An Ode to Breaking
This piece was written by Seanna Wong. Read her bio.
I was raised in a Covenant church in Miami, Florida - Kingdom Covenant. My mother began going to Kingdom when I wasn’t yet a year old. She says that a member of the church knocked on our front door one day, as she held me in arm, and asked if she had a “church home”. Soon she became a visitor, a faithful member, joined the choir, and later became a minister of the Gospel.
My life was comfortably etched in the stone walls of my church. I recall staring at the figures of angels and a shimmering and coming Jesus in the stained glass of the windows. I can feel the carpet under my bare feet in praise dance rehearsals. I can taste the sweet and tangy flavors of church bake sales. I can feel the hot heat of Summer Youth Jams, the exhaustion of having to wake up for Sunday school, and the anxiety of rifling through youth group social dynamics I could not yet name.
There were infamous “shut ins” where rambunctious twelve through sixteen year olds would write letters to their future selves and learn to think of God as more than a figure in a story that was vengeful or jealous, but as a person that just wants to get to know them. We’d eat too many sweets and rival over who seemed the holiest and who didn’t want to be seen at all. We’d spiritualize our everyday and say we wanted to be “Jesus Freaks” who taught by example. We were young and eager to know more about this God our parents fawned over, testified was good to them, and wept at the alter for and to. I wanted so badly to understand how powerful the Holy Spirit was that one would set aside a prayer closet just to have a space and time alone with him, the Father, and the Son. I played church at home and pretended to pastor at a makeshift podium in my room, attempting to mimic experience just as children play house.
I believed I was Christian when I decided to come to North Park. I called myself that when I drove over a thousand miles from Miami to Chicago in a minivan with my family and all of my belongings. The word ‘Christian’ was under the religion section on my Facebook profile when I arrived in the city on a rainy and overcast afternoon, but I hadn’t yet really known God. I’d been introduced, helped, prayed over, and forgiven, but I hadn’t taken the time to know him and learn his voice outside of what I knew and what was comfortable. Yet, I’d like to think that my move, my growing up, and my coming to North Park provided, in some of the roughest ways, the opportunity for me to get to know God outside of my own comfort zone.
I had a tumultuous first two years, the content of which gave inspiration for my first TEDx presentation and what shed light on a recent sermon I gave. I was brought to a breaking point on North Park’s campus where I can recall yelling out to God, “How could you? Forsake me, leave me, and forget me. Bring me to a place where I feel Black and alone, stupid, silenced, and ignored?”. I heard myself yelling at a God I could neither see nor hear but still believed in, asking how he could call himself good and merciful, when I felt all grace had left me. I shouted to a ceiling that just stared back, wondering where God was in all of the mess and turmoil and confusion. That was a personal low. Consumed with anger for a figure I respected all of my childhood and late to mid-adolescence, I thought back on a church that must have lied to me. Memories that looked and felt different as I wept most days not testifying to the goodness of Christ, but instead mourning what felt like his absence. In those first two years I was silently and later visibly drowning in depression to the point where I wanted not to see above the waves, as I already felt too submerged to be rescued until I reached for the hand of Christ that somehow seemed to be stretched out all along.
I formerly would have said that North Park broke me when in actuality God broke me, which I later realized was done only to put me back together, this time, changed.
The Christian story commonly stops there with the motif of brokenness once or twice followed by a change that prompts a jaunt towards a new and marvelous life, trouble and hindrance free. But the truth is that I am consistently and continuously broken. My ideals of what church, family, friendship, the Gospel, following Christ, and what being a Christian mean are in constant flux. I no longer yell at ceilings projecting all of my anger to God, but more often than not I do weep and ask why the journey is so weary. Time after time I forget that the hand of God is stretched out. Too quickly I discount myself as a work in progress and oftentimes disremember that God is always molding and shaping me as a pot of clay. He sometimes starts over again, pulling down the walls of my life that I’ve clung to and idealized, causing me to cry out “How could you crumble me?”, without seeing that he is making something new and better out of what needs mending.
My own story does not have a ribbon on it signifying completion. Instead it bears a loading screen that sometimes streams uninhibited and other times is painfully buffering. I cannot emphasize enough that the molding of self never stops with God. The idea may seem tiresome but when we trust that we are broken, moved, shattered, molded for our own betterment it makes the fact a bit easier to swallow.
Two years ago I would not have been thankful for shattered ideals of who God is and what he does, but I can now say that I am gratefully broken, unfinished and welcome that truth, and although the journey has been weary, the hand of God is always stretched and waiting for me.
We were promised a God who would walk with us as we exited comfort zones. The same God that stretched out a hand to Ruth, and Esther, and Moses when faced with situations that called them to ask why the great potter seemed to be tearing all which was constructed in comfortability and familiarity, stretches a hand to us. A God who hears our yells and cries and instead of punishing us, he just listens. My hope, as strange as it sounds, is that my story which is constantly etched and re-etched into the walls of my home church, of my life, and in the hands of God, is to be gracefully broken and consistently changed in ways unimaginable.
More of Seanna speaking on God, Christian life, and comfort zones can be heard here.