought there was an answer. When I got tired of lying to my husband and stopped doing things that I had to hide, hoping my marriage would get better, I became a zombie, merely existing, and would’ve gone on that way into old age if God had not intervened. I wished I could believe like my husband believed, but I couldn’t. But God didn’t leave me there.
On September 22nd, 2005, God broke through to me. I am leaving out a lot of details, but He influenced me to tell my husband everything I had ever done, which felt like throwing my whole marriage and our being parents together up in the air and trusting God to catch it and help it all land safely on the ground. Although my husband was not walking with Christ by that point, he still believed in God and it turns out that he had broke down and prayed two days before that I would find God and that our lives would get straightened out. He already knew that I wasn’t completely present in our marriage, and when I told him the truth, he wanted to leave, but God put it on his heart to stay. Besides telling my husband the truth that day, God helped me quit smoking and other addictions. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses—things got much worse before they got better, but God was on my side and carried me through the storm of insanity. I refer to it sometimes as the fiery whirlwind. It was how God broke me, sifted me and refined me. It reminds me of a line in a song: “Father, I’m stronger than when I first believed.” By offering me His hand and giving me the choice to be saved out of the mud when I was still in it, is how He made His saving love real to me. And observing the transformation God brought about in my life, confirmed for my husband what he had learned in Panama six years before: that God is real and cares about our needs and hears and answers our prayers. So we went from being on the nightmarish brink of divorce, to being best friends in love all over again and united in Christ. “For You had cast me into the deep… But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.”