Last year, my church embarked on a journey of reading the Bible together as a congregation through a program called Read It, Live It. The program contained daily readings of scripture from the Old and New Testaments, and the church asked some writers to create blog posts for each day of readings for the congregation. One of my writing assignments contained Nehemiah 1-5.
Nehemiah tells the story of the Israelites returning from exile but finding Jerusalem and its walls in ruins.
When I first read Nehemiah 1-5, I thought about what a powerful example of community the story is – high priests working side by side with their sons and daughters to rebuild the walls and gates around Jerusalem. And then I decided to do a little research, and this statement from Ray Stedman’s commentary on the first five chapters of Nehemiah hit me in a completely different place: “You will never rebuild the walls of your life until you first weep over the ruins.” Oh.
Have you ever surveyed your life and found it in ruins, wondering how you arrived at this place?
I have, and it’s a tough place to be.
As I touched on in my last post, when I moved to Connecticut from Washington, DC almost thirteen years ago, I was broken. I had taken some “time off” from my relationship with God, and I ended up in exile, just like the Israelites. Like Jerusalem, my heart and my relationship with God were in ruins – my walls of spiritual fortification had been breached, the gates had been destroyed and any number of bad influences had the freedom to come and go as they pleased. And I let them.
When Nehemiah heard about the state of Jerusalem and the remnant that had survived the exile, he wept. He spent days mourning and fasting, and then he called out to God. He confessed his sins and the sins of Israel, and he reminded God of his promise to Moses in Nehemiah 1: 8-9: “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.'”
Like Nehemiah, I spent years weeping over my ruins. I knew I had to get right with God, but every time I took two steps forward, I ended up another three steps back. At times, I felt paralyzed by my guilt and shame about how I had been living my life. I knew I was broken – it’s the main reason I moved here. Before the move, I had no spiritual accountability. Here, I had my best friend who led me to Christ when we were in college, and, I hoped, a church I could call home.
“You will never rebuild the walls of your life until you first weep over the ruins.”
The reconstruction of my relationship with God and of my faith didn’t happen overnight. It has taken years, and I didn’t start making real strides in that process until I committed to a community group. In the same way that the Israelites came together – men, women, high priests – I didn’t get back on track until I had a community of believers who fearlessly and lovingly surrounded me and started helping me put the pieces back together. The walls of my reconstructed faith were built back up, brick by brick, by the loving hands of my community of fellow believers. They believed in me and in God’s purpose for my life. They believed it long before I did.
If you’re struggling with your past and the shame that can come with that, if you are struggling to regain your relationship with the Lord, know that God loves you. Know that He promises to gather you again from the “farthest horizon” when you return to Him and obey Him – He will meet you wherever you are. And know that you don’t have to do it alone. Find a community of believers who will pray with you and for you and carry you until you can stand on your feet again.
Jen is a Connecticut transplant by way of Williamsport, PA and Washington, DC. She has spent the majority of her career in the arts and volunteers in various capacities at Black Rock Church, in Fairfield, CT. Although writing has been more of personal outlet for Jen, God has given her opportunities in the past year to publish some of her writing, including a series of internal posts for Black Rock’s Read It, Live It initiative and now, on The Path I Follow.