When you finally believe the words

Jen Bradbury
Mar 17 · 5 min read

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

The first time I heard these lyrics, it was 2003 and I was at the National Youth Workers Convention in St. Louis. While I don't remember who sang them, I do remember weeping uncontrollably during them, thinking “I cannot sing those words.”

At the time, I wasn't sure I believed those words. I felt as though I could not honestly bless God's name.

You see, just a few weeks earlier I'd left my first job in youth ministry after only 14 months. Despite the fact that my smallish Lutheran congregation had a history of youth workers who stayed for only a year, at 22 years old, I was convinced I could do better.

As it turns out, I couldn't. 

There's a reason people left that church after only a year.

Unfortunately, I did so under horrible circumstances.

Nevertheless, even though that call ended poorly, it began well. For the 14 months I served this church, I did so with everything I had. I created a Sunday night program the likes of which this church had never seen. I invested in and trained a small group of hands-on adult leaders. I started a student leadership team. I mentored two girls.

I worked long days, commuting more than 40 miles each day to get to work. Often, I'd get home at night and devour the latest Doug Fields book my mentor had sent my way. As someone with an electrical engineering degree rather than a youth ministry degree, I thought I could make up for what I lacked in knowledge by reading, passionately throwing myself into my work, and giving 110% to my church and my job.

Neither my husband nor I minded.

After all, I was doing God's work. I was bringing Jesus to the Lutherans.

And much to our shock, my ministry was bearing good fruit. As students encountered Jesus, their lives were being changed.

Unfortunately, during a summer mission trip, everything went wrong.

Oh don't get me wrong. No one died. No one got hurt. I just upset... Well, pretty much everyone.

Upon returning home, my pastor (who was also my boss) sided with everyone who was upset and began looking for a way to get rid of me. A few weeks later, he found it.

While I thought about sticking it out, through prayer and conversations with my mentors, I realized that wasn't the best option – for my husband and I, my students, or my church.

So I resigned... without first having another job.

Doing so sent me into a tailspin, a dark night of the soul.

In so many ways, leaving my job destroyed me.

As young, recent college grads, my husband and I were just starting out. We had no friends in our neighborhood because we were never there. Our acquaintances were all connected to my church. So when we left our church, we left them.

Outside my church, I had no hobbies. I'd spent the last year doing nothing but working.

Outside my job, I had no identity. For the past year, I'd defined myself by what I did. It was all I knew to do. Who would I become when I was no longer performing that role? Was I supposed to go back to electrical engineering – something I was convinced was not God's call for me? Was I supposed to go back to school and get a different degree? Or was I supposed to continue on in youth ministry?

But how could I? How could God expect me to enter another church after I'd seen the way a church could hurt it's people? How could I continue as a youth pastor when my wounds were still so raw?

As I wrestled with these questions, I became increasingly angry at God. After all, it was God who'd brought me to my job. Why had God done so if he knew it was going to end so poorly? How could that possibly be God's will for me and the kids I served?

I felt abandoned by God and completely alone.

Left with nothing other than time, I poured myself into God's word. Slowly I began to see myself in the stories of God's people. The Psalms and Job taught me that it's OK to cry out to God, to openly express anger to him. 

During that season, I did a lot of that. I yelled and screamed and wailed against God. In the process, I discovered that God is faithful.

During that season – when my professional identity was stripped away from me – I learned that my true identity comes not from what I do, but from whose I am. Although I'd grown up learning that I was a child of God, it was then – as a 23 year old – that I finally embraced that as my true identity. It was then that I learned that I am worthy and valuable, with or without a job.

Eventually, my husband and I made our way into one of the big box churches near us. We did so anonymously; not wanting a community so much as a church in which to heal and recover from the wounds left by our previous one.

After about 6 months there, I got hired to be the youth pastor at a different congregation, where we truly found the community we'd been previously lacking. For the first time since college, we made real friends – friends who helped the scars from my first job start to fade. It was then that I learned that not only can churches hurt people, they can also heal people.

10 years later, I endured another dark night of the soul when I suffered a miscarriage.

Although I was in both physical and emotional agony, this experience felt strangely different than the last dark night of my soul. Despite my devastation, in the days, weeks, and months following my miscarriage I was loved. Our communities – our church, our family, and our friends – cared deeply for us. We knew we were not alone.

Unlike the experience a decade earlier, during this one, I also knew exactly where God was. Sure, I still ranted and wailed against God. In fact, I spent a lot of time that spring hiking through the arboretum literally screaming at God. Despite this, though, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was with me in my suffering – not willing it or causing it – but there, experiencing it and crying with me. Never before and never since have I so acutely felt God's presence.

Although I lost the thing I most wanted – a child – I didn't lose myself.

My experience a decade earlier had taught me that my primary identity is that of a beloved, child of God. And by that point in life, I knew that nothing – not even the crushing loss of a much-longed for, much-wanted child – could change that.

A few weeks after my miscarriage, I heard the familiar cords of Blessed Be Your Name begin on K-Love. I nearly turned the radio off as I flashed back to that moment years before when I wept uncontrollably during that song, when I was unable to sing the lyrics because I wasn't sure I believed them.

Yet, something in me resisted. Instead, I left the radio on. This time, when the chorus began, alone in my car, I belted out the lyrics at the top of my lungs,

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

As I did, I wept uncontrollably again.

Not because I didn't believe the words, but because I did. 

Night Driving Synchroblog

Today I'm linking up with Addie Zierman, whose writing I adore, to share stories of faith in the dark in honor of her new book, Night Driving