“If you love me, come back.” It’s not a fair way to fight, I know—but these words echo through my childhood. I was certainly loved, but in imperfect ways and by imperfect people. When I could feel choppy waters rising around me, these words were my final gasp of air before going under. They were a desperate attempt to calm the storms, or at least secure a lifeboat.
My father was verbally abusive for much of my life. I was not the intended target of his word-weapons; my mother was. As a bystander, my wounds were many. He was large and handsome and commanded respect. I was small and fragile and desirous of affection. If he held my mom’s hand or scooped me up in his arms, my world was at peace. If he lost his temper, my world trembled—but at least he had enough passion to fight. At least he thought we were worth the effort he expended in being cruel. If he walked away, my world collapsed. “If you love me, come back,” I screamed through tears, barely able to form the words. He wouldn’t even turn around.
As I said, I know it’s not fair. I know that shouting a conditional statement through tears doesn’t make it a valid one and that my father could leave us in a moment of anger (probably in an attempt to control that anger) and still love us. But in those moments, he might as well have been screaming back at me, “I don’t love you.”
My prayers bring me back to those lonely nights. Yes, I still pray sometimes to a God I don’t believe in. I guess it’s habit. I don’t really walk away from anyone, and I don’t let people walk away from me easily—relationships are worth fighting for. I wish I could find a way to put my struggle with faith into words. I wish you could see that I have been, that I am fighting for it. I wish you could hear the roaring silence after I weakly ask Him to speak to me or feel the loneliness that crowds my heart when I ask to simply feel His presence.
It was easier for me when my dad’s verbal abuse became physical (in the form of drugging my mom), because I knew it was a prison sentence that kept him from me—not abandonment. It is easier for me if God is dead or not even real, because then I am not devastated by the nothingness that follows my pleas for Him. I wouldn’t have to understand Him, if I could know that He is God. I could adore Him—even while questioning His wisdom and goodness—if I could be certain of His love.
I have at times described my loss of faith as “walking away,” but that isn’t right. I haven’t gone anywhere. I’ve just done the same thing I did when I was a little girl—I’ve stopped constantly watching the door, waiting in vain for Him to walk through it. He either does not exist, or He walked away from me. If it is the former, none of this matters. If it is the latter, I’m still here. If you love me, come back.