Faith Didn’t Heal My Daughter: A Deconstruction Story (Part 1: Jesus, My Best Friend)
I don’t remember a time when I was not a believer. My earliest memories involve singing to Jesus as a very small child–maybe 3 years old. Mom or Dad would tuck me in at night, and I would wait for them to leave before debuting my latest song for Jesus. He was my “invisible” best friend–I would talk to Him constantly.
My mother tells me that from a very young age she always felt that God had a special calling on my life. Looking back, I can now see His providential protection over me from the moment I was conceived. The earliest example of this, which is actually a collection of instances, occurred when my 27-year-old mother went to her OBGYN for a dilation and curettage. She was having a difficult time getting pregnant and, from what I understand, her doctor thought it would be a good idea to give her a fresh start. Fortunately, he chose to do a pregnancy test first.
Several months later, when I was a newborn, Mom and Dad were driving to the bank. In those days, car seats weren’t required by law and, if you did have one, it wasn’t nearly up to our modern-day safety standards. I was in a carrier in the front seat with my parents. Mom was driving and dropped Dad off to run inside the bank. She then proceeded to circle back around to pick him up, crossing over a four-lane highway. Dad had not completely shut the passenger side door, and it swung wide open as Mom was turning. Within seconds, my carrier slid out into oncoming traffic. Mom, unable to reach me, doesn’t remember much after that, but to make a long story short, I was returned to her unscathed. Then there was the time when I was a toddler and a tree fell through the roof of my bedroom during a storm. I just happened at that moment to be watching TV in my parents’ room.
I have many more stories like this throughout my childhood, teen, and young adult years, and my awareness of these moments increased as I grew older. In my mind, God and I had a good thing going—a kind of reciprocity.
I think on some unconscious or perhaps conscious level, I started to believe that I was special…set apart. This idea in and of itself is not a wrong or bad belief, but my little mind and heart took it one step further. I began to believe that God’s grace in my life had something to do with my being a good person and doing the right thing. I eventually came to expect it and accept it as fact.
Elementary and high school only reinforced this problematic thinking. Raised in a devout Catholic home, we never missed a Sunday of church. I volunteered every summer at Vacation Bible School and led the church in song as a cantor several times a month. I attended a Catholic high school and was also aggressive in recruiting my peers to the faith. One of my oldest friends recalls a time in eighth grade during gym class when I walked up to her and asked, “Do you know Jesus?”
Whether I realized it or not, Catholicism’s works-based theology appealed to the “Type-A,” over-achieving perfectionist in me. It offered me practical ways to control my spiritual trajectory and produce results…whether by confessing my sins to a priest for forgiveness or saying the “Hail Mary” 10 times as an act of repentance. Once again, I was able to “do” in order to “get” in return. Yet there was something unnerving about my time as a Catholic. I felt a major disconnect between the loving, approachable “best friend” Jesus of my personal relationship and the feared, reverential, rule-driven God of Catholicism. He seemed impossible to please, and that’s all I ever wanted to do.
Enter the neo-charismatic “Word of Faith” movement.
“Word of Faith” originated out of the Wesleyan tradition in the 1980s. Famed American preacher Kenneth Hagin pioneered the movement, which guarantees prosperity at all levels for people who speak their desire in accord with the promises of the Bible. They ground their certainty on verses such as Mark 11:24 (“Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”) and Romans 10:8, which refers to “the word of faith, which we preach” (KJV).
For our family and thousands of others, “Word of Faith” offered a personal, accessible God, one who tangibly invested in the health, happiness, and prosperity of His children. Jesus was not merely within reach; He granted believers supernatural power to change their circumstances through the spoken Word and bold faith. We accepted Jesus into our hearts and were “born again,” at which moment we received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and were encouraged to tap into all kinds of spiritual giftings.
In a sense, I was now charismatic Catholic. We didn’t attend a brick-and-mortar charismatic Catholic church, but I grew up around family members who prayed in tongues and laid healing hands on us, all while I attended mass every week. I now recognize this as the point at which I began to mentally and spiritually equate righteousness with blessing. As long as I kept my end of the bargain—lived a godly life, walked by faith, shared the gospel—I would be rewarded… with favor, success, safety, and so on. I thrived on predictability and control—they brought me comfort. My newfound theology played right into those needs.
And for the most part, this mutually beneficial arrangement worked…until it didn’t.
What happens when tragedy strikes, and “faith” doesn’t rescue you? What if all your efforts fail to produce the desired result? Inevitably, as you will hear from me in the coming articles, we are all faced with a choice when our belief system breaks down. Do we re-evaluate what we have been taught and accepted as truth? Do we abandon it altogether? In my case, the fatal error was believing that the goal of my faith was a prosperous existence—that the purpose of my obedience was not just to please God but to command my fate.
What I would go on to learn is found in Ecclesiastes and many other places throughout the Bible. “In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: the righteous perishing in their righteousness and the wicked living long in their wickedness” (Ecc. 7:15). Righteousness does not protect us from hardship. Righteous men often get what the wicked deserve and wicked men get what the righteous deserve (Ecc. 8:14). Furthermore, could there be a divine purpose in trials and suffering? These are all questions I would begin to wrestle with when my world fell apart.
Could there be a divine purpose in trials and suffering?