Fractured Faith: Finding My Way Back to God: Lina Abujamra
Somewhere along the way, the Christianity she knew began crumbling. Lina Abujamra shares about fractured faith—& deconstruction that brought her back to God.
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Somewhere along the way, the Christianity she knew began crumbling. Lina Abujamra shares about fractured faith—& deconstruction that brought her back to God.
Fractured Faith: Finding My Way Back to God: Lina Abujamra
Lina: The times that I feel God’s goodness the most is when I’m at my worst. You know, numbing myself with stuff that I know I shouldn’t or acting in a way that I know that I shouldn’t as a Christian or as a human. Then I come back to the table, and I open my Bible and I know that I know that I know that there’s a God who doesn’t agree with the way that I behave who has paid the price for that sin but who is still there.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Well, I did a google search this morning.
Dave: Never done this one before, I thought I knew what I was going to find, and I did. Number one question people ask about God.
Ann: Why does a good God allow evil and suffering?
Dave: Why do you always answer the right thing?
Lina: I would have thought that too.
Ann: Yes, because we all are thinking the same thing and that’s the question we all have.
Dave: Yes, I just typed in.
Lina: –what was your predicted answer?
Dave: That’s what I thought it would be. Why does a loving God allow evil?
Dave: –and suffering and I’d heard that, I’d read books about it, but I was just like is this still the number one question? It is by far number one. There are others that are up there, but it is–and you know what? It’s a tough one.
Dave: You can’t just sit here and go, “Oh–
Ann: –and people have left their faith, or they’ve left, I should say the church, because of that, not being able to understand it. Because they think, “What kind of God could do that?”
Dave: Yes, we’re going to sort of dive into that one today.
Ann: –we’ve already heard.
Dave: –Lina is back with us. We’ve already heard her voice over there. She couldn’t stay out of this one. She’s jumping in.
Lina: I’m ready to jump into that conversation.
Ann: I like it. We have Lina Abujamra back with us today with her book. It’s called Fractured Faith. The subtitle is Finding Your Way Back to God in an Age of Deconstruction. Lina, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Lina: It’s great to be back.
Ann: She’s fun.
Dave: Yes, we’re going to have a ball. I mean it’s fun. We’re going to talk about really serious, sort of heavy topics, but we’re going to talk about it with a smile on our face, even though we’ve all been through fractured faith. You talked yesterday a little about you know, a relationship that ended two weeks before you got married and different things. But you hinted about there’s this other time in your life where you really found your faith fractured so let’s hear a little bit about that.
Lina: You know yesterday we left off, yes where I had felt the call to ministry after coming out of this broken heart. In some ways it felt like–you know sometimes we want to make sense of God’s story in our life. To me, what conclusion I made was, “Of course God wants me to be single because He wants me to be free to be in ministry,” right? So, your life becomes all centered around this ministry. That’s like it becomes your–not even a consolation prize it’s better. So, I wrote a book. My first book was called Thrive. It was about singleness, thriving in singleness. Of course, I’m meant to be single. It’s the whole purpose of my life is to be single so I could serve God, which is this high calling that God had called me to. In my mind it felt like God’s going to now be able to use me for all of these great, amazing things for His glory, not for my glory but for His. So, you sort of have this narrative now that you’ve created in your head.
Ann: –Do men do that? Because women we do this.
Dave: Do what?
Ann: We create the narrative of, “Why did this happen?” and then we come up with, “Oh, this is why,”
Lina: Well and we do it like this is why so many women are single because we go on the first date, and we’ve already planned [Laughter] right? And the guy’s like, “What is this?” If you’re verbal like me, you may say things. Like me I don’t even go on dates so I can’t speak to that but [Laughter] the fact is you’re right. We do it all the time.
Ann: Right, yes.
Dave: I don’t think it’s just a woman thing.
Ann: You don’t?
Dave: I may you may do it in a uniquely different way, and I know you have, but [Laughter] I think we do the same thing. Maybe it’s tied more to success, and job success, rather than relationship success because I’ll do that more with, “Oh this is going to lead to this,”
Dave: –rather than, “You and I,” but a woman tends to be.
Ann: –but I’ll do it with everything.
Ann: –I can’t just make it up.
Dave: –but even this Lina, how do you end up writing a book called Thrive.
Lina: –and then
Dave: –when yesterday you’re like, “It was a real struggle to come out of that relationship.”
Lina: Well so
Dave: –but you got to a point where you said, “Singleness I can thrive.”
Lina: Well because you see again, and I don’t think necessarily all our conclusions are wrong I’m not saying that. I do believe God wrote a single story, a single story in my life so that after that first engagement 10 years later I got engaged again. So, I haven’t dated a lot, but it seems like when I do date it almost goes all the way home. But it didn’t. So again, we ended the engagement, this time not two weeks before the wedding. Again, it was a mutual decision. We had different callings and a lot of other things, but it was fine. I don’t think at that point I don’t think I felt as devastated at all. If anything, it just confirmed what I felt God was doing in my ministry life.
So, at that point I started becoming the woman’s director at this amazing church where everything was so good for so long and Moody asked me to write my first book, Thrive. By then I was blogging. I was starting to Bible teach in the context of a bigger church and they had asked if I had thought about writing a book and they then wanted to meet with me. We met and long story short, they wanted me to write on singleness. My first thought in my inside head that was like, “No,” [Laughter] It was like, “No, there’s no way I’m doing that,” but they seemed to want me to write on that.
So, on the other hand, I was like, “I guess I could write about turtles if I really had to.” [Laughter] So I went home. I thought about it, prayed about it and a week later like we had another meeting, and I already had an outline for the book, and I used 1 Corinthians 7 as the sort of paradigm, sort of for singleness so I had a sketch of the book because I had lived it. So, I was closer to 40 at that point so it made sense once again it explained the pain that God had allowed. There’s something very therapeutic in our minds when we understand the reason for our pain.
Lina: God, you can let me hurt but let me know why. It’s an unexplainable pain that I think frustrates us. So basically, I wrote a couple of books and by the time they both were coming out was the season when things had begun to unravel crazily in this church that I was in publicly. I ended up leaving the year in the summer between my first and my second book releasing and it was very tricky on many points. On one practical point was like the pastor of the church was being put on the hot seat has since been disqualified from ministry by the elders of that church, had written a forward for me.
Lina: So, your identity with that church is high. So on one hand you don’t want to feel like you’re using them, like that was never the intent. On the other hand, you also understand that now I’m publishing books and even then, I didn’t understand the repercussions of not being affiliated with a mega anything and trying to quote unquote, release a successful book. And so there were a lot of layers to wear. Remember now you apply this principle which is I had felt like my entire life pain was redeemed by this call to ministry that was now basically taking a hammer and destroy it. Now I’m no longer a women’s ministry director, my books aren’t going to do well because I don’t have any church endorsing me. The few places that were asking me to speak now think I’m a bad apple because the church hasn’t gone to its height of negativity yet, the story was just unfolding so people associated me.
Ann: –you’re in the Chicago area.
Lina: –I was Yes, so I looked like the person who had left a very vibrant church, even though people in the know knew that things were not well. It wasn’t public knowledge. You’re trying to honor the Lord in it all. You’re trying to trust the Lord but meanwhile you’re kind of going–I remember a week after I had left the church and I went through the steps that I felt like I needed to go through to try to–by the time I left it had been two years of agonizing, questions, and wondering whether this was the right decision or not.
I remember after I had left, I sat at a Tapas place, I’m having this dinner with one of my closest friends and I was crying, and I rarely–I’m an ER doctor and we’re taught not to cry in front of serious situations. You save it for the privacy of your home, and you know try to be tough. I remember the tears coming down my face and I remember saying to her, “Tina, what is going to happen to this ministry, like it’s gone? I feel like we’re done.” It felt like such an ending to everything that I thought God was doing to redeem this pain of my being single, of my having my heart broken, of my living in this deep
disappointment for all this time that I still part of my story. I was still living it to this day.
Ann: Do you think your ministry became your Band-Aid?
Lina: Well, I, in hindsight I wouldn’t have said it then, but I think in hindsight I think anything becomes our Band-Aid.
Lina: We all have Band-Aids.
Lina: We’re all crutching on something, and I think God in His goodness removes those crutches in the right times in order to bring us to a place of wholeness that we don’t see in the time that’s needed.
So there’s festering wounds that we just cover and cover and then we kind of go, but then you have a scar inside that no one sees and then I’m fine and the next thing you know you’re really not because its–so it’s just that I really wasn’t fine and so I was putting all my hopes in ministry success. To me the more successful, the more books, you know the more I did the more I felt like I was proving to God my worth in the ministry [Laughter] without saying those words. We all have been educated enough through social media, famous pastors, and books that have been written about this that we all know that it’s wrong to strive for success through a ministry based on numbers but who doesn’t do it? Right? I mean like pastors do it all the time, “So many people got baptized this last Sunday, so many people came to church,” who cares? Well, apparently someone does. [Laughter]
Even publishers, they won’t publish your book if you don’t have a big platform. Everything in the Christian narrative is grow, grow, grow, and then you matter. And now you come at it and go, “No, actually God went after the one.”
You see this pattern where Jesus, the closer He went to the cross, which was the acme of His ministry, the less people followed Him. We’re like the mother, the brothers who says to Jesus, “How can you ensure that my sons will sit one at your right hand, one at your left?” And I think that there’s in us this sense that somehow, we are special to God if we’re somehow doing special things, if we have certain ways.
Basically, I had also hit maybe I think buried some serious–even with that first crisis of my broken engagement and feeling like God didn’t deliver. I think I still didn’t fully address some of the pain that I had about my being single. I still had some disappointment. I just glossed over it by this idea that God has redeemed Himself by giving me this better thing that had Kingdom value. While marriage is good, singleness has Kingdom value. Now this was shattering before me.
Now I ended up leaving the church not knowing what would happen to my ministry and feeling like God had really dropped the ball on this. You wait awhile, and God did some things at the time, that now I look back and I can think, “Wow,” but at the time they were small, little movements of the Spirit. One was I was asked to do a spot-on Moody Radio, maybe some people listening to me might find my voice familiar. I have a minute called Today’s Single Christian on Moody Radio. Ironically they came to me and asked me to do this minute for singles and I remember, I had approached them two years before and asked to do a spot on faith and they had said no and I had like licked my wounds in private [Laughter] and I don’t think they even remembered that. They had asked me to–and I’m like, “Really? Like really, singleness? Is this like there’s a plan in this world for–because if you do a book on singles and a radio spot on singles, I guarantee that is not a good dating plan. [Laughter] Like you–anyway I did that.
The other thing was I was invited to go to the Middle East, which is my home country. My accent is Lebanese mixed with a bunch of American soil, places that I’ve lived. Some in the south, some in the north but basically, I moved when I was a senior in high school and the Syrian refugee crisis unfolded right in the year that I left that church. I didn’t have a church. I didn’t have a ministry, in the same way that I had before, so I had more time on my hands. I was still practicing medicine, but I was so hard looking for ways still to serve God. I will say to God’s goodness and to my negative - I still think that I wanted to prove my worth, in hindsight. I don’t think now I would say–honestly, I could have done nothing for two years but spend time with the Lord trying to understand why all this was happening, but I was too in my way trying to still be someone.
Ann: But I do think that there’s a part of us, especially if we have any kind of performance issues in our lives, if I didn’t do anything for two years but just sit with Jesus.
Lina: We’d feel like a failure.
Ann: If I don’t do something each day, I feel like that was a waste of a day.
Lina: If I read one chapter in the Bible instead of three, I feel like horrible.
Ann: –yes and that’s so opposite of the Father.
Ann: –He has to continually remind me, “Ann,” it’s kind of like this Sabbath like, “Ann you were not made to do ministry. I made you in my image to know Me, to be with Me.” But I’m like, “Yes, but You also want me to you know, work for You and advance the Kingdom for You and I want to do all those things.” But would I be content with Jesus? And of course, He’s made us to work. He’s put that in us, but still there’s that question of hmm, when you said that.
Lina: Well, I’ll tell you, today for the first time in my life I can tell you I see the difference. But it’s been a process. This is nine years in the making. But it took a journey, and it took deconstructing because I think part of it is this exact thing. Because you grew up your whole life thinking, “You need to serve God somewhere,” like there’s so much even to be–we grew up in the fundamentalist times, you know in the 80’s. You know churches change in terms of the movements of church in the United States has changed and I was a product of the fundamentalist movement, right?
The idea that we are to use the time wisely, the days are short. One of the most influential books of my life is Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, who’s an amazing author. But like the narrative in your head, the voices in your head are saying, “Work for God because it matters.” It’s not even about me getting glory. Because you don’t want to show up to heaven and not have crowns from God, so you sort of have that backdrop and that has to sort of deconstruct, because that’s not the Jesus way.
Ann: Right, yes.
Lina: So it has taken years for me, and God completely pulling the rug you know, from under me and talking about this stuff and writing books and going to therapy and all this stuff to finally come to a place - and I think it’s really happened in the last year or maybe 16 months, where I have seen a change. In fact yesterday I was driving up here to be with you guys and I told my, one of my closest friends, Tina, who I had the tears at the Tapas place with, and I was boxing her and I said, “I feel like somewhere in the last year a bifurcation in the road happened and everyone that I used to look up to in ministry, not everyone but a lot, seem like they’re still on this road that I’m no longer on. For the first time in my life, I’m not just unfazed by it, I don’t want to be on that road.”
Somehow, even though I may not be doing things I thought I would be doing, they no longer matter to me. That’s the result of what has deconstructed. Now the danger, and I think about the millennials who have left the church at an exceedingly fast numbers, I think they have suffered the most in watching my generation wrestle with those things of worth. I think they have said, “No we don’t want to be part of that so – they’ve seen the result.
Ann: –and they’ve seen the Christian celebrity.
Lina: Correct! And they’ve left. So, a lot of them are leaving. Some famous people in that category have been very obvious on social media, but I think they’ve abandoned anything that resembles Christianity. A lot of people, and you think about deconstruction, and in fact a lot of the deconstructionists would have a problem with me because they think because I’ve landed still on a biblical orthodox view of the world, that I’ve not truly deconstructed.
Lina: And I have a problem with that because I think, first of all I’ve applied the same language to them. You don’t get to decide what’s deconstruction. [Laughter] I can tell you this is my–this is deconstruction. We’ve just landed in a completely different place.
You’ve landed in disbelief; I’ve landed in belief. But we’ve both gone through this deconstruction phenomenon. You’ve used worldly means and cultural popular thinking to reach your disbelief and I have gone back to the biblical model but I have, I am convinced more than ever of the truth of the Word of God and the reality of Jesus Christ and His goodness. I feel like Peter, who started walking on the water and fell and somehow God still just grabs me.
I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the grace of God. If that puts me in a reformed God–it’s all about Him and not about me. I’m in that camp because I really see it’s purely His goodness. Look, the truth is there are days, to this day, I still look at my Bible and I read, and I think, “Are we making this whole thing up?” [Laughter] You know that thought that sort of trickles in your brain and I’m going, “Is this all crazy?”
But then honestly, the times that I feel God’s goodness the most is when I’m at my worst. You know numbing myself with stuff that I know I shouldn’t or acting in a way that I know I shouldn’t as a Christian or as a human. Then I come back to the table, and I open my Bible and I know that I know that I know that there’s a God, who doesn’t agree with the way that I’ve behaved who has paid the price for that sin, but who is still there. And I feel His goodness the most when I’m at my darkest.
Dave: Yes, that seems to be the theme of Fractured Faith the book, is in your suffering there’s this holiness and beauty of God that’s so hard, but it’s still–am I right? That’s what I’ve picked up.
Ann: He’s experienced it Himself.
Lina: Because [of] grace, right? If you’re, especially if you’re a performance-based person, right, you believe you’re saved by grace but you’re somehow trying to earn God’s favor through your life, right?
And so, we’ve heard in church people say, “You’re not just saved by faith, you’re sanctified by faith.” We get that intellectually, but we don’t apply it. We really still think the better Christians is the one who’s leading a bigger service, is a better Christian and I may–how do we know?
Look at my mom who’s served Christ faithfully, sits at her table, reads the Bible, loves Jesus, worships Him. Others, millions like her, who we’ll never remember their names, know their names, meet them in your life. Who’s to say he’s a better Christian than her? We don’t know. It’s not about us anyway. It’s not that one is better than the other it’s that they’re both saved by grace, covered by the blood of Christ. He’s the story - go back to that.
And so I do think there’s something in the darkness that makes the light more palpable. It doesn’t mean I want to stay there but C.S. Lewis of course I quote he said it very much so, in fact coming back to the beginning conversation of this segment you were asking about how people question God. Was it the biggest question about God? Is God real because there’s so much suffering in the world?
What’s ironic about that is that if you’ve really met people that are suffering a lot, like I mean really suffering. Like as an example the Syrian refugees. By the way, I grew up in the civil war in Lebanon. I grew up the first 15 years of my life, what we knew was war. It seems normal to me because my family lived it, but it wasn’t normal. You guys would have thought it was horrific. It’s horrible, right? We grew up with shooting all over the streets. We’d go to school and never know if we’d make it back home or not, right? And so, you look at that sort of culture. You look at the Syrian refugee crisis. You look now at the Ukrainians. Look at people that have been through utter darkness and somehow you go ask them and they are more believing in God than anyone I know.
You look at families in the ER, I’m telling you, the people that listen the most are the ones that have the worst diagnosis. The people who are most open to prayer are the ones who are closest to death. So now you tell me when you say, “How could God allow all this suffering in the world?”
Well God doesn’t create suffering I think that God uses suffering. I think most people would agree with that. God uses suffering. Not only that, I think what C.S. Lewis said is true. He said our ears, pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world. And I think he’s 100 percent correct. I have found in my experience as a healer, that’s what I do in my profession, that’s there’s something about pain that makes us sit up straighter, lean in more, and utterly receive whatever is given us. The easiest patients to care for, in my experience, are the ones who are hurting the most.
Dave: Yes, it’s really your story is the story you hope for deconstruction. I’m going to drop these things that are maybe not even true, or not helpful, that were a part of my faith that they never should have been, so deconstruct them. Then I’m going to pick up what is true. That’s a faith that sustains for the long haul, which is what you’re living. Not that it isn’t hard, right? It’s still hard.
Lina: It’s still hard. - It’s still hard, but it’s in its own–Yes, I think on this side of life it’s always going to be a little bit hard.
Ann: I think so too.
Shelby: You know many of us ask questions, and myself included ask the kind of questionsthat we feel like we shouldn’t ask like, “Where is God in my pain? Is He even here? Is this how Christians are supposed to act in this difficult process? Why did my story end up the way it is? Is this the normal Christian life? Why is it so hard to be a follower of Jesus?”
I’m Shelby Abbott and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Lina Abujamra on FamilyLife Today. Lina’s done a fantastic job of helping us tackle some of these difficult questions and pursue God in the process without losing Him as we wrestle. You can pick up a copy of her book called Fractured Faith: Finding Your Way Back to God in an Age of Deconstruction. Super helpful, especially in the cultural moment that we’re in right now. You can find a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can give us a call at 800,’F’ as in Family, ‘L’ as in Life, and then the word TODAY. We’re winding down with something special going on here at FamilyLife and Dave and Ann wanted to fill you in on what’s happening.
Ann: Tomorrow is the last day.
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Ann: Mmm hmm
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Ann: Yes, you’re right.
Dave: I mean that is a benefit, but you do it because you say, “God has transformed our marriage through FamilyLife and I want to help others do it as well. It doesn’t happen without partners like you.
Ann: Yes, and we appreciate you and we long and need your help. So, find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com
Shelby: Yes, as Ann said, you can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, the number is 800, ‘F’ as in Family, ‘L’ as in Life, and then the word TODAY. And feel free to drop us something in the mail if you’d like. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida, 32832.
Tomorrow Dave and Ann are joined again with Lina Abujamra to talk about how not all things in life are going to be comfortable. She’ll unpack about the time that she began to understand that as a believer, you simply cannot build the life that doesn’t need God. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
Shelby: On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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