Early this past Saturday morning, one of my writing heroes passed away at the premature age of 37, leaving behind a husband and two very young children. I was shocked. Saddened. Heartbroken. Speechless. We were busy over the weekend, so I didn’t really have time to process it. But now I sit with her books spread before me, weeping, thankful for her words and what she gave to me. I couldn’t let this tragic event pass by without acknowledging what her writing meant to me.
I discovered Rachel Held Evans’ writing at a time when I was lost, confused, and questioning. I was a believer, but my faith had been deconstructed due to various life circumstances. I taught a message several years ago on the Proverbs 31 Woman, inspired by the fact that I was always deeply unsatisfied and ashamed after every message I had heard preached about this infamous Bible superhero, knowing full well these were standards I could never live up to. Afterwards, I discovered and read Rachel’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood, her attempt to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for an entire year, and it was as if I were reading (a much better, more thorough, and intellectual presentation of course) a very similar message to the one that I taught in book form. She got me. We thought the same. As a woman in the church for 20 plus years, I finally felt understood. Like I wasn’t alone.
She was a fellow questioner, wrestler, and thinker. She was a self-described “doubt-filled believer.” She wasn’t afraid to tackle controversial or difficult subjects with courage and gusto. In a time when I almost walked away from my faith completely, Rachel gave me permission to think freely. She made me feel like it was ok to wrestle with these doubts of mine, and that I wasn’t the only one. Her books, while her detractors accuse her of steering people away from God, kept me going, kept me from turning my back on church, resolving within myself to give it one more chance. Her books told me that God’s Love was big enough to handle me and my difficult emotions and questions. That he was patient, loving, and kind enough to handle ME in all my flaws and too muchness. Instead of calling for her readers to abandon God or church, she challenged us to stay and wrestle, changing these institutions from within. Strong willed women like us often have a difficult time finding their place and their purpose in church. Rachel showed me the importance of never giving up trying. For that I will be forever grateful.
For those of us who don’t quite fit in anywhere. For those of us who feel like outcasts. For those of us who have been told that we are too much. Too difficult. Too emotional. Too stubborn. Too…whatever. Our faith walk can be lonely at times. Church can sometimes be painful, instead of the hospital that it was meant to be, and the medicine it was meant to provide, because it’s filled with human beings. Rachel’s books taught me to keep pressing on, pressing in, fighting for my faith, and I am so glad that I did.
I am not sure that we landed on the same sides of arguments in all things, but something tells me that Rachel would have been totally okay with that. I found love, Grace, peace, and forgiveness once again, in the arms of Jesus and happily, once again in church. God used her writing to drive me deeper into His arms. Well done, Woman of Valor. Eshet Chayil. #becauseofRHE
“This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.” —Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans