• Dana L. Butler

when your very foundation is shaken {or, why I was quiet for so, so long}

It’s Saturday night. The kids are in bed, finally settling down, and I’m standing, staring blankly into our bathroom mirror. Procrastinating.

For months now, my stomach does flips every time I think toward writing this to you all. And even having written these couple of sentences here, tears burn the backs of my eyes.

I have a story for you that’s not completely my own, though it impacts mine profoundly. So I’ll go ahead and say this: I tell it with complete clearance and encouragement from the other “stake-holder” here. A fact which, in and of itself, is enough to make me kinda scratch my head in wonder.

But y’all, I don’t know how to tell this story. So I’m thankful, in advance, so so much, for your grace as I try.

Rummaging through memories now, trying to trace my way back in time, I find myself maybe 10 months ago, weeping on the bathroom floor of our prior apartment in Littleton, Stan entering the room, sitting on the floor across from me, asking questions, compassionately allowing me to spill all this grief and loss and fear all over the tile between us.

Something had happened a couple of days prior that was shaking my world down to its very foundation.

Did I already say I don’t know how to tell this story? ‘Cause, I mean, I REALLY don’t. And truthfully, the amount of fear surrounding its telling — the number of what if’s running through my brain in this moment — it’s staggering.

What if’s primarily swirling around all the people who’re dear to us — family, friends — to whom this will be new information. I’ve thought… (and thought… and thought…) oh, we should tell this person individually, or that person, before letting people into this facet of our lives on a broader scale.

I cannot stand the thought of anyone we love feeling hurt over having learned of this first via my blog, as opposed to a face-to-face or phone conversation. If this thought applies to you, please hear my apology here, and know my heart for you. I love you dearly. And I’m asking again for grace.

I’ve waited months on end to write these words in this space. This reality that rolls like waves through my insides — loss, grief, fear, and even hope.

This was why I quit writing there, too, for a time. How do you write your guts when your whole world seems to be shaking, yet the aforementioned “world” is not only your own?

There’s been this check in my gut, this hold on, Dana… wait for it… from the Holy Spirit, and in talking with Stan and a close friend or two in recent days, I think I’m getting a green light from Him to move forward, to let myself be more deeply known in this season by y’all who walk with me via my writing.

It’s been a long time coming, this green light, and now that I have it, I’ve spent a number of days unsure how to move forward.

AND, at this point I’m pretty sure I’m procrastinating yet again, so let me come out and say it:

My husband — this kind, strong, gentle man who continues to love me so well, partners with me through heaven and hell, has my back through thick and thin — he’s decided he’s no longer a Christian.

We sat across the kitchen table from each other just a handful of days before the weeping-on-bathroom-floor incident, and he told me how his faith had been completely dismantled. How he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus, with the Father.

It’s no new news to me that Stan’s always struggled to some degree in his walk with God. How he’s repeatedly cycled through this debilitating fear that he wasn’t measuring up, fear that he maybe wasn’t even saved… frustration over not feeling like he could hear God’s voice, not feeling like he knew God’s heart… I could go on.

Our counselor mentioned maybe a year ago the possibility that Stan might have a condition called scrupulosity, a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. There’s lots to be learned about it, but for now, here’s a good definition:

Scrupulosity is a form of OCD in which the sufferer’s primary anxiety is the fear of being guilty of religious, moral, or ethical failure.

Upon just a tiny glance into research on the condition, Stan (and I) immediately knew: this was him. Scrupulosity/OCD is a piece of his (undiagnosed but quite certain according to our very in-depth research) high-functioning Autism.

In the months following our discovery of this specific OCD disorder, Stan, for the first time in his life, allowed himself to stop obsessing over his spiritual “performance.” Over whether he was obeying God enough.

He stopped reading the Bible. He gradually, mostly stopped praying.

And gradually, layers of fear began to slide off of him.

Anymore, Stan says that he was “tormented” by scripture. And believe me — I don’t fully understand how or why, but I know this to be true.

Stan’s incredibly black-and-white mind, combined with his extreme OCD around pleasing God, and around not understanding why this scripture seemed to contradict that scripture, and was it faith or works, anywayand if faith without works is dead, how many works are enough, and what if his faith was maybe dead? — that relentless cycle had him trapped, y’all. For years. Decades.

He was virtually always, to one degree or another, miserable.

Stan now asserts that he never had an experiential relationship with God, one in which God met with him, spoke to him, guided him, gave him peace.

I, however, look back over the nearly 10 years that Stan and I’ve been married, and see God’s pursuit of Stan’s heart over and over and over again. Woven throughout his story.

And what I still see as evidences of God’s hand moving in Stan’s life, he looks back and calls self-deception. All of it.

In our frequent conversations around all of this, Stan’s shared that the prayers he does pray anymore are very infrequent, and usually consist of something along the lines of, “God, if you do want me to have a relationship with you, then I need you to come reveal yourself to me in a way that’s not academic. In ways that I can understand and that will authentically connect with my heart.”

To make the understatement of the century, all of this has been devastating to me. A completely unforeseen, soul-shattering loss.

Yet Stan would say he’s happier, freer, more comfortable in his own skin than he’s ever been. Don’t hear me wrong — his heart aches over my grief — but being out from under the religious baggage, the continual fear associated with his prior experience of Christianity — it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him. Truly.

The way I see it, though Stan’s current stance on Christianity and Jesus and life terrifies me beyond words, this freedom he’s finding as he’s stepped out from under a whole ton o’ legalism? It’s a gift from God. And if and when Stan can see it as a gift from Him, he’ll be drawn into the sweetest, realest, most confident friendship with the God he now says he doesn’t know.

****

There are so many things I could say about how Stan’s recent journey has impacted me. It’s broken my heart to no longer have a common faith-foundation with my husband. A common jumping-off-point for how we see and experience and process the world.

Some days I cry. A bit less now than I did for a while, but the tears seem never to be far from the surface for me lately.

Some days the questions pile up around me and threaten to send me into panic attacks. What does this mean for how our children will grow up? How will Stan field their God-related questions?

My hope is that as I pour into them, as I continue to model companionship with God, Isaac and Maia will grow to confidently know His heart for them. But y’all, the possibility that I would be *spiritually* parenting my children apart from Stan’s partnership — it was never, ever, remotely on my radar.

Till within the last year.

(Again, don’t hear me wrong; Stan is the most checked-IN dad I’ve probably ever known. The way he partners with me in parenting our children — it absolutely floors me. I couldn’t be more thankful. And simultaneously, I never saw this coming. Not even a little. Ever.)

Like I said, there is so much I could say — and so much I likely will say, at some point, about more of the ways this has been painful for me, the ways in which God’s met me in this grief… but for now, I’ll give you this glimpse into my heart in this season: Nearly every day for one reason or another, as we go about the minutiae of our daily lives, I open my mouth to ask Stan to pray for me, or for the kids. And it hits me all over again:

Oh, no, I can’t ask him to do that anymore.

I close my mouth, silent. And my heart shatters all over again.

::deep breath::

****

One of the things that’s always been a struggle for me, is for anyone but just a tiny handful of my closest friends to really know the depths of how I’m hurting. In any circumstance, not just this one. But in these days particularly, the thought of you all, who I so dearly love, hurting for me over this particular loss — it’s actually excruciating. Ugh.

But here’s why I’ve known I needed to share this facet of Stan’s and my story with y’all: I know we’re not alone. I know there are others whose faith has crumbled, or whose spouse’s faith has crumbled, and they don’t know where to go from here.

We don’t know where to go from here, either. The questions are bigger than life and so beyond overwhelming. But I’m here. And I know that I love Jesus, that I trust Him, that He walks beside me, that He carries my family, holds us together even through this.

Especially through this.

I am 100% committed to Stan. He is 100% committed to me, to our family. He respects my personal journey with God. He comes to church with me and the kids. He plays on the worship team because it’s life-giving to him, and because he knows his partnership in that arena is life to my heart as well. He supports me in my leadership role within our church, and our pastors are up to speed on his current spiritual reality. And they, I have to add, have loved Stan and me so well through all of this.

And I trust God’s pursuit of Stan’s heart. Whether he can see it in this season, or not.

Sometimes faulty foundations have to be torn apart before what’s healthy and solid can be built. And I’m praying with every ounce of my soul that that’s what happens here. I see God’s hand all over this season for Stan. Setting him free from crippling fear. From condemnation. From perfectionism. Desiring to draw him into an experience of Himself that’s more real, freeing, healing than he’s ever dreamed possible.

I also know, though, that sometimes our God, who is good, faithful, utterly trustworthy no matter what comes, doesn’t do the good things I think He should do.

Sometimes the good things don’t happen. Children die and marriages fail. Families are torn apart, countries go to war, and sometimes, the most amazing people walk away from their Christian faith for one reason or another, and never return to it.

Sometimes.

So the incredibly weird dichotomy of all of this for me, is this: that I see God’s kindness woven throughout this process within Stan. His kindness. His pursuit. It gives me hope.

AND… I don’t get to know what the outcome of this season will be for Stan. I might not know for a very long time. It scares the you-know-what out of me, y’all. When I allow myself to feel the grief and fear, they really do rise up to the point of almost strangling me.

Most days, though, while punctuated by moments of poignant awareness of our current reality, I move through my life with an okay-ness that only comes from walking in step with Him. Of allowing the pain to drive me deeper into Him.

He holds me together.

****

I’d wanted this tattoo for a long time, but at some point during the summer of 2016, when the intensity of Stan’s current spiritual reality was beginning to feel so terrifying to me, I knew it was time.

Charles Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

Even writing that quote sends me into this profound sobriety that borders on tears, because the aforementioned waves aren’t happy, fun, playful waves. They’re crushing, like I said. Deadly. Killing every ounce of my own strength, any crutch or mechanism by which I could maybe keep going a little bit on my own.

And what I’m still learning, what He forges deeper and deeper in my core, is the willingness to kiss the waves. To be continually brought by the intensity and pain of my circumstances into this gut-wrenching, poignant awareness of my need for Him.

Oh, you guys. How. I. Need. Him.

And how profound is my gratitude, because to the degree I’m aware of my need, He comes in, and He fills, and He stills my soul even amid the waves.

There’s more I’ll say, I’m sure, as I sort through the reality that I’m now free to share the story I’ve held close for all these months. God meets me so much in the day-to-day, as I learn how to navigate parenting and marriage and ministry and life in the midst of this new normal.

So yeah, I might have more words soon. Finally.

But for now, I’ll end by sharing this — a document Stan initially wrote for his and my parents, by way of a well-thought-out description of this current phase of his journey. He asked if I’d offer his words therein to you tonight. He’s really an open book. It’s incredible to me actually, how willing he is to be authentically known along this piece of his path.

I’d love your prayers for Stan and me and the kids as we move through this season, friends. Thanks for reading my novel-length heart here tonight.

And just thanks for being my friends. Y’all are dear to my heart.

***Editing to add: I published a (shorter!) follow-up to this post. Would love for you to read it, too.***

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