For the first time in months, I have cautiously become hopeful about life. In this post I share about what happened in the last three months of my life to make this happen and how my paradigm of life and faith is shifting in pretty dramatic ways. To begin I want to provide some basic background information, then describe the events of this last quarter and how they have impacted me, before finally closing with how I see the dust settling more in the summer quarter.
To provide some basic background information for new readers…I was raised in a Christian home that was dysfunctional and at times outright abusive. I began struggling with faith when I was diagnosed with arthritis as a child. I found it increasingly harder to trust God and what I was told about Him as God never responded to my prayers for healing. I began to doubt He cared, answered prayers and secretly feared He might even hate me. From a young age I was left with serious emotional and spiritual wounds, a deep level of self-hatred and both my family and my faith were not safe and trustworthy to me. I coped by performing in a variety of ways, turning to sexual addiction, and giving myself wholeheartedly to various causes, institutions, and people. This was like putting band-aids on gunshot wounds, I never really got well, and the general tenor of my life has shown it. While outwardly I may have (and still may) appear highly successful and blessed I have struggled with depression and contemplated suicide a number of times. My life has run on a very predictable cycle of getting my hopes up, having those hopes crushed, going through anger and depression, before very cautiously getting my hopes up again before those hopes too are crushed. This has left me feeling cursed and a fear of this recurring pattern has been the reason hope for me just feels like the first step to despair. The most recent turn of this cycle happened when I had become very hopeful about life towards the end of 2009. After fully offering God the reigns of my life I felt called to both pursue becoming recovery pastor and begin attending Fuller to earn an M Div degree and felt called to pursue a relationship with a woman I fully thought I was going to marry. I felt I was finally going to step into a life that Jesus brings His followers. This was not to be the case. Fuller’s M Div program was a gigantic disappointment and my relationship with my ex failed dramatically. Instead of stepping into new life I found myself in a very familiar place of being alone in an ash heap. I got into counseling and started dealing with the abuse that went on in my home for the first time and joined a local Sex Addicts Anonymous fellowship. I have since left the M Div program and am taking classes in order to apply to PsyD programs here at Fuller and elsewhere. But even this takes a back seat to a season of deep questioning in my life. Everything, and I mean everything, in my life has come under review and I have been asking myself, “Who is Kevin Gonzaga, and what is he really about?”
Moving onto the events of this last quarter…
This quarter began on a very low note. I had a conversation with my parents where for the first time I confronted them regarding the abuse that went on in our home. Furthermore I initiated an exchange of emails with my ex-girlfriend regarding reconciliation and again sought a significant apology from her. This turned turned bitter quickly. She revealed she was never that serious about our relationship (something I was led to believe before I left everything and moved down here) and I was faced with her continued refusal to apologize. My response to her was easily the most hateful thing I have ever written.
On top of that I was bracing for a heavy class load. Two classes at Fuller turned into three and I was taking a class at Pasadena City College and University of Phoenix. That’s a total of five classes at three different schools on top of part time work at the library. The two classes I was most concerned about were two of my Fuller ones. I was taking Job Exegesis (which is basically an in-depth study of Job in Hebrew) and a class on Inner Healing Prayer. I knew these two classes would trigger my struggles with faith. I think that’s why I chose to take them.
For most of my life I have used a lot of religious behavior to hide my very real struggles with faith. “Of course I trust and love God!” I would tell myself and others, “Look at all that I’m doing for Him!” This was how I avoided really dealing with my fears that God did not care, did not exist, did not love me, or might even hate me. This quarter I think I was finally ready to settle this issue. I could no longer continue serving a God or studying at seminary if I was not sure God liked me or even existed. So I took classes that would force me to settle these questions or dis-enroll from seminary and find a way to make a life completely apart from Christianity.
Both of these classes clashed with each other and pushed my buttons in different ways. In Job exegesis I really saw that a lot more than innocent suffering was being questioned in that book. The book explores the human motivations for faith and Satan’s accusation against Job is not that Job is secretly immoral but that his righteousness is motivated by what he gets from God. Job is only faithful because he is blessed, not blessed because he is faithful. Additionally, my in-depth studies on Satan brought me to a place where I recognized a lot of misconceptions about Satan. If I wanted to be faithful to the Bible and the Judeo-Christian claims about monotheism, I realized I would have to surrender to an even more enigmatic and problematic God at a time where I was already questioning if He existed. A God loves us but is at war with Satan who hates us is a lot easier to swallow than a God who loves us, but acts malevolently towards humanity at times and allows Satan to continue to exist as His loyal or begrudging servant.
My class on Inner Healing Prayer ran in almost the opposite direction. There was much talk about spiritual warfare and much blaming of Satan and demons. When the instructor talked about the Devil’s “flaming arrows” as spiritual attacks on Christians and what we could do about it I wanted to raise my hand and point out the fact that Job talks about God’s poisoned arrows piercing his flesh, not Satan’s. Additionally the class taught that it was God’s normative desire to heal people (both physically and emotionally) and people shared testimonies of God doing this in their life and the life of their friends. The fact that I hadn’t been healed of my arthritis, iritis, glaucoma or a lot of the emotional wounds of the past, despite years of prayer, made me want to call this into question. (That’s putting it mildly.) I emailed the professor of the class and communicated that if there was a God and if inner healing prayer worked, I needed a lot of it, and requested to meet with him outside of the class time.
As the quarter wore on an my study of Satan, my study of human sexuality in the Bible,and my study of the Pentateuch forced me to ask a lot of questions about the Bible and how we use it. Should we really be basing our contemporary sexual ethics off portions of the sexual ethics of an ancient agrarian culture in the Ancient Near East? Should we be making sermons exegeting what originally functioned as propaganda, designed to unify the factitious tribes of Israel into a nation under the rule of a king? Simply put, it appeared the Bible could not and should not be used as I have traditionally taught it should be used. Because I had no concept of any other alternative way to use the Bible I felt like much of the Bible had become rather useless and should not be applied to modern life. (I promise to write more about this later.) Coupled with my own personal struggles I was in a pretty deep place of despair and doubt that ate me up inside. Literally. I developed stress ulcers and was considering going into the hospital because the bleeding was getting so bad. I had to stop writing on my blog and put the Job paper down for a while. In this time I lost all motivation to attend church.
This extreme distress and pain came from the fact that if my suspicions about God and the Bible were right, which they certainly were looking like they were, then I had been lied to for years, I had passed on these lies to others, had squandered my college years pursuing a B.A. in Biblical Studies was now in debt for another wasteful degree. Fearing that every major decision I had made in my adult life was based on a lie and a mistake was quite distressing to me. (Again, that’s putting it mildly.)
The day of my first inner healing prayer session with our Inner Healing Prayer professor was the lowest point of my faith to date. Carol Williams and Carenda Kiser sat with me as I talked me in the refectory. I explained how I was ready to leave Christianity, not just the church. I had left the church and come back many times. I was ready to leave faith. All of my intellectual complaints aside, I think the primary reason was that it just was not worth it. I had given God everything, and for what? I have not asked for sports cars, a super-model wife, and a mansion in Beverly Hills. My requests have been for guidance and healing and I have been left questioning and left hurting. Even with the rare but powerful experiences of God’s love and the body of Christ, the life I have described above is simply not worth all that I am and have, which is what I had given to God.
I then walked by the statue of Jesus being crucified to my first inner healing prayer session. I was clear with my professor that I was bringing nothing to the table and things had gotten even worse since the last time we had talked. I believe I used the phrase, “I feel like my faith is just circling the drain.” I was showing up and was open to God doing something but I was not holding my breath. After all, I had prayed for help and healing before. Was this one form of prayer really what I needed to do in order for God to move on my behalf? Was all this talk of vows, curses, soul-ties, breaking prayers, demonization, and healing of memories really what was lacking in my faith?
Let me just pause here for a moment…
I am not one to tell tall tales. Least of all am I motivated to make things up to defend or vindicate God from my own very real questions and doubts. I say this so my readers will take me seriously when I say that in my inner healing prayer session God provided a measure of supernatural healing through prayer I have never before experienced. I have been very honest with my struggles with faith and accusations against God. I must likewise be honest about His answer. While I promise to provide full fairly stream of consciousness transcripts of these sessions later I wanted to just briefly summarize what happened here and the follow up.
The first two sessions were the most powerful. We began praying by doing a “womb-to-tomb” exercise where we pray from conception onward inviting Jesus to show me any images or bring to mind any memories he wanted to bring healing to. In both of the first two sessions a variety of memories were brought up, most notably four pretty traumatic experiences of trauma and emotional pain I had experienced early in life.
Initially I was surprised and my reaction was “This again?” I had been in touch with these memories for months. I had since put them on my 4th step for recovery work and talked about them in counseling. I could describe them, talk about what happened, was well aware of how they seeded mis-beliefs in my life and how these had impacted my life and played into my addiction all with emotional poise and control. They did not appear to be triggering events. But what I could not say was that these memories had been healed. As we prayed through those memories and invited God to show me something of His goodness in these dark times I saw Jesus Christ in the memories that I was watching as if in the third person. While some other memories were healed in less dramatic ways, in each of those four memories I found myself weeping uncontrollably.
I had for months been articulating my inability to cry, least of all in front of someone else. I even complained to one of my fellow addicts about this, explaining that every time I was on the verge of tears I just began sneezing. It was as if my own body was contriving against me feeling or expressing sadness, which is what I really wanted to do.
So there I was. I found myself weeping at having been touched by God’s love in these dark places. I have never cried this much before in my life and the first time it happened when I finally opened my eyes my hands and forearms looked like they had been dipped in oil they were so drenched with tears. It was in these prayer sessions God showed me very specifically why I, Kevin Gonzaga, needed to forgive my father and I was able to. I was also to able to forgive my mother.
The healing was not contained to my emotions alone. We prayed for my stomach ulcers in the first session and that day the bleeding stopped. In class that week I prayed for the first time in thirteen years for the physical healing of my arthritis and received prayer from others in the class.
In the rest of the quarter the dust began to settle and I saw some of God’s healing worked out in my life but I want to save that for my next post for the sake of space.