The Faithfeed Parramatta | Institute for Mission | Testimony by Joy Adan, June 2017

Back in June, I was invited on The FaithFeed to share how my faith has evolved and the role that it plays in my life. In the lead-up to their October event, they’ve published the full video of my talk. Appearing on The FaithFeed was no easy decision; getting up in front of any crowd is always daunting, but it’s absolutely terrifying knowing something incredibly personal will be recorded and shared in full, online!

But I took this opportunity to share these snapshots from my journey because I think they illustrate that faith is not some stagnant thing and that once you have a bit, life will suddenly be great.  I wanted to be clear that faith in God and his love for all of us is not some sort of “get out jail free” ticket or a detour to a struggle-free life.

Anyway, before I ruin it, here’s the video. The text version is below the video, in case you’d prefer to (skim) read.

Side note: it makes me cringe to watch this because I can tell how nervous I am in the first few minutes (I make a few mistakes, despite hours of writing, re-writing and then rehearsing), but ah well, such is life. Hope you find some value from it.

Find out more about The FaithFeed events, and watch more testimonies or some short videos :


Planting the seed

One of my earliest memories of faith being shared is in my childhood home. If I close my eyes I can picture it clearly; the 7 members of my family sitting in my parent’s bedroom; my Dad with his Rosary beads in one hand and a prayer book in the other. He instilled in us a habit of praying every night; skipping it was out of the question. And no matter how good I thought I was at faking illness, Sunday Mass was an absolute must.

This early introduction to faith was something I loved and hated. On one hand: the stories that I grew up listening to were interesting and uplifting, and religious holidays were always exciting – I mean, what kid doesn’t love celebrating Christmas? My faith gave me a framework to start thinking about concepts like forgiveness, compassion and love.

But on the flipside: Growing up, my understanding of God was that he was mostly about authority and discipline. He was all-seeing and all-knowing and had strict rules about how I should live my life. He was watching my every move and ready to judge and punish me if I stepped out of line. My job was to respect and obey.

I remember wanting to understand better, and asking – as every kid does – why? Why did we have certain rules? Why were some things ok, and not others? But it was hard to get answers, and I got “shushed” when I asked questions, so I just learnt to do what I was told.

It’s easy to write off people who’ve grown up in a religious family and assume we’re faith people now because our parents raised us to be. If my perception of God had stayed the same as the one I’d grown up with, it would have made sense to walk away from my faith and religion. But I’ve experienced many moments in my life where that perception was challenged, and in those moments I’ve been able to discover more and eventually claim my faith as my own.

So tonight I’ll share a couple of those moments from my journey, to help explain why now, as a 32 year old; an educated professional; as a woman, a wife and a mother; the faith I was introduced to, but struggled to understand as a child, is not only relevant now, but critical to how I live my life.

The first milestone was in high school.

What’s love got to do (got to do) with it?

When I was 14, my parents went through a really tough time in their marriage – there were many nights I’d lay awake listening to them fight, wondering if they’d make it through this argument or if they’d finally call it quits. It was the first time I became conscious of the fragility of marriage. I realised they were human. They had faults. They were able to disappoint and hurt each other. That solid, secure relationship that held my family together had cracks. And it made me question a lot of things.

If my parents’ relationship could fall apart, what else could? If they could stop loving each other, doesn’t that mean they can stop loving me? If God – who my parents introduced me to – was so loving and full of forgiveness, why were my parents so angry at each other? Why couldn’t they forgive each other? If God was so good and so amazing, then why are they hurting? Why am I hurting?

I was asking these questions at around the same time my friends and I were also questioning and testing the moral codes our parents had set for us. Like most teenage girls we’d talk, laugh and argue over everything – from periods, boobs (or lack of), and which was the most legendary of boy bands (Boyz II Men, in case you didn’t know), to more illicit things like whether and when alcohol, smoking or sex was ok. I spent a lot of those teenage years confused about what was right and wrong. I didn’t know who to trust and where I belonged. I had a lot of unanswered questions.

I was lost, angry and lonely. Maybe most 14-year-olds can feel a bit this way.

I don’t know if my parents could sense I was on the edge of rebellion because one weekend they sent me to a youth camp. It was run by an organisation made up of Catholic families but all the speakers were young, like me.

The first talk was on Friday night. I can’t remember who the speaker was but they weren’t much older than me. And with a lot of conviction for a teenager, he said: “God loves you”. I scoffed.

Say what? My family is falling apart and my friends are all over the place, and you’re telling me God loves me?

“Yes.” The speaker was adamant. “God loves you,” he said. “The same love that created the universe, creates life, and has conquered death, loves you. So when you feel like everything is going to shit, stop and remember: God loves you. He has something amazing planned for you. The best is yet to come.”

For me – an emotional, angry, broken and very confused teenage girl – this message of love touched a very raw nerve. I lay in my cabin that night turning the words over and over in my mind.

Who is this loving God they speak of? The God I grew up with was rule-setting, punishment-doling, prayer-demanding, judgemental, and vengeful. Who is this God who loves me so much? Why haven’t I met him before?

Being the stubborn and self-centred teenage girl I was, I decided that if it was true; if this all-powerful and all-loving God really did exist; if he was so desperate for me to feel his very real, very tangible love; then he better damn well prove it.

So the next day, during prayer time, I opened my journal and started to write:

Hey Jesus, how’s it going? So I heard, that apparently you love me. Doesn’t feel like that right now because my life is turning to shit. It’d be great if, somehow, you made it really clear. I could do with a bit of that love everyone here is raving about.

That was the first of many letters to Jesus. The journals in the years that followed are filled with these angry, hot-headed conversations with him.

Two things came out of this event:

  1. My sense of God started to change from the big authority figure to something .. even someONE, personal – Someone who I could speak to, question, demand answers from, be angry at, and – eventually – listen to, trust and love. My understanding of Jesus changed too. He wasn’t just a historical figure or a character in the stories I’d heard growing up; he was a real person, able to make my life different. The whole thing about Jesus being present in others started speaking to me when I saw people letting him change them. And that idea of him being present in the Church started to make sense. When I grew older I left that youth group and my circles of friends changed, but Jesus has remained a constant, reliable person in my life.
  2. That camp also introduced me to a community of people who provided a sense of belonging at a time I needed it most; an environment where I could make mistakes and test, question and express this new found relationship with God, without the risk of being abandoned or shushed.

And I did want to explore, test and question.

Sometimes, doubt can be a good thing

I’ve always been a bit of a geek. I enjoy learning and I tend to intellectualise things. I’m the type of person who can read a manual cover to cover. I like to know how things work. I like understanding context and the history behind things. It’s one of the reasons why I’m a writer; I write to understand things, events, people and myself better.

So after that camp, I started attending more Catholic youth events, and I asked a lot of questions. I was the really annoying person in every discussion group, because I’d pick apart talks – not because I didn’t like the speaker, but because I wanted context. I was thirsty for facts.

Eventually, I started getting approached to deliver talks at these youth events (maybe they thought I’d stop being so critical if the tables were turned). Whatever the reason, I used these opportunities to again ask questions. It wasn’t enough for me to just receive a talk outline, assume it was right and read it like a script. I prepared for these talks like I would if I were writing an essay or article – start with an idea, then lay out the proof points.

In my search for proof, I’d have long, candid conversations with the Priest at the church where I had a part-time job. He directed me to documents and sources I’d never known about. It was refreshing to have an authority figure from the Church welcome and encourage my questions and curiosity. This phase of discovering, intellectualising and understanding faith was a critical part of this geek’s faith being able to evolve.

If my faith journey was described as a love story, that first camp and adolescent years were the “crush” phase. Everything was exciting; the youth events I’d go to were fueled by adrenaline and emotional highs. I was on stage a lot, even travelled a lot, shared music, stories and late nights with lots of exciting friends, and I lost my voice so many times.

But as I grew older those highs weren’t enough to sustain me.

My faith moved into the “steady relationship” phase. In this phase of a real relationship, the extravagant dates (or those adrenaline-packed youth events) become the exception instead of the norm. Just like in relationships, you spend a lot of time just hanging out and getting to know a deeper side of each other – a side that you either reject and walk away from, or learn to accept. It’s the time when factors outside the relationship – family, friends, careers – start to test just how strong your commitment is.

As my knowledge of God deepened, my commitment was tested, and vice versa. When I entered uni and the workforce it was hard adjusting to an environment that was either apathetic or actively hostile towards faith in a God one couldn’t see or fully understand. But my faith has also been tested by people and situations where the God and faith agenda were on common ground.

Which leads me to the next milestone I want to share with you: my first year of marriage.

When love uncovers old wounds

Side note: Yes, I got the ‘ok’ from hubby dearest to share this part of our story with you. ❤️

I married one of my best friends. We’d known each other for 7 years; we’d travelled together and did a lot of volunteer work together before we even started dating. We dated for about 3 and half years before we got married. But even though we’d known each other for a decade, there were so many things I learned about my husband in that first year of marriage. Some of those discoveries were awesome, some were hilarious, some were really irritating, and some were heartbreaking.

So, like all newlyweds, we’d fight. Sound familiar?

And I discovered in those early months that when my husband’s angry, he doesn’t fight, he withdraws. Instead of engaging in the argument, as I was used to, he’d shut it down. In a family of 5 girls, full-blown verbal arguments were the norm in my household. That, and I was captain of the debating team for 6 years, so arguing is basically in my blood. To find myself living with a man who countered my words with silence was infuriating. It was also very isolating.

So those early months of marriage suddenly took me back to my adolescent years when my parents would fight. And I found myself terrified that I’d made an enormous mistake; that my marriage was doomed from the beginning, and the man that I’d chosen, the man who was meant to know me and love me, didn’t actually know me or love me at all.

Weeks after we’d gotten married, I realised that my husband wasn’t ready to have kids just yet. Before the wedding, we’d talked about starting a family hundreds of times. I felt ready. But something had changed and my husband wanted to wait. Which would have been easier to accept, except every time we’d see people who knew we’d just gotten married, we’d field the question: “So when are you guys gonna have kids?” After one particularly emotional argument about this topic, I went to a Baptism and someone I barely knew asked me, “So, are you two trying for a baby yet?” It was like a stab in the gut.

Even though I understood why he wanted to wait, I still felt betrayed. I felt like I’d been lied to. I felt cheated. And I felt alone. And because his response to the conflict was to shut down the conversation, my loneliness was amplified.

There was one night after yet another argument, I found myself sitting in the corner of our bedroom sobbing. Eddoes was asleep, but I couldn’t stop crying. I felt like a failure. I felt like my marriage was a failure. I was angry that no one had warned me it would be this hard. I was angry because marriage is meant to be amazing but our experience was far from that. I kept thinking over and over about how betrayed I was, and I wondered why – when marriage is meant to bring two people together – I’d never felt so alone in my life.

And as I sat, huddled in the corner of our bedroom, sobbing like a child and hating my husband for his ability to sleep through anything, the image of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane appeared in my head.

The night before Jesus died on the cross, he wanted his friends to stay up and keep him company, but they fell asleep. Later that day, they denied knowing him and he felt the sting of their betrayal.

Here was my “faith 101” realisation that I couldn’t be taught in a book:

God made himself known to us through Jesus for a whole bunch of reasons, but for sure one of them was to let us know he knew the pain of OUR heartbreak. He knew what it meant to long for intimacy or to want to be understood, and to be disappointed even by the people he loved. 

And in that moment, I felt him with me. He had been through what I was going through.

If there was anyone who could pull me through my heartache, it was him. If he could conquer death surely he could help me conquer this. Just as I had first discovered the human side of God at a youth camp when I was 14, there I was, 12 years later, rediscovering him in my marriage.

As I sat in the corner of our bedroom that night, I could picture Jesus in the room with me. He was crouching beside me, with a hand on my shoulder, saying “Let me help you.”

Sometimes, we need to be broken before we’re made whole

That night I realised I’d created a completely unrealistic expectation of marriage in my head. I also realised that because I’d grown so comfortable relying on my husband – my best friend – to support, understand and love me, I’d forgotten about his humanity. It’s not my husband’s job to complete me or to heal the insecurities that were sowed when I was 14. My husband’s human. He’s incomplete too; he’s got his own insecurities. And, this wasn’t only about me. He needed to feel Jesus in solidarity with him as much as I did. I’d wrongly expected Eddoes to be infallible, but really we were just learning each other and just finding our way.

My pain was valid, but my anger about it was misplaced.

It’s not fair to expect so much from one person, but I’ve done it before to other people and others areas in my life; I’ve done it with friends, family, my career, and even my health. I unconsciously expect these things to provide me with a sense of security, control or self-worth. But none of these are permanent. Plans shift, we change our minds, friends come and go, children grow up to live lives of their own, careers change, and we or the people we love get sick. These things are all transient.

But I began to know that one thing in my life is consistent: God. If I depend on him, I’m depending on something that will last.

That moment also reinforced the idea that having faith doesn’t magically make my life free from disappointment, heartbreak or hard work. I hate hearing testimonies where the speaker shares their “aha” moment and then pretends like life’s all good from that moment onwards.

That certainly hasn’t been my experience.

Life is hard. Marriage is hard. Being a mum, daughter, sister and friend is hard. Working and succeeding in any profession is hard. I constantly feel like I’m failing in at least one (if not all) of these.

Believing in and knowing God doesn’t give me special access to a struggle-free detour. What my faith does, is give me a reason to hope and believe that when I do struggle – when I feel lost, afraid, or that my life is going to shit – AND when things are joyful and strong – God is there, truly with me in it all.

When I was sobbing in the corner of my bedroom, I couldn’t see past my heartache and doubt. I couldn’t imagine our marriage not struggling. I certainly couldn’t imagine me being here, 7 years and 2 kids later, sharing that pain with anyone, let alone a studio audience.

But this unfolding and evolving faith allowed me to work past that hurt, and together Eddoes and I worked through our differences. I went to counselling… and then we went together. We continue to seek guidance from other couples and have attended seminars that remind us that marriage – like all long-term pursuits – requires hard work and commitment. We’ve learned how to communicate better, and how to stay connected and intimate even when jobs and a young, growing family keep us both busy.

Faith moves us forward

As we face new challenges (and there will be new challenges), one thing keeps us united and hopeful: a shared belief that God is with us, that our love for each other comes from him, that his plans for us are good and that the best is yet to come.

My parents introduced me to God when I was a child – it’s possibly the greatest gift they’ve ever given me. They planted the seed, and over time, my faith grew as knowledge and understanding of God deepened. My faith has matured, and is still maturing – I still have many questions, and I still seek answers every day.

What I’ve shared today are just two of many moments from my life where God has made the answers known and given me a reason to hope. Because I can look back and see him triumph time and time again – even in my darkest moments – I can rest assured that God is a person who’s got my back and will for the rest of my life.

So, when faced with a choice of rejecting faith or embracing it, I choose to embrace it. I want a life where I ask the hard questions, seek and receive guidance, make mistakes, learn and relearn: that’s a life of hope.

I choose to believe – as I suspect most of us want to – that I am loved, and the best is yet to come.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *