Losing Faith in Faith

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*Author’s Note: I received a very warm email quite some time ago from a reader who said she loves reading my May-December romance stories primarily because she’s an ‘older’ woman who married a much-younger man. After contacting her and discussing it, she gave me permission to provide their ages and how they met as well as some other basic personal information. She’s 44 and he’s 27. She sent two different photos, and I will tell you she is a really attractive woman while he is a very good-looking guy.

But what caught my attention was when she told me how they met. She was a devoutly religious woman who was struggling with many personal doubts, and in particular, about ‘answered prayer’ and what is called ‘the hiddenness of God’ or why God, if He exists, goes to such lengths to avoid being ‘seen’.

Her younger husband, whom she knew as a boy, came back to her hometown after a lengthy absence with a daughter in tow. Like her, he had been a member of the same church and had even gone to a Christian college. But as a result of searching for answers to his own questions, he, in her words, ‘abandoned faith for reason’ and after many long discussions, she, too, arrived at the same conclusion.

Somewhere along the way they fell in love, got married, and she was able to adopt the daughter she’d always wanted but never had.

As with my recent story, Randi, which wasn’t about politics, this is not about religion, and it is most definitely not ‘preaching’. It’s a love story based on real-life events; events that can’t be told without explaining some of the issues this beautiful, older woman dealt with.

I hope to be able to accurately represent what happened without offending too many people who are themselves believers. If that happens, it isn’t my intent. But I can assure you she is not alone by any stretch when it comes to having a crisis of faith or the loss thereof.

This is their story. It’s been in the works for well over a year, and I finally got around to finishing it. I hope you find it enjoyable.

To ‘Ryan’ and ‘Bryce’, all the best and…keep the faith!

*****

“Come in, come in! Oh, my goodness! What a pleasant surprise!” she told him.

“It’s really good to see you again,” he replied with a nervous smile.

“And who is this precious little bundle of joy?” she asked.

The little girl clung to her daddy’s leg as the sweet, older woman knelt down and smiled at her.

“She’s very shy,” her father said. “Her name is Annabelle.”

“Can you tell me how old you are, Miss Annabelle?”

The little girl buried her face in her daddy’s jeans as he answered for his daughter.

“As I said on the phone, she just turned four. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for you agreeing to watch her for me.”

“Oh, no, I’m the one who’s grateful. I love watching children, but, as I mentioned during our brief conversation, I also need the income so…thank you.”

“I’m really sorry to learn about the divorce,” he told her.

“Me, too,” she said trying not to let the sadness show. “The divorce just became final last week, and I’m still trying to adjust to being single.”

She forced a smile then said, “Okay. Let’s go over the paperwork and you’ll be able to drop her off with me starting tomorrow morning. And it’s really good to see you again, too.”

He was Bryce Kincaid, and she was Ryan Tanner, the former wife of a man he once thought of as a kind of mentor from when he was very involved with the First Baptist Church in Renton, Washington, the town where he’d spent several of his teen years.

She’d been the most attractive woman he’d ever seen in person, and now, twelve years later, he thought she was still strikingly beautiful. Ryan was a natural strawberry blonde with just the slightest hint of red in her otherwise blonde hair. It had been shoulder length when he knew her, but she now wore it a halfway between her chin and shoulders which looked perfect for her age and the shape of her face. She could definitely still pull off long or even very-long hair, but the way she styled it now, with just a slight under-turn at the bottom and parted on the side, looked very nice on her.

He also clearly remembered those bright, blue eyes, and the very pretty face that surrounded them. He made it a point to try not to stare, but as he glanced at her every so often, he could barely see the slightest hint of any fine lines around the corners of her eyes or mouth. And yes, she was still very fit and athletic looking, just as he’d remembered her.

He never knew her exact age, but she had to be at least 35 by now or so he assumed. He had no way of knowing she almost 45, and judging by the way she looked, he certainly couldn’t tell. Then again, he didn’t much care how old she was. It was just so nice to see her again. Beyond that, she’d agreed to care for his daughter, and that made their reunion even more enjoyable.

“So you were what? Maybe thirteen when your family moved here?” she asked as she handed him a folder with the necessary forms.

“Yes. çıtır escort Thirteen. And at the time, I was so angry at my dad for moving us I barely spoke to him for a month. I’d lived in Spokane all my life, and moving anywhere else seemed like the end of the world to me. I thought I’d never make new friends and that my life was over.”

Ryan laughed politely then said, “I had a similar experience when I was fourteen when my parents moved us here. I’d just started high school and had never lived anywhere but Salem, Oregon, then suddenly I found myself in a new town, a new house, and feeling like my life was over.”

“But we do make new friends and life doesn’t end,” Bryce offered.

“Yes. That’s very true. But at that age, it often seems like the end of the world.”

“Well, the world, at least as we knew it, did end in some sense, I suppose. But no, our lives didn’t, and we made new friends and sometimes, even something wonderful happens to us. I found that out when we moved again three years later. It was even harder than the previous move, but having a father in the military means moving around. Looking back, I guess we were pretty lucky to have only moved three times in the 22 years he was in the Air Force.”

Ryan nodded then said, “From what I hear, three moves isn’t bad when many families move four, five, or even more times in that same timespan. For me, the move is one thing that I believe the Lord used to draw me to Him. I was sad, depressed, and searching for answers, and that’s when someone stopped by the house and gave me a gospel tract and invited me to attend church with them.”

Bryce didn’t say anything in response. He just smiled and let her speak. As she did, he looked at his daughter and understood exactly what she meant in terms of wanting and needing friends and the love and stability they bring. With the possible exception of his late wife, Annabelle was the best thing that had ever happened to him, and while he could no longer believe in anything beyond coincidence, he was still grateful his parents had moved when and where they did, or he’d have never met her mother nor would they have had a child together.

Ryan had always wanted a child for the entire time she’d been married, but it just wasn’t in the Lord’s plans for reasons known only to Him. Evidently, neither was staying married ‘until death do us part’ in spite of her best efforts and hopes to the contrary.

Ryan had always ‘trusted in the Lord and leaned not unto her own understanding’, but the inability to have a child had been the most difficult test of her faith in her life. At least until she learned of her husband’s infidelity with a married woman from their church; a woman who’d been her best friend for the past five years and one she’d trusted and loved like her own sister.

Ryan wasn’t a vain woman, but she knew her husband’s lover wasn’t nearly as attractive as she was, so the affair made even less sense to her as she carefully examined her life and their relationship to see what she might have done to drive him to do something so hurtful. After a thousand such self-examinations, she still had no idea why it had happened. The only thing she knew for sure was that it had. The closest thing she could find to an explanation was that the other woman was seven years younger than her and therefore ten years younger than her husband.

Even so, it still baffled her, and lately she’d given up trying to figure it out. She comforted herself by often repeating the verse, “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord.” She would just have to wait patiently for Him to show her the good in all this even though, for now at least, she could find nothing good in it at all.

Ryan smiled pleasantly then told Bryce as he sat next to her filling out the forms, “You were always so mature for your age, and now you sound like a wise philosopher or something.”

“I hardly think that’s the case, but I have done a lot of thinking and a lot of growing up these last twelve years or so.”

He smiled then said, “Having a child will do that to you.”

Ryan didn’t take his comment personally. She’d never mentioned to him how much she longed to have a child. Then again, he was only sixteen when he left, and that wasn’t something she’d share with anyone that young. In fact, the only other person she’d ever told, other than her soon-to-be ex-husband, was her mother who’d passed away two years ago after a long battle with breast cancer.

Between the affair and her inability to conceive, her faith had been sorely tested, and in her heart of hearts she couldn’t help but wonder why the God who loved her so dearly would allow her to suffer so much heartache. Again, she consoled herself with scripture by repeating, “God will never allow us to be tempted above that which we are able to bear.”

It helped, but it certainly didn’t make the her problems go away. And as she mentally ‘arm wrestled’ with herself over these growing doubts, she realized many, many people had had to demetevler escort deal with far more and much worse things than her ‘trivial’ little problems. Yet knowing that did precious little to help her resolve the growing disconnect she felt between the reality she experienced and the one the Bible and her pastor assured her was true.

Ryan found herself asking many times why that book told her, “If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it” when she’d asked for so many things that hadn’t been done. She knew all the standard answers by heart like: ‘you have to ask in faith with a pure heart’, or ‘maybe God just hasn’t answered your prayers…yet’, or how ‘His ways are higher than our ways and we can’t understand everything in this life’. Why then did those standard answers now sound more like platitudes or justifications than actual answers?

She’d asked these things dozens of times and had no better answer now than on previous occasions and once again did her best to try and let it go. And yet…the doubts wouldn’t let her go. In fact, they were growing louder and stronger by the day in spite of her fervent pleas for more faith.

As she sat there watching him check boxes and sign forms, she realized he’d grown up to be even more handsome than she thought he might be, and she’d always assumed he’d be very good looking. As a boy, he had those amazing eyes that looked almost…female…and yet were so very beautiful on a man’s face. His hair was thick and dark and his smile was as perfect as she’d remembered it. And he was also tall and fit and, well, very attractive.

Ryan knew better than to ask why a man as intelligent and handsome as he was, and who had such a beautiful little girl was single, as it was difficult to imagine any woman in her right mind leaving a man like that. Then again, what man in his right mind would have left her the way her husband had when she’d done nothing to deserve it?

Rather than ask directly, she said very pleasantly, “Tell me about yourself since you left, Bryce. Where did you go from here, and what kinds of amazing things have you done?”

He looked over at her then after a moment said, “Oh, wow. Where to start? Well, we left here when my dad was on recruiting duty and moved to Florida when he got orders to Eglin Air Force Base where we lived until he retired. I ended up going to Pensacola Christian College which is just a few miles away so I could live at home. Just paying for tuition and books put a real strain on my family. I worked part-time, too, but college, as I’m sure you know, is very expensive.”

“It is very expensive,” she agreed.

What really interested her was his having attended a Christian college. That meant he would be strongly grounded in the Word of God, and could perhaps provide some answers or at least some new perspective to her where these nagging doubts were concerned.

He went back to his forms once he realized she wasn’t going to say anything else just as she did.

“Bryce? I was wondering if we might be able to sit down sometime and discuss a few things.”

He looked up again and said, “Oh, sure. Anytime. But if you’re concerned about vaccinations or anything along those lines, Annabelle is up to date.”

“Oh, no. I’m sure everything is in order where your daughter is concerned. I’ve just been having a kind of…I don’t know…a…a crisis of faith or something. And since you went to a Christian university, I was hoping you might be able to help me make sense of the things I’m struggling with. I don’t mean to burden you, but with your background and education, any help you could provide would be a real blessing.”

He started to speak when she briefly paused, but before he could say anything, Ryan continued talking.

“I’ve talked to the pastor, of course, and I’ve shared some of this with my sister who lives in Salem, but she isn’t a Christian, and I’m hesitant to talk about these things with just anyone because people talk and then they start thinking you’re ‘falling away’ and… Anyway, I know you’re not a pastor, but I can’t help but think you might have some answers, and I could really use some lately.”

This time he not only looked over at Ryan but also set the pen down and turned toward her.

He smiled warmly then said, “Mrs. Tanner, I’m honored to think you’d consider me a source of information you might find useful in your Christian walk, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be of much help in that regard.”

Ryan couldn’t help but think he probably didn’t care to spend his time with a woman her age talking about her insecurities, and that realization stung more than she’d imagined. After all, she’d only asked as a favor and only if he was interested and had time, but he clearly wasn’t so that was that.

“Oh, I see,” she said as she tried not to let her hurt show. “I guess I was just assuming you would have been exposed to the kinds of doubts Christians have at various times like after something tragic happens and learned the answers to them. Then again, dikmen escort I can only imagine just how uninteresting it would be to sit here talking to a woman my age about things she should be able to handle on her own.”

Bryce realized she had no idea what he meant so he smiled again then as politely as he could, tried to explain.

“It isn’t that, Mrs. Tanner. Frankly? I can’t think of too many things I’d rather do than spend time talking with you, but it’s the subject matter that’s the real concern.”

Now totally confused, Ryan said, “I don’t understand.”

Bryce smiled then said, “Well, the spending time with you part stems from me having had the biggest boyhood crush on you you could ever imagine.”

Ryan also smiled and said, “On me? Oh, my goodness! I had no idea!”

“Oh, yeah. And not just me. Quite a few of us boys were secretly ‘in love’ with you, I’m afraid.”

“I’m not sure what to say to that, but I suppose ‘thank you’ is appropriate, right?” she asked not sure if smiling was any more appropriate than thanking him for what was basically an admission of lustful thoughts, but she did so out of politeness.

“You’re welcome. The truth is you were by far the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, and I have to say, you’re still just as attractive now as you were back then.”

Ryan smiled again and said, “Bryce, please. That’s such a nice thing to say, but lying is a sin.”

She hoped he knew she most teasing, although lustful thoughts were the reason she was now single again. Not her lustful thoughts, of course.

He didn’t reply so she said, “Anyway, it was a very nice thing to say to someone who was…”

She stopped talking and Bryce picked up on it.

“Betrayed?” he asked quietly.

She looked away for a moment then said, “Yes. With someone from the congregation.”

“Mrs. Tanner, I am so very sorry.”

“Thank you, Bryce. And would you mind calling me ‘Ryan’? I feel so old when you call me Mrs. Tanner, and I’m praying about whether or not to go back to my maiden name. So, please, call me Ryan.”

“Of course I don’t mind. I knew your first name, and always thought it was as beautiful as you are, but I would never use it without your permission.”

“Well, you have it,” she told him as she ‘consumed’ another compliment of the kind that never came her way anymore.

“But back to the other issue…” he said.

“Oh, right. I guess I got sidetracked on this ‘crush’ business before you could finish your thought.”

Bryce smiled again then told her, “You didn’t sidetrack me, Ryan. That was something I wanted to tell you.”

The way he said those words caused her to feel something that immediately caused her to in turn feel a sense of guilt and maybe even shame. She was so hungry for love and intimacy that any amount—in any form—that came her way—was something she drank in and relished, and yet it also seemed so very…inappropriate.

Bryce sensed her discomfort and moved on.

“The real issue is I don’t think I could offer anything that would be of help to you.”

He paused, looked right at her, then again, as politely as he could told her, “That’s because I no longer even believe God exists let alone that He interacts with us or…answers our prayers or that the Bible is God’s Word or pretty much anything I once believed.”

Ryan sat in stunned silence for several seconds before saying very quietly, “I don’t even know how to respond to that, Bryce. I’m not sure what to say or whether I should even say anything at all.”

“Having once been…inside the bubble…like you still are…I know quite well how hearing something like that must make you feel. But I want you to know I’m still the same person I’ve always been with the exception I no longer believe in God.”

Ryan had been so taken aback by this revelation that she was having trouble thinking.

After another moment of silence she said, “How can you not believe? How can someone…anyone…get to the place where they reject all of the evidence that’s all around us that proves the existence of God?”

“Well, if you’re still interested in talking with me, if I haven’t scared you away yet, I’d be happy to explain how I got there. I’ll be polite and respectful but also honest as I do, and I promise I won’t try and ‘de-convert’ you as I have no axe to grind with religion at all. It’s just that after spending most of my life in church and believing, I now realize there’s not only ‘evidence all around us’ but no evidence for the existence of God. I’m open to the possibility someone may one day present actual evidence, but having heard every possible claim made by believers, and finding every single one of them lacking, I seriously doubt that’s ever going to happen.”

“So…so you claim to know God doesn’t exist? Bryce, that takes as much faith as believing He does!”

“I don’t make that claim, Ryan. It’s a common misperception that atheists claim to know God does’t exist. Some do, yes, but most are like me. We simply don’t accept any of the claims we’ve heard offered as evidence that He does. Were I to boldly claim, ‘I know there is no God!’ then I would have what’s called ‘the burden of proof’ to demonstrate that. But I don’t make that claim. I only reject all known theistic claims that God does exist with the caveat that He might.”

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