Earlier this year, Katharine Welby had the bizarre experience of suddenly finding herself talking to national newspapers about a) being the daughter of the new Archbishop of Canterbury and b) suffering from depression. Every time I read something she writes I want to give her a standing ovation for the way she breaks taboos, both in and out of the church, and the way she describes depression so artfully and with such grace. (Plus, she wears such stylish coats.) It’s a privilege to have her here today:
I tried, once, not to be a Christian. I didn’t try in terms of going wild, and doing lots of things I previously had been prevented from doing due to my faith. I tried by saying ‘I don’t believe in God’ and trying to convince myself to forget all I had been taught and all that I knew.
I tried because I had had an awful year, I had found myself alone, miserable and lost. I had been diagnosed with depression only a couple of years earlier, and had been called a hypochondriac by my doctor only a few months earlier. I decided that it is such a ridiculous idea anyway, that some being is out there, floating around ‘loving’ us, that there was no point in clinging onto the notion.
This happened at the end of my third year: I went home for the summer and told my mum I wasn’t going to go to church. She was calmer than I expected, just asked me why; I explained. She seemed pretty accepting.
See, the thing is, my parents have suffered in their time. They have experienced the black. They lost their firstborn child in a car crash at the age of six months. Yet their faith is something I cannot help but admire. They trust so completely. It is anything but easy to do, and yet they do.
I think my mum’s calm reaction meant that I didn’t feel like a rebel. I felt like someone who was deciding to turn left rather than right. It gave me the freedom and peace to just think.
I enjoyed my Sunday lie-ins that summer! It was so nice to feel no pressure. God wasn’t a chore, I could be miserable and just rest in that. However, as the summer went on and I explored deeper what life without God means, I began to miss something.
Now, this could sound like a bit of a cliché. The thing is, I think a lot. Today, I sit here and the thing I find the most unbelievable about my faith is the fact that I believe it with my whole heart. I have thought long and hard about what it is I believe in, but what it always comes back to is that I know God is there. I know it because when I pull back I miss him.
It was this sense of loss that drew me back to church, I felt I had lost something invaluable. I went on a course at my local church, and got really annoyed when I knew the answers my group leaders gave before they said them. It took about 5 weeks for me to begin to think outside of my general irritation with Christians and their clichés.
When I had done so, I found myself thinking again about my general irritation with Christians and their clichés! But this time, I put my anger on hold, and dug a little deeper into the reasons behind my irritation. I found that what I missed was my relationship with God. What drove me away was not God, but was ‘the church’. It has taken me a long time to begin to accept that part of being in a church as a broken person is accepting that all others in there are broken too.
Some of their theology will come from their experiences of the world. Much of it I might disagree with. They are guaranteed at some point to hurt me, because I spend a lot of time with them. However, whilst God is in them through Christ, they are still flawed and broken people. We are all redeemed, but we are still living on this earth, we will all still sin and fall short of the glory of God, and we will, once again, need to come back to Him, forever grateful for grace.
The God I know will fight for me. Exodus 14:14 says all I have to do is stand. The Bible, which talks of the God I know, is full of people who struggle, who get it wrong, who misunderstand, who get depressed, who are far from perfect. I fit into that crowd. I can know their God.
The time I left God, I was lonely, life was black and there was no future that I could see. I came back to Him and saw some light coming. Loneliness remained, but it became more bearable. Since awakening to the fact that God is bigger than His church, that we are together to learn from each other, and not depend on one another but instead depend on Him, I have found a greater peace than I had ever known.
I am still depressed; in fact, it is worse now than it has almost ever been. The thing is, I am happy. I know that in my suffering I am not alone. I have found that God really was and is with me in my weeping and my laughing. Often I don’t hear Him, or see Him, or understand Him. I think His decisions or apparent lack thereof stink. But I find that without Him, I am lost. He is the light in the darkness. He is the hope in my despair. He is the reason I enjoy the world I live in.
Katharine Welby is a 27-year-old charity worker/blogger/tweeter. She talks about her parents dogs, God, depression and cake. She is engaged to be married, and works for Livability on the Community Mission team. She is passionate about God, community, steak, cake and comic book films. She blogs at katharinewelby.com and tweets @katharinewelby.
Over to you:
- Have you tried walking away from God during a time of suffering? What was it like?
- “…part of being in a church as a broken person is accepting that all others in there are broken too.” – what do you find challenging and/or helpful about this?