Faith or Hell


About five years ago, God asked something dramatic of me. I had finally finished my book (Slavery and Sin). The final edits and the index were off to the publisher and I’d filed my notes away in deep storage. My slate was clean and I was ready to start a brand new book project. But every time I started to plan and to write, I felt an unexpected, enormous, overwhelming “NO!”

I had a spiritual director at the time, and the best way I found to describe the feeling to her was that the act of starting another academic book project felt like contemplating an act of adultery. What had once been my work suddenly felt like sin. God doesn’t tend to speak to me in sentences, but if I had to put what I heard in my heart from Him at that time into sentence form it would be something like, “If you do this, you will do so purely out of your own will, without Me. I am elsewhere for you. Follow Me. Now.”

So I stopped trying to write, and I asked God where I was supposed to go. I got two answers, clear as could be. One was that I would find my own deepest purpose and my salvation in raising my children. This offended me a little, but I got over it. The other was that when I did write again, and that would not be right away, I was to write in a way that served His Church.

I was an assistant professor, on the tenure track, with tenure in sight. Quitting felt like a radical thing to do, but I also felt an enormous sense of divine consolation. And then, as if I needed a nudge or a sign, the kids’ babysitter up and resigned, completely out of the blue. So I quit. That summer with the kids was blissful. I knew that I was where I should be and I was grateful to be there.

I remember thinking that I finally understood what scripture means by the “pearl of great price.” My worth was no longer in what I accomplished, in being “Dr. Oshatz,” or in what others thought of me. I belonged to God and I was His delighted, beloved daughter. For the first time in my life, I put my entire worth in the love of Christ. I wanted and needed nothing else than to live in that love all of my days.

And then, because this is how life goes, I was tempted. Or, rather, I subjected myself to temptation. Like Lot’s wife, I looked back. What would been my dream job just a few months before appeared, the job I had been waiting for and praying for years, ever since I was writing my dissertation. I reasoned that I was highly unlikely to get the job (even my dissertation advisor said I didn’t have a chance), so the best way to avoid regret would be to apply. That way, the decision wouldn’t be mine. Nice try, but God wasn’t going to let me off that easy. I got the job.

At the very moment that I got that offer, every bit of consolation left me. I couldn’t find God, couldn’t feel His Presence, and couldn’t understand what the heck all of that blessedness and calling had been about. This was my dream job, a prestigious position in a lovely town where my husband could work, just down the road from my aging mother and my sisters and my family land—what kind of idiot would I have to be not to take it? Not taking it would mean letting down my mother, my sisters, and my mentors. I’d thought that my radical yes was quitting my other job, but it wasn’t. I’d thought I’d already made my leap of faith and was safe in God’s country, hidden away from doubt and fear, but I’d been wrong. Now I was looking at a real leap of faith. I couldn’t see or feel the other side, and this jump made no sense to anyone around me. My spiritual director had just moved to Indiana.

I scoured my Bible for proof that God wouldn’t abandon me after calling me to do something. I hung on every word of my kids’ Veggie Tales videos about Moses, Joshua, and Gideon. I discovered that God has a record of testing faith by giving people who want to follow Him laughably ridiculous instructions. I was in good company.

I turned down the job. I made a serious of agonizing phone calls, disappointing a long list of people whose respect and love I craved.

I’d like to say that at that moment, the consolation returned, God caught me in His arms, and I entered into His peace and joy, but faith doesn’t work like that. (And no number of Christians claiming that they have lived in God’s presence ever since that one single moment in time when they said yes to Jesus will ever convince me otherwise.)

Blessings did follow, including my fabulous, brilliant third child, but perfect peace did not. When I don’t surrender to God on a daily basis, I am prone to horrid, depressing floods of regret.

Here’s what I’ve learned: even once you sell everything you own to buy the pearl of great price, you still have to wake up every day and decide to love that pearl. You cannot take it or your own apprehension of its worth for granted. If a few days or weeks go by and you haven’t wondered at its beauty and sat in its presence, your decision and resulting life stop making sense and you falter. You panic, reaching out for the false jewel of worldly glory. But if you do spend that time, nothing can possibly outshine the glory of that pearl! You are greatly beloved by God. His peace guards your heart and mind.

My floods of regret used to make me feel angry at God. I used to doubt. But now I think that the way things are for me is actually a beautiful gift. God has brought me to a place where to have joy and hope, I have to walk by faith. As long as I live in the love of Jesus, my days are a foretaste of heaven, but the moment I forget and return to living for my own glory, doubt and regret are there waiting to consume me. These days, there is no middle ground for me, no option of muddling through on my own merits. It’s faith or hell. But then, of course it is! What other decision is there? That’s the choice we all face, and it’s not just an ultimate choice, it’s a daily one. How amazing it is that we manage to forget that, and how loving God is to remind us.

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  1. Rich Barnes says:

    A beautiful article. Taking up a cross and following him is accepting in faith that the suffering of our losses will be redeemed. That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer the sense of loss. It means he transforms the losses into the foundation of a new and everlasting identity, like the wounds in his hands and side, which were transformed, not effaced.

    • Valerie French Edwards says:

      Thank you Molly for sharing your heart. I’ve known of HIS love since I was a young girl, but unfortunately I spent a lot of years with an off again on again attitude toward HIM. HIS love never gave up. Your right, faith is always the way to go. Day by day trusting that HE definitely has our good in mind no matter how difficult it might seem at the time. Praying that GOD will surely bless your every step.

    • says:

      Beautiful! I love what you say about how he transforms the losses. So true. A sense of loss doesn’t mean that we have lost the way or that we aren’t holy enough. The enemy wants us to run from all regret, loss, or suffering; to hide it, deny it, or feel shame about it, but Christ wants to use it to open more space in our being for Him to fill.

  2. Dear Mollie, you are my favorite Christian mom blogger…well…my favorite blogger, no modifiers needed! I love what you write…you say the things I think…you say them beautifully. Thanks for heeding the call!! Katie

  3. says:

    Dear Katie,
    Wow, what lovely praise. Thank YOU for your amazing, truth-telling work, and for heeding the call! -Molly

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