“Where is God In My Pain?” Lina Abujamra
Where is God when your heart is breaking? Lina Abujamra's life was suddenly nothing like she'd planned. But now, instantaneously single, she discovered she wasn't alone at all.
About the Guest
- Visit Lina's website at livingwithpower.org
- Lina's facebook: @livingwithpower
- Purchase Lina's book: Fractured Faith: Finding Your Way Back to God in an Age of Deconstruction
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Lina Abujamra’s life was suddenly nothing like she’d planned. Where is God when your heart’s breaking? She writes of fractured faith—and a God who showed up.
“Where is God In My Pain?” Lina Abujamra
David: David Robbins here, president of FamilyLife®. I wanted to let you know how important you are—you, as a listener, who hear and apply the biblical grace and truth and dive deeper into your relationship with God and the relationships in your home and your family. That is the reason why we are here and we do what we do at FamilyLife. You are the people who help others pursue the relationships that matter most. And you can help every home be a godly home.
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Dave: I read a quote in a book that we’re going to talk about today, and I thought that this so resonates with the Christian experience. Do you know what quote I’m going to read?
Dave: You read the book, too!
Ann: I know. But I want to hear it.
Dave: This just jumped off the page. You know the author who wrote this: “My inability to see God in my pain is rooted in the fact that I’m not really looking for God. I’m looking for a god to show up in the way I want him to show up and to give me what I want him to give me.”
Ann: That’s good.
Dave: I’m like, “That is so true.” We don’t talk about it, but that, I think, is at the heart of our struggle when we’re in pain with God.
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.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So, who do we have in here today?
Ann: We have with us Lina Abujamra. Lina, welcome to FamilyLife Today!
Lina: Well done on saying my name! [Laughter]
Dave: Notice I threw it to you to say it.
Ann: I did notice. [Laughter] Your book is called Fractured Faith, which is a great title. The subtitle is Finding Your Way Back to God in an Age of Deconstruction.
Lina: Yes. I’m a doctor, so “fractured faith” was fitting on a number of reasons. It really concisely says what this book is about.
Dave: What kind of doctor?
Lina: Pediatric ER. I boarded in both specialties and have been practicing it for awhile!
Ann: You do a lot of different things.
Lina: Yes, you know it’s morphed over the years.
Ann: Tell us.
Lina: I finished pediatric ER training back some 20 years ago, and I felt God’s call to the ministry while I was doing my fellowship, actually.
Lina: Yes. I was actually coming through what I think was my first big faith crisis. I was engaged in my residency and broke off the engagement two weeks before the wedding, which comes up in Fractured Faith.
Dave: Whoa, whoa! You’ve got to explain that a little bit.
Lina: I know!
Dave: You just laid a bomb out there—two weeks before your wedding.
Dave: I read it in your book, but I’m like, “That was….”
Lina: No, it’s true. It’s funny—you can say it quickly and gloss over it, but it really a pastoral thing to pick up on. But it’s true; it was very shaping—it was shocking in some ways. The hardest part of that whole journey was not so much that I ended the engagement. It ended up being a mutual decision. It was the right decision, but behind it was this friendship I had with a Christian young man who honestly deepened my soul. I thought he was the one.
I felt God had spoken about this person forever. We spoke all the time; we were really good friends. We were living in the same city at the time. He ended up marrying someone else, and that gutted me, honestly. I couldn’t even tell that story for maybe ten years. It was like I went through it. People around me all knew, like people who were close to me understood, but I don’t know….
Ann: Because it was so painful.
Lina: It was glossed over. It was so painful because we never dated; it was like a person who was your best friend. What were you going to say? The whole thing was a mess. And I was the one who had gotten engaged to someone else. There’s so much in there, but the relational thing with God was that in my soul I felt like God had this person for me; even allowing me to break off another engagement two weeks before the wedding, really mutually reached that place, which was already a big decision. It felt like God was confirming what I thought He had for me.
So, I went to fellowship really heartbroken. By then I knew that there wasn’t a quick answer to the solution, but I still held on hope that God was going to bring that person back.
Ann: Did you feel like it was God’s will?
Lina: Yes! I had a verse! Like, if you grew up in a Christian home where you read your Bible and circled verses—I was a committed believer! I had lived right to the best of my ability. You know, you always have a rolodex of all the sins in your mind, and of course, God’s punishing me for….
But by and large, I had been as pure as pure can be. I hadn’t willfully sinned in those big, dark ways that you think about. I really thought that God was testing me and that even when I went to fellowship, this guy wasn’t engaged or married or dating anybody at that time. I thought, “It’s going to be a matter of time before God brings him.” The longer it went, then I heard he started dating this girl who he had dated before. With every passing month, it was evident that this wasn’t going to happen.
So, that first year of fellowship when I was training to be a pediatric ER doctor was really, really hard. It was a lot of wrestling with God to try and understand why He would set me up for disappointment that way. It felt that, this was between God and me. Yes, I was mad about the guy, but I felt like, “God, You’re the One who told me. You had all those years to make this happen, and You didn’t.”
I still a good enough Christian to read my Bible everyday. But sometimes you do that more because there isn’t a fear of God in you, but you’re afraid God will punish you if you don’t. So, you’re still trying to be a good person even though you have all of this angst in your soul. I remember a time in those six months when it was all sort of playing out, where it was becoming evident that this was not going to happen.
At that point, I was reading in the minor prophets, and I think this was a turning point for me. I hit the book of Hosea. Hosea is a great, great book, of course. Redeeming Love, the movie came out. A lot of people may be familiar with the story from that now. It’s the story of unrequited love, but a committed God. I remember feeling like I was in a deep, deep wilderness and darkness.
It's interesting, because since then, I visited that place again, but for whatever reason, I thought—I don’t know that I could’ve processed this—but I remember thinking, “Why, God?” That was the first time I saw Hosea chapter 2 verse 14 that says, “Behold, God allures Israel into the wilderness, and there He will turn the valley of trouble into a place of hope.”
The fact that God lovingly leads the one He loves to the wilderness just was more than my mind could handle. Even now, I am struck with the emotion of it. I remember starting to see God’s love in that space. The truth is that as Christians, we like the scenario, we like the narrative that says, “And then eventually the guy showed up.”
Ann and Dave: Yes!
Lina: And that never happened. He met someone else. He has a happy family. They’re my Facebook friends; we’ve moved on. I’m sure it’s been an awkward conversation when they’ve read my subsequent books. [Laughter] But the truth is that this wasn’t part of God’s plan for my life. To believe and understand that what I’m living is not Plan B. It’s not like God’s like, “Oh, darn. Now I’ve got to figure out what to do with Lina’s life.”
I think for awhile, and part of the set up to my big crisis that led me to write Fractured Faith is that I think you sort of feel that you’ve paid your dues, first of all. So, you’ve done your big disappointment with God, so now you’re grown to other things.
Ann: You’re mature now.
Ann: You don’t need to go through it again.
Lina: At least not to that level, like you see crisis. But not like this. Also, I think you start to feel like you should know better at that point. For me, when I went through this next season of darkness, it felt like you go back to this contractual relationship with God where you feel like, “God, I’ve done my part in this Christian life. Why aren’t you doing Yours.” I think we apply it in every way, not just in our love life but in our daily Christian life.
Dave: Oh, we definitely do it. It’s back to your quote. I think I resonated with your quote so strongly because I’ve done it. “I want the God to give me what I want.” I expect it, sort of, because I’ve earned it.
Ann: I’ve been good!
Dave: I’ve paid my dues; He sort of owes me; I’ve been good. Surely it can’t just keep being painful; there’s going to be a turn. Sometimes….
Ann: Also, Lina, there comes a point where I think a lot of listeners will resonate, “Did I hear God wrong?”
Lina: You start to second guess yourself.
Ann: Yes. You’re wondering if you’re not doing things right. You’re continually second guessing and wondering, “Where is my relationship with God?”
Lina: If you follow social media at all, the last couple of years, a lot of conversation on social media will do things—they’ll take Jeremiah 29:11. The verses talk about God giving you a hope and an expected end. You’ve got half of the Christian world that says, “You can’t apply it to yourself because this is about Israel!”
Ann: It’s out of context.
Lina: So, you’re kind of going, “Oh. I guess that’s why nothing good has happened in my life.” Then, on the other side, you have others that are like, “No! You can embrace it for yourself.” I do believe that Scripture is meant to be personal. Do we overinterpret it? Sure! Do we try to make it glossy and rosy and all about me? Of course!
I think God constantly reminds us that there’s a bigger story. And by the way, the bigger story is better than we think! Even if it means I’m still single. Our big “a ha” isn’t that you get married and live happily every after.
Ann: It’s not the bow.
Lina: That’s not it! I always tell people that when Lazarus got woke up from the dead, the story isn’t that Lazarus woke up from the dead, the story is that Jesus. Period. The story isn’t that Peter walked on water. We think that’s the story. The story is Jesus. I think this is the quote that you just read at the beginning. It’s that. We make it about me coming out of the tomb, me walking on water, me marrying happily ever after, [Laughter] my own little Hallmark® movie.
Ann: Our story. It’s His story.
Dave: Jesus is the secondary character, and it’s like, “No. He’s it.”
Lina: We say it. We say the reason is that He’s enough, He’s all. But we don’t really believe it. This was a jarring “a ha” moment for me, when I sort of wake up and realize, “Wow. I say a lot of things that I don’t really live and believe.” Ever crisis that God has allowed me to enter—and not just allowed--but led me into—I think has been an invitation into decluttering, killing the idols, and then a renewing of this passionate relationship that He wants with us—that I think exceeds every relationship here on this Earth.
Even, as I’ve had a chance to meet you. You’re so happily married, and it’s’ clear you have a deep relationship with each other. And who doesn’t want that, humanly. But I think we can have more with Jesus.
Ann: But Dave is not my hero.
Lina: That’s it.
Dave: What?! [Laughter] What are you talking about? I am your hero!
Ann: You’re my hero, but Jesus is my first hero.
Dave: I am very, very flawed.
Ann: When I made Dave my hero, I was sorely disappointed. I think everyone is, when they put anything in place of Jesus as an idol.
Lina: This is why so many marriages are not succeeding because I think you think, “If I meet the one, then everything will be fine.”
Going back to that, when I was in that season in Jacksonville, and I started teaching, that was a turning point—Hosea. I started seeing God soften my heart to His goodness, and I eventually—again, by God’s grace; this is how you know that the story’s not yours—how would I end up then, in that season, teaching a Sunday school class. That was the pivotal point. I felt God calling me to ministry, and I did not know what that would look like.
I didn’t feel God wanted me to bail on medicine, so I somehow knew I would be bivocational. It was intuitive in me. I just thought I’d do both. I’d be like Luke, you know, the guy in the Bible, the doctor. And there were others who did two things—Paul, the Apostle, and I just figured I’d do both.
Ann: Tell us about that call. What happened? How did you know?
Lina: Well, I tell you. It’s a couple of things. I think that’s a really good question. I think a lot of people are trying find out what they are supposed to be doing in life, and they assume, “Oh, you’ve been called to ministry; therefore, you have a job, and we don’t.” A job in the Kingdom, and we don’t. I think that’s so false.
Lina: First of all, I was a doctor. There was no reason to think that I’d get a “call.” All it was for me, was this. First of all, I fell in love with teaching the Bible, more than anything else I’d ever done in church. What that looked like to me was taking Scripture and creating messages that brought it to life and applied in a very understandable way. Just brought it to life; I don’t know how else to say it.
I enjoyed the process of creating a sermon, really. I was doing it in the context of a woman’s Sunday school. At the time I was dabbling with writing some newsletters. I knew I had a gift there, so you start seeing your gift. You start doing something, and you see your giftedness. To me, I knew there was maybe something in writing because I would catch all people in church reading the newsletter that I had written for the women in my 30 people Sunday school class.
I never thought about it; I didn’t think I was going to write books at the time. But I loved that moment when I would get up and teach the Bible. I wanted to do it. Now I was praying, “God….” Already I was committed to God, and I wanted to live for Him. I loved doing this! “What do you want me to do?”
It’s almost inevitable! This is my gift now, as a mature Christian who understands, “Teaching’s one of the gifts! God’s given you the gift of teaching!” It’s so evident. To me, when you’re asking God so much, “Use me, use me, use me, use me. Here I am, Lord, send me,” He’s going to show you.
So, the last 20 some years of my life have been wrestling with what that calling looks like—from writing books, to doing podcasts; even now, doing global work in the Middle East.
Ann: What’s your ministry called?
Lina: It’s called Living with Power. You can find it at livingwithpower.org. For awhile it was as a woman’s ministry director at a megachurch, which is sort of the backdrop of Fractured Faith. It’s all of those things, which have been my pursuit of teaching God’s
Word to people wherever I can in a way that brings us closer to Him and creating a space for revival.
Dave: Talk about that backdrop; you just sort of dropped it out there, [Laughter] of Fractured Faith. I love the thought of this deconstruction/reconstruction. We’ve got to get there eventually, too, but I’m sure it’s in the story.
Ann: Because in an age of deconstruction, many people are leaving the faith when they’ve experienced pain or fracture.
Lina: Yes. That word “deconstruction” is taken on its own. No one knew what that meant years ago. Now I think people don’t know for sure what that means. Deconstruction is a season where we question the goodness of God, honestly, is how I would summarize it. Basically, it’s a season where the things that have happened in your life related to Christianity and the church.
First of all, you don’t deconstruct if you’re not a Christian. That’s a premise. You are in some way related to the church and Christianity. Deconstruct, by the way, is a literary word and it was not applied to the church, but in the last, let’s say, five years, it’s become a church and Christian word. It has been applied to a situation where you used to believe certain things about God and Christianity, and you don’t anymore.
Some legitimate deconstruction is rooted in things that you shouldn’t have believed. That’s what I bring up a lot in my book. And others, I believe, where things have taken on a cultural tone that has landed people away from the faith. Then you can debate were they ever Christians or not when a person walks away to that degree from their faith.
Whether you use the word deconstruction or not, there’s a lot of Biblical content that talks about people who—even Jesus talking about the seed. There’s a seed that gets thrown in four different grounds.
All this to say, I left my fellowship convinced of a couple of things—that God wanted me to practice medicine and that God wanted me in full-time ministry. How they would work out, I didn’t know. So, when God quickly moved me away from Jacksonville into Chicago, where I still live—it’s been 22 years now I’ve been in Chicago—it was a season of my life where I wrote a lot of poetry because it comes out of angst.
Basically, I started doing what I could where I could. I always talked to people about living out their call. I’d say, “You’re not going to wake up with a big ministry. Just do what you can where you can.” To me, it did look like writing in my private room because I wanted to communicate God’s word.
Around that time, the cultural things that were happening were people had blogs—I started a blog. Then, I started looking for a local church. It took me a couple of years, but when I finally found the church, it felt like it was the best church I’d ever been at. Next things I knew I was teaching in some capacity. Next thing I knew I was the woman’s ministry director in what is now looked at as a megachurch in a movement when megachurches were on the rise. That pastor was a megafamous pastor.
Ann: Which is pretty remarkable, because you’re still an ER doctor and pediatrician.
Lina: Well, [Laughter] it’s interesting. When I looked at the ministry God has given me, and I’ve spent a lot of time questioning, because when you have another job, it’s easy to fall back on it and say, “Maybe I misheard God.” You go back to, “How do you know?” I would constantly, and I’m still tempted to go, “Maybe I’m supposed to be a doctor,” because I haven’t had the level of “success” that these other people have had. You know, success and significance in ministry is a whole other section in ministry that we can talk about in this. [Laughter]
But you are—you’re given the success sometimes if you look at horizontal ministry that you’re not successful if you’re not growing. Even that pastor in that church would say, “Healthy things grow,” so you felt bad if you weren’t growing. Healthy things grow, but healthy things hibernate. Healthy things get pruned and purged, and all this stuff.
Stepping into that, it always felt like God was confirming the ministry call by opening doors that I couldn’t open on my own. I would just walk through them, a lot of times with questions and with fears and with, “Really, God? This is it? Why don’t you do it more?” Visionaries have this problem, because we see the end results, it’s hard to slow down and allow God to shape what needs to be shaped here, personally, in my own self, before I’m able to go there.
Also, I don’t think you see yet stuff, practically, in 2002. How could I ever have imagined a world that we had a cell phone where you could do ministry in? In 2010, how could we have ever imagined a world where there were Syrian refugees in my home country of Lebanon, that God would want me to start someday. You couldn’t even write the book because you didn’t know what was going to happen. Things that only God knows.
So, how can you then judge God, because you haven’t lived those things yet? It’s like toddlers—I don’t mean it like honestly, if someone’s listening and you’re wrestling with your faith—I don’t think God says, “Oh, you’re like a little toddler.” God is so much more compassionate with us. Now I look and think my reactions to the waiting, my reactions to the disappointment, in hindsight feel like what I watch with my eight-year-old nephew, how he interacts with his mom.
Ann: Especially when you like to know the plan, and you’re a planner and you’re strategizing the future.
Dave: Here’s my question as we wrap this one. For the person listening that’s in your first fracture—which, it could be a relationship like you had; it could be some other expectation, “I thought God would, but He hasn’t.” What would you say? Just one thought for that person, right where they are right now.
Lina: “Just wait.” I hate that advice, in a way. But honestly, just wait. Don’t react; don’t run—you know, the fight or flight response is so intuitive to all of us. We want to quit the faith. Just wait. Just sit still; it’s what God told the people of Israel so often—just wait; sit still and see the victory that God’s preparing. I really believe it’s coming. The fact that you’re even listening is part of God’s working in your life right now.
Ann: One of the things I love about your story is how you didn’t pull away from God. You kept in His Word. Many times, what we can do is reject God or be mad at Him, and we will not get in the Word where it is. When I’m in the Word—I have to be because it reminds me of His faithfulness, of His goodness. But it’s also that place where God is speaking to me and I’m reminded He is loving. He is with me; He is patient. He is holy.
Dave: It is a little bit, I think, like walking in a gym when you don’t want to.
Ann and Lina: Right.
Dave: When you said that, I thought, there’s somebody listening right now who’s thinking, “I don’t want to open His Word. I’m mad; I’m hurt. I’m angry.” Open the Word even though you don’t want to and say, “God, I need to find You. I need to see You. Will You speak?” I think He’ll meet you there.
Shelby: Hi, I’m Shelby Abbot, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Lina Abujamra on FamilyLife Today. For many of us, somewhere along the way, the Christianity we knew began to crumble. Lina has communicated to us today and encouraged us that we can find our way back to God and in the process we might just discover that the real God has been waiting for us all along.
Lina Abujamra has written a book called Fractured Faith, Finding Your Way Back to God in an Age of Deconstruction. If you or a loved one are wrestling with deconstruction and questioning your faith in several ways or just minor ways, you can head over today at FamilyLifeToday.com and pick up a copy of Lina’s book. I know it will be helpful as you wrestle.
We’re down to the last three days of the month of May. This has been a super special month for us here at FamilyLife because of the matching program that a partner has generously donated to us here at FamilyLife. That means when you give a gift to FamilyLife, every gift you give is going to be matched dollar for dollar. For example, if you make a $50 donation, the donation is actually going to turn into $100. That’s only going to happen for the next three days here in the month of May.
Would your home be able to give hope to somebody who feels hopeless today? We’re looking for 350 new partners this month to join FamilyLife as a donor. Perhaps God is calling you to be one of those partners. If that’s the case, go online today to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you could give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY”.
Tomorrow, Lina Abujamra is joined again with Dave and Ann Wilson in the studio to talk about the wrestling with deconstruction at a point when she felt like God didn’t deliver for her—He actually failed her, and how she spiraled in that process. But how she also found hope. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
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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