January 4, 2023

Reconstructing My Faith with Grace Hill

Inside This Episode

When Grace Hill began attending Eric Huffman’s church back in January 2022, he had no idea how deeply she’d struggled with doubts related to Christianity for over a decade, doubts that led her to self loathing and feelings of isolation so debilitating she even experienced suicidal thoughts. This is the first time Grace shares her story with Eric.

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Announcer: Today on Maybe God we begin our series diving headfirst into the topic of deconstruction, which is the word used to describe the increasingly common process of a person dismantling their entire belief system, examining all the independent parts and pieces, and then deciding which parts to keep and which ones to throw away.

We start today with a conversation between host Eric Huffman and story church member Grace Hill. When Grace began attending Eric's church back in January of 2022 with her husband and their three children, he had no idea how deeply she had struggled with doubts related to Christianity. For over a decade, doubts that lead to self-loathing and feelings of isolation, so debilitating that she even experienced suicidal thoughts. This is part one of Eric's conversation with Grace, where he sits down for the first time to hear her story.

[00:00:51] <music>

Eric Huffman: So we're here with Grace today. Grace, thanks for joining us in the studio.

Grace Hill: Thank you for having me. x

Eric Huffman: So I'm really glad that we are finally able to do this. I've wanted to talk to you for months now, ever since I discovered some of your writings about your journey, your faith, and your questions and doubts. And I'm really excited to have this opportunity.

Grace Hill: I'm excited. Thank you guys for having me. This is really surreal. This podcast itself has just been such a huge part of my journey over the last year. And so to get to sit here and kind of chat with you and share stories today is really a gift. I'm really excited.

Eric Huffman: Well, it's a gift to me too and hopefully everybody that's listening. One thing that drew me into your story was just your background in terms of the faith you were raised with and how that really shaped you growing up. We're all shaped by our past and especially religious past, it seems like really shapes us. But talk a little bit about yours.

Grace Hill: So I grew up in a Christian home. On the outside looks like a real... probably kind of a boring story honestly. I remember when I was younger thinking... You know, I'd look at people who had these kind of lightning bolt experiences of coming to faith in their life and kind of being jealous, like, "I wish I had a story like that." Mine was just kind of, you know, the typical story arc of kids who grew up in a Christian home, wanted to follow the rules, wanted to please my parents, wanted to go to heaven. I wasn't coerced or anything. It's just kind of the typical plotline of a kid who grows up in a Christian home.

Eric Huffman: What kind of Christianity though? What flavor?

Grace Hill: I would say evangelical, a little bit of a fundamentalist flair. We actually didn't consistently attend a church body for long periods of time. We kind of hopped around a lot. My mom did read the Bible to us and do devotions and stuff with us. We were part of an Awana's Club. We did-

Eric Huffman: What's that? It's a vague memory reminder. I can't remember what it is.

Grace Hill: It's basically a club for kids to go to. You have competitions to memorize as much Scripture as you can.

Eric Huffman: Right. Yeah. I remember it now. So what part of the country were you raised in?

Grace Hill: Here in Houston?

Eric Huffman: Okay, yeah, awesome. But you didn't consistently attend church with your family, but the Bible studies and things at home were consistent.

Grace Hill: You know, I don't remember a specific Bible study, quote-unquote, I do remember kind of more organic just my mom sitting in a chair, like reading the Bible to us or reading it for herself. We grew up in that era where I don't even think we were allowed to listen to like KSBJ. It was too rocky. You know, it was like-

Eric Huffman: Wait. Like Christian radio?

Grace Hill: It was very... You know, no Disney know nothing with which is very... kind of that sort of culture of-

Eric Huffman: Yeah, that's pretty hardcore.

Grace Hill: Yeah, yeah.

Eric Huffman: That's full-blown fundamentalist.

Grace Hill: I mean, looking back now knowing what I know, yes.

Eric Huffman: So that's sort of religion, right? But did you have any kind of sense of a relationship with God at that point?

Grace Hill: When I entered high school, my sisters and I, and our family kind of did start more consistently attending this particular church. And my parents were going through a lot of hard stuff in their marriage at the time, so I don't remember them always consistently going. But once I could drive, I went consistently.

I would say, at that point, it did feel personal. I remember doing a lot of devotions on my own and journaling a lot. I've gone back and read some of that and it's really interesting to just see how childlike my faith was. In a good way, not in a... It was just pure and beautiful and unmodeled with all that was to come later in my intellectual struggles. So yeah, I would say that was kind of a smooth-sailing portion of my Christian faith. It did feel somewhat personal.

Eric Huffman: As you remember it now, did it feels good to relate to God in that way or was it like fear-driven or like...? How would you describe it?

Grace Hill: I think I know enough about myself now to know that I am kind of like a... I tend to be very compliant very... I want to follow the rules and I want to get approval. I don't know what specifically was in my head at that point. But I do know I was anxious to please God. I wanted that love. I wanted to make my parents happy. I wanted to make church leadership happy that were, you know, leading different groups that I was part of. And so I do think there was an element of I wanted to follow the rules. And those were the rules as I understood them: this is what you do when you're a good Christian.

Eric Huffman: Was there a moment in your childhood when you became a Christian, like a breakthrough...?

Grace Hill: Yeah. So like I mentioned, I was 10, I kind of came to my parents, and you know, the typical thing, kids in Christian homes do, like, "I want to accept Jesus." And I remember they immediately... it was really weird as I think back. The church we were attending at the time I remembered we somehow like it wasn't even Sunday service or anything. It was like we met up the pastor at the church, there's no one else there.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Grace Hill: Because they felt it was very urgent that I get baptized right then. And so he baptized me, and we got home and my parents were very concerned that I had not been fully immersed.

Eric Huffman: Wait, wait. So were you like sprinkled?

Grace Hill: No, I was baptized. But I don't know.

Eric Huffman: They just didn't get all of you?

Grace Hill: I just remember they we're like, "I do not think that she was completely immersed. I think he missed the top of her hair or something." So they had me get in the bathtub, and my dad baptized me again.

Eric Huffman: Wow. Like the same day?

Grace Hill: The same day. That same afternoon we got home. I think something happened in my psyche at that point of like, "Man, God must be really concerned about it being just right for my parents to be so concerned that it didn't count the first time."

Eric Huffman: Is that a sweet memory for you or is that complicated?

Grace Hill: I don't know that I have a strong emotion about it. To me now it's just a little bit emblematic of the sort of legalistic culture in which kind of my seeds of faith were sprouting.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, for good or and bad, I guess. Right. As I said earlier, we're all shaped by our upbringings. And, you know, that probably set you up in some good ways and it might have set you up for some difficult things later in life. There's nothing wrong with following the rules. There's nothing wrong with having rules to follow. You know, the Bible is full of rules. But clearly, it's not just a rulebook.

Grace Hill: Like I've heard it said before, the Christian life, it's not less than following the rules, but it's a lot more than following the rules.

Eric Huffman: Right. Yeah. The rules are like a means to a much greater end. Yeah, for sure. But like a lot of kids, you grew up within a system that maybe overvalued the rules. And that's going to have a psychological effect, especially on dutiful kids like you.

Grace Hill: Right. Well, and I think what was interesting is that everything we're talking about is kind of the soil in which my faith started to form and develop just kind of these ideas about how it all works. You know, I went through my teen years and I started college at 16. And I remember up to that point things had been really smooth and my faith. I did read about, you know, kind of some cursory exposure to other worldviews and religions, but from the safely scripted view of other Christians who are writing these apologetics books and all these things, right?

So when I got to college at 16, I remember just sitting in kind of my first sociology class, my first biology classes, and I remember one professor looking at us all and saying, "You guys are nothing but a sack of chemicals. And if anybody thinks anything different, you're a fool."

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Grace Hill: Just things like that where I had never experienced leaders, and I really looked up to leaders in my life at that point, really looked at authority as having all the answers, didn't trust my own ability to reason. So I'd always had Christian authority. But then to have this other authority with these kind of very strong opinions that were completely flying in the face of what I've been raised with, that's kind of when the trouble, if you want to call it that, started. I think everyone probably goes through it to some extent. I don't think it's unhealthy not to.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Grace Hill: I don't think anyone who goes off to college as you start to spread your wings and take on that mantle of adulthood. It's normal to have those seasons of kind of questioning or reassessing, "Why do I believe this?" or "What is it that I believe?" And kind of taking that on for yourself versus what your parents taught you.

I think that's what was starting to go on at that point. But where it kind of started entering into a dark place for me was the fact that I was doing that in a way that felt very alone. I didn't feel that I could do bring my big questions to other authority figures in my life. The one time I did, I remember sharing with a trusted adult, you know, "I have all these questions like, How do we know Christianity is true? How do we know the Bible is God's word, I mean, versus all these other religions that claim they have God's word?"

And this person kind of looked at me like I had, you know, two heads and three eyeballs and they didn't know what to say at first. And like, "Well, it's true, because the Bible says it's true. And you have to have faith. And there are things we can't know, you just have to believe."

I think that response that I got from this person is what sort of started these wheels turning in my head about, "Oh, good Christians don't ask these kinds of questions. Good Christians don't struggle with these things. They just understand and it just makes sense for them."

So I kind of shut up on the outside but inside it was kind of like this fire had been unleashed of, like, these two separate lives that were starting to take place, the one on the outside was trying to live and be a good Christian and like keep it together, stay on script, you know, I don't want to get put on a list somewhere, you know. But inside feeling really alone and feeling like, Well, but I have all these questions and I don't know where to go to get answers. I just didn't know there were these really smart people out there, like William Lane Craig and John Lennox, and all these people you could go study-

Eric Huffman: You'd never been exposed to that?

Grace Hill: No. 

Eric Huffman: I can relate to that. It's a little bit unfortunate. It's more than a little bit unfortunate that entire swaths of Christian kids are raised without knowledge of the real meaty, Christian intellectual work that's out there.

And you go to college and you're kind of fending for yourself. Like you said, you've got your family and your church leaders and then you've got these people at college, professors, that are like, you know, polar opposite. Who do you talk to for honest answers and discourse about these doubts? Because both sides of that coin are gonna give you their own biased take, right?

Grace Hill: Well, especially too if you haven't heard other Christians asking these kinds of questions. It just compounds this. It's like you build this script in your head of how it's supposed to work. And, you know, later on, I found out, well, no, a lot of other Christians had the questions that I had, but we just don't talk about it. And I don't know where this comes from. Maybe it's just the churches I was at, the culture I was raised in. I'm sure there are churches where there is a healthy culture of curiosity.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, maybe. But not a lot.

Grace Hill: And especially, I mean, I will say, just as a female, it was also really challenging because I would go to women's events and things and a lot of them are very emotion driven. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with women's events. I know God meets people there too. But for just the way my brain works, I'm wanting to sit and dive into like, Well, what hermeneutic are you using? How did you come up with this understanding of hell or whatever?"

So it's just very isolating as a female when a) already no one, in general, is like asking these questions, but specially not females. So it's kind of puts you in an awkward like, "Who am I going to talk to?

Eric Huffman: Yeah, I could imagine being at an all-women's event like the one you're sort of describing, you would easily be made to feel like you're a downer if you're not getting into the emotional stuff. And you're like, "Oh, wait, why do we feel this way? And why is this feeling evidence?"

Grace Hill: Right.

Eric Huffman: It's like you don't want to be that guy at the party and that girl at the party. So you probably just kept your mouth shut.

Grace Hill: I did. So I kind of entered this period, I like to think of as like just paralyzed ambivalence. It was like I had this life of my mind going on, it was tormenting, and then I had this exterior life. I was still going to church, you know, I'd gotten married in there. I was not vocal with my husband about any of this either.

Eric Huffman: Really?

Grace Hill: I just kept everything to myself. And as things became more and more lucid in my head of like, these are specific things I'm struggling with, I would kind of secretly start to research things maybe but I would never let anyone see me or I would never talk about it because I felt embarrassed for whatever reason. And so for 10, 12 years, went to church, went to all the Bible studies, went to all the things, really trying to hold on to my faith. I never have felt like well, "I just want to walk away from God." It's been more of like, "God, which version of you is right in all of this? Help me find the real you, not the version that people are telling me you are."

So it was a really mentally disturbing series of years. I mean, I already struggle a lot with just family genetics of depression and anxiety. And as I think is normal for people going through existential crisis, it's already normal to feel pretty depressed when the one being you're supposed to go to for comfort when you're struggling is like the very center of the issue. So I can't run to God because I'm not even sure what I think anymore.

So I really went through a lot of depression, suicidal thoughts. I remember sometimes getting ready for church in the morning and I wanted to just go sit in my closet and shut the door. I didn't want to be around people. I was like, "I just can't do this anymore but I don't know what else to do."

Eric Huffman: Was that because of your perception of them being wrong or because you were worried you were wrong for questioning?

Grace Hill: It was more, I think, brought on by the fact that like, I don't know where I fit. I think if I was to let people know what I'm struggling with, they wouldn't know what to do with me, they might-

Eric Huffman: Exclude you, right?

Grace Hill: I felt that I would be excluded. I don't think that was fair to the people in my life. I mean, I don't think any of them would have done that. I don't think I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I was just so concerned about looking like I was following rules, that I had it all together. I couldn't let myself even voice some of these things because I didn't know what would happen.

Eric Huffman: Well, it's a little bit of one of those perfect storms, right? Because you have this instinct to be the rule follower and the good girl, and then you also have this other just plethora of questions, that if you voiced them it would put the first thing at risk. You wouldn't be the good girl anymore if you've got all these expressed. Totally understand it.

Grace Hill: I mean, I remember specifically in Sunday school one day, just to give you kind of a flavor of the chaos that is my mind, there was the person leading the Sunday school giving their lesson. We were having like table breakout sessions to talk about certain questions. The question was, How do you know God loves you? You know, everyone around the table was like, "Well, because of my job and my husband, or my wife, my kids, you know, those kinds of things." And my mind just went haywire.

Eric Huffman: In that moment?

Grace Hill: In that moment. I just remember distinctly just where my mind went with that question is, what about all the orphans starving right at this moment all across the world? What about the women in brothels right now who have been trafficked or who perhaps have no other option economically to provide for their family and are having to serve as customers right now while their children are under the bed quiet because that's the only way they're going to eat that day. What about the mom who's given birth and lost her child? What about, you know, all these things going on here? How would these people know God loves them?

Eric Huffman: Did you ask those questions?

Grace Hill: No, I didn't.

Eric Huffman: Okay. That would have been...

Grace Hill:  If people meet me now, I'm just kind of like an open cannon. I try to be humble. Like, I'm not out to start trouble. But I wish back then I could have had the voice I have now to be bold with questions like, what I tell myself is that people like me with these kinds of questions in this way of thinking can be... there is value to our perspective. And it's not always something that people are going to look at you like, "Oh, there's a troublemaker. She's that..." You know, getting branded as like, "That guy," right?

There can be richness infused into conversations that may never have happened if people who have these kinds of questions don't come forward and speak and share. I think a lot of people actually do struggle with these questions.

Eric Huffman: Of course.

Grace Hill: For whatever reason, we get in these holy huddles and we just start talking jargon.

Eric Huffman: I mean, I've gotten a similar instinct, as you I've always kind of had this troublesome curiosity. Going way back, I was always the kid that asked the question that Sunday school teachers never wanted to hear. But I always tended to ask the question. There were certain settings where I wouldn't. But my context was a little different than yours. It was a little safer for me to ask questions.

But I think that I had to learn something growing older. I had to see my own flaws in that as well. My instinct to... I'm not saying this about you at all. I'm just saying my instinct to think those thoughts often led me to a sort of elitist position of like, "Y'all are wrong for feeling that way. I'm going to tell you why you're wrong."

And I've come to a point now where I can say someone who says, "I know God loves me because of how my daughter hugged me this morning, or something sweet like that," that's their lived experience. That's actually not incorrect. That it absolutely is a way that you feel the love of God. Right?

Grace Hill: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: So by asking the questions that seemed like such a challenge to that is not to erase that. It's just add to the conversation rather than just, you know, having my own way with it.

Grace Hill: Absolutely. That is something I became really convicted of the further into my intellectual crisis journey that I went was kind of how these seeds of what start as innocent "I am struggling, I feel isolated" but it can turn into kind of, like you said, an elitism. Like, "Well, no one else asks these other questions. No one else thinks of it this way." And it's like instead of saying, No, those are valid ways to feel God's love. He is in the extraordinary ordinary moments, right?

Eric Huffman: Absolutely.

Grace Hill: The small things that doesn't erase the fact that these hard issues too of how do we reconcile all these different versions of the world? When you're feeling isolated and you're feeling like, "No one gets me," it's really easy to kind of get into your own narrative of your mind. And that is damaging. It can be damaging.

Eric Huffman: And I think it's frustrating. If you're prone to anger, it can make you angry to feel unheard and maybe unsafe among your own tribe to ask the questions that are at the forefront of your mind. So it's no mystery or wonder why people that have these questions often walk away from church.

I remember reading something in one of your posts about like, "Can God even stand the sight of me?" It was almost you felt like your mind was flawed or broken for having these questions like, Can God even tolerate me?

Grace Hill: Yeah. I think I had this idea to have just, I can never be useful to God, because of the brokenness of my mind and because of the magnitude of the questions that I have and because of my feeling of paralysis and ambivalence because I can't get to the bottom of my questions. I'm drowning. I can't be useful.

So, again, I think that's really, as I look back now, where does that mindset come of, like, we have to be useful to God? Like, we have to find Him beautiful first. Not what can He do for me, what can I do for Him? This is not a transactional relationship. But I think, I guess, somehow that was part of my psyche is like, "I can't be useful so I'm just gonna give up.

Eric Huffman: Well, you were raised with that sort of transactional mentality. I mean, it's not a mystery how you got there.

Grace Hill: I remember what really was an impetus for getting out of that stagnation for me was having kids. You know, it's easy to sort of be on this trajectory of just, well, I'll figure it out someday. Someday this will make sense when it's just you. But once your offspring are at stake it just... For me, I was like, I can't continue doing this stale half-life thing now that I have kids because I've got to figure out what I'm going to teach them.

And I remember vividly, one night I was rocking my third son, he'd just been born, this was about five years ago, and I just remember... Like you know how sometimes you just hit these walls where you just like ugly cry, it's like beautiful, but ugly. I'm just like sobbing, my whole body's shaking, and I'm just crying out to God, like, "God, I want you but I don't know who you are. I'm so lost. I have all this baggage. I don't want to go to church. I don't know what version of you is right and I don't even know where to begin. I'm so depressed. I don't even want to like be here anymore. You've got to help me."

And I remember in the dark of that room rocking and just this voice in my head is like, "Well just do the work." And I'm just thinking, "what on earth does that mean? What does that have to do with anything?"

Eric Huffman: Was it a voice?

Grace Hill: No. Like in my head these words just crystallized out of kind of the fog of all these rumbling around thoughts, like, "Just do the work." And I thought about that for the next couple of days. And I really felt like it was God throwing me a bone, like, "Look, I can handle your doubts. I want you to engage with me. I can handle you. I made you, I can handle you."

I remember like a couple of weeks later, just as at that point, I really was like, "Okay, I'm not gonna hide this anymore. I'm gonna start talking to people about where I'm at and where I'm disappointed in the church and my faith and all these things.

I remember again one night, in the midst of all, waking up in the dead of night in my bed, and I just like these loud words in my head, "Trust me." This is stuff I would have rolled my eyes at, 20 years ago. Yeah, right. Sure. God, you know-

Eric Huffman: Spoke to you, yeah.

Grace Hill: I mean, I just remember vividly these words in my head out of a dead sleep. I hadn't been dreaming. This is like trust me. And I really felt invited into the journey of getting to the heart of my intellectual struggles and not being lazy anymore and hiding it. Someday I'm just... It's like, "No, make the list, do the work. I can handle it."

Eric Huffman: Make the list of?

Grace Hill: My questions.

Eric Huffman: Your questions.

Grace Hill: And it's long.

Eric Huffman: And what does it mean to do the work?

Grace Hill: So for me, it's like, you know, we have the internet, we have YouTube. Start researching. Start asking people questions when you're in a Bible study or whatever and people are talking about, you know, well, these moral rules don't apply or these still do. Why? Where do we decide which ones are sin? What things now makes our sinful behaviors versus we're culturally sinful?

You know, when Paul is talking to the women in the church in Corinthians like, "Well, women shouldn't speak or they should cover their heads, well, who decided that doesn't apply anymore?" Those kinds of things. Like just start speaking up when you have these questions, and then start researching it. You don't hide it. It's okay. So I started that. I made a list. I typed it up. I started writing out my journey to help me process it. And I started talking to my husband.

Eric Huffman: Okay. I want to talk about your husband because he's been on my mind this whole time. Because he went on this journey with you but you mentioned earlier like he wasn't really in the same frame of mind as you. So how did it affect your marriage going through the dark age and then into this space?

Grace Hill: It was really hard. As I slowly started telling him I'm struggling with these questions and I'm struggling with church, I mean, poor guy, I think he just felt blindsided. Like, "Who did I marry? This isn't what I signed up for? What are you talking about?" And in talking to him later, now that we're in healthier places—because it was really hard, it was growing pains for sure for a lot of years—He's expressed that he was scared that if you start questioning your faith and you go a different direction, what does that mean for our marriage and for fidelity to one another, all these things? Which of course, I'm thinking, "What? Why would you worry about that? You kno me." I mean, it makes sense. I think he started to panic.

So as I would start to share, and we'd have these conversations till 11:00 and 12:00 and 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. in the morning, he would just be frustrated because we're having the same conversations over and over and he doesn't understand. "I don't know why you have a problem with like the nature of why there's evil in the world or the nature of hell or how we can trust the Gospels." He didn't understand where I was coming from.

So when he would share, "Well, here's what I think," he felt like his explanations weren't good enough for me. And I think it wasn't necessarily that at that point I wasn't after like, "I need hard answers. I need someone..." It's like I need someone to just say, "It's gonna be okay. I love you. I'm for you. It's okay that you feel these things. God's big enough, and I'm big enough."

That's what I was kind of looking for. I don't think that's fair to put that expectation on your spouse because they have so much more, I mean, invested, right? It makes sense that he would feel afraid and feel like frustrated. It's like, why are we doing this at 2:00 a.m.? I have to get up in the morning and go to work." "Right, but I don't have anyone else to talk to."

Eric Huffman: I've just gotten such a kick out of Josh's just kind of wry, grin on his face when you come up after church with the list of questions and he just hangs back with the boys, you know, just like watching him and he'll stay as long as he needs to. I just think he's the sweetest guy.

Grace Hill: I think after the initial shock wore off and we hashed through some things and he finally realized like, we're married, this is what it is, we're both committed to this, this is hard, he's always been really supportive and really like... We've kind of gotten to a point now where I'll tell him, "Hey, I'm having an issue with XYZ in the Bible I just read. I don't want you to give me answers. I just want to tell you I'm struggling with this. And I just want you to say, 'Okay, I hear you.'" So it's really been just interesting to see our marriage kind of find some new, healthy dynamics of communication and working through some of this stuff.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. So if somebody's listening right now who is in love with someone who is wrapped around an ask those questions or if someone's raising a kid who is, what advice would you give them?

Grace Hill: I would tell somebody who's loving someone through this process of deconstruction to not panic. Don't meet the person with panic. That's just going to make it so much worse. And don't just jump to answers. Sometimes we need to sit in the questions.

And it can be comforting for someone in crisis in that way to just sit with someone in the questions and be told, like I said earlier, "I hear you. God is bigger than any of this. He's not surprised by these questions. It's good to ask these questions. It's good to wrestle through. And I'm here for you and I'll always be here to listen and talk. And I love you because I love you not because of what you believe. Obviously, I certainly hope you will, you know, share this faith but even if you need to go through a season of whatever that needs to look like, I still love you because I Love you, not for anything you can do for me."

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Grace Hill: So I think that's helpful for someone to hear.

Eric Huffman: Absolutely. I realize now that in my own dark night of the soul, there was... depression for me played a bigger role than I thought it did at the time. And there were times when I said I wanted answers but because of depression working on me, I didn't really want the answers. Like I liked unanswered questions because it reinforced my depression.

And when you're in the grips of that and you don't even know to what extent you're being controlled by that. It took me sort of addressing that aggressively. It's a big part of my reconversion to Christianity actually, was addressing depression. I think it's an unspoken reality for a lot of people.

Grace Hill: Yeah. Yeah. Certainly, there's probably elements of spiritual warfare at play. The longer you can stay in those pits of depression, the longer you're away from where the joy is, the longer you're paralyzed, you know, and living kind of this half-life. I remember many times too of just hearing these terrible words come in my head of like, "You are such a stupid, broken mess. You're an idiot. You will never be smart enough." And the longer you dwell in that kind of mind space, you're just being robbed, you're being enslaved. And so you have to find help and a path out.

Eric Huffman: So how do you describe the work you've done since you heard those four words?

Grace Hill: So for me, I'm the kind of person who I don't want just answers that make me feel good or that kind of confirm internal bias. I want to know what's real and true, whether or not I like it. And so when I first started this journey of researching, I was open to wherever it would lead. I was a little bit scared that "you know what, if this leads me to that there's no God, or there's this whole other version of Him that it doesn't match up with what I've believed so far, I'm going to follow that truth wherever it is." So I'm in search of truth not what I hope is true, or what other people want to tell me is true.

So when I would have certain questions, or let's say specifically about... You know, I remember one of the things, in particular, was, Well, how do we know the Gospels are reliable or that Jesus Himself even said He was God? How do we know that wasn't just legend and myth added hundreds of years later?

And I remember, as I would start researching, I would find all kinds of different scholars like Bart Ehrman, who is a New Testament scholar and he would say, "Well, they really did think that they saw Jesus resurrected but here's the reasons why that's not the case or whatever." It really helped me. It was like I wanted to read those other views because there's some part of me that's like, "I can't believe this is true unless I know all the naysayers who are way smarter than me, who don't think it's true, why do they not think it's true?"

Eric Huffman: You need to know their reasons.

Grace Hill: I need to know their reasons. So that sort of tone is what informed my research. I'm really big into debates. I have a channel I listen to and watch on YouTube called Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley. It's based out of the UK. It's great because he'll bring on scholars and really highly educated people on both sides of the equations to talk about the Bible or all kinds of conversation.

Eric Huffman: All kinds of issues.

Grace Hill: You know, looking at different religions. And he'll bring experts in both fields, and they'll get to debate each other live, real-time. And for me, that's really much more compelling than if I'm reading one book here by a Christian and then another book here by an atheist. So that has been the nature of a lot of my research—reading widely. Finding, like I said, people like William Lane Craig, John Lennox, all kinds of really, really smart, you know, N. T. Wright, Christian people who have had these questions and have researched them, and still find that the case for Christianity is, you know, and have good reasons to provide for why they think it's true.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Grace Hill: So that's been really helpful for my particular journey. And I realize, you know, not everyone needs to go that route of the intellect. You don't have to research these questions to death in order to be able to feel that you're a valid Christian. But that's just the way my mind works, what it took for me to start moving some of this ambivalence in my heart and find some of the answers I needed to feel that there was a rational basis for my belief. That it wasn't just, you know, well, the Bible's true because it says it's true. I think we're still all on our journeys.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Grace Hill: I don't think anyone is like, Okay, I'm all buttoned up now got the bow on. I mean, I think if we're being honest, like Christianity is always going to be a bit of a... It's a submission to God, but it's a fight to keep the faith. There's just a lot of forces that work against us, whether it's our own genetics, our mind, or you know, outside cultural influences. It's a battle.

Like I said, I deconstructed in the sense of like, you know, imagine taking something apart, taking out all the nuts and bolts, laying them out on the table in front of you, and then reassessing, okay, which of these am I still going to keep? I mean, that sounds bad. I don't want to put myself in the place of God. Like God, which of your pieces I'm like... It wasn't that. It was more of "Let me deconstruct all of this stuff that I think I know about God, I've been told about God, and then let me work on rebuilding that into something that makes sense for me."

Eric Huffman: Or just finding out where the pieces came from. Like, why these pieces not those pieces?

Grace Hill: Yeah. And I do remember a specific moment, I was reading the book Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace, who's a homicide detective. I do remember a specific moment of this kind of shattering of my skepticism. I'm still a skeptic at heart. But there was this moment of like, I think the resurrection really happened.

Like I remember this section in the book, he was talking about the women who had the Gospels have the women going to tell the men that they had found Him. I think it was talking about how, you know, in that culture at that time, if you're going to invent a legend, you don't have women come in tell you something important that has happened. You have a man do it. And so just little things like that.

He pointed out some details that I had never read about. And there was a lot more than that. Obviously, that's just a nugget. But I remember this moment of overwhelmed with gratitude that the Christian god exists in time and space through Jesus in a way we can investigate and we can find rational reasons for believing. And of course, there's a bridge of faith as with any belief system.

Eric Huffman: Sure. Sure.

Grace Hill: But I think a solid faith and examined faith is one in which there's a good reason to believe that this is true.

Eric Huffman: Do you hesitate anymore to identify publicly as a Christian? Like, does that give you pause?

Grace Hill: No. I identify as a Christian. I think what's hard for me is that there's still a lot of things I struggle with related to it feeling personal in the way it feels that other people describe their relationship. The nature of prayer, I'm still trying to figure out how that all works, or even like the point of it, because it's complex. And I've read extensively on some of this stuff. Like the hiddenness of God is really hard for me. Just church lingo sometimes is hard for me. Not church lingo, but like Christian lingo, where you'll hear someone was healed and then God is so good, because they were healed. But then you also know on that same day, a bunch of other Christians weren't healed and got the cancer diagnosis. I struggle with some of the ways that lingo like that is thrown around.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Grace Hill: ...because I don't feel comfortable using it. I always want to unpack, "Well, what do we mean by this?" But I think where I've settled is... there's a passage in the Chronicles of Narnia in The Silver Chair, and there's this character Puddleglum. And he says these words I'm going to share with you that kind of embody, I think, where I've landed.

He and a bunch of Narnians have gone underground to rescue the Narnian prince who has been captured by the White Witch and she's trying to convince them, "You know, you're down here in this cave, there's no Aslan, there's no sun, there's no light. There's no Narnia. All you see is what's here in front of you, this darkness, this cave and me. That's all there is."

And they've been down there for so long. and she's got this enchantment going on, and they're starting to think it might be true. And so this character Puddleglum says, "Well, suppose we have only dreamed or made up all those things, trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have? Then all I can say is that in that case, the made up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one." And he goes on to say, "I'm on Aslan side, even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia."

Then he says, "We're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for overland, not that our lives will be very long I should think. But that's small loss if the world as desolate place as you say."

And so for me that passage like embodies I think where I've landed is that I will spend the rest of my life living the questions, begging God to please show me who you are not who other people think that you are, or who people are telling me you are. But help me to seek you with a humble heart and to find you. And I think for me, too, I just find so captivating going back to the person of Jesus.

When you look at other world religions, when you even look beyond that, looking at the history of literature and our collective human consciousness captured through our folktales, and legends and fairy tales across all the world and different times and places, you find this resonance around good kings, and the good one who's fighting for the people, who's a hero for the people. And you see this obvious disdain for the bad kings who are using their subjects and creating these systems to get their own gain to get more for themselves, more control.

And to me, I find all of those myths and legends get distilled almost into this real myth in the person of Jesus, who claimed to be that good King, who not only was the maker of the universe, and in charge of all of it, but the kind of person who is not only that with that kind of authority, but who will come to your hovel and my hovel on the side of the road, and our dirt and grime and wash our feet.

I mean that image is when I'm in my dark places. I'm just like, What other story, what other religion has that kind of king? I want to be loved by that kind of love. And that kind of love makes me want to love other people that way, too. It makes me want to help other people get to that joy faster, not because I'm worried about God's going to damn them and that they're going to hell. That's not my motive when I want to talk about or share these stories. I want you not to feel alone, I want you to feel the kind of love of have a king who will wash your feet. And let me do that for you in the meantime. Let me be His hands and feet. That to me is a really captivating story.

Eric Huffman: There's nothing like it. I say that a lot but there's truly just nothing like it in the world and history is just the all-powerful being being the one on his knees or on the cross or whatever, and then calling us to emulate Him taking up our cross or getting on our knees and washing feet. It seemed to me at a certain point like I had to reconcile this contradiction in my mind.

Because one of my reasons for doubting Christianity was that the scriptures had been tinkered with for centuries, like you alluded to earlier. And yet, I had to realize if that were true, then whoever did the tinkering did the worst tinkering job ever. It's like if it really were manipulated, like the women would have been erased at the tomb, right? They would not have made the cut. Jesus would have been exalted off of his knees and onto a throne and His followers or leaders of His movement would not have been called to die on crosses.

There's something about human nature that caused us to sort of sanitize things to meet our own comfortable ends. That didn't happen with the gospel. To me, that was like evidence of, like the lack of, I guess, human nature in the written record of the New Testament itself was evidence of its truth in a way. I'm like, no one would have expected this and no one would have really wanted a king like this. But deep down, it's the king we all need. Jesus is. So I don't know. I find that, for me, to have been a real turning point when I started to learn to doubt my own doubts

Grace Hill: Right? That's exactly it, doubting your own doubts. It's like, why is it we get in these places sometimes where we're doubting these, you know, truth claims around the faith and we're giving our doubts or our skepticism like, "well, that's the final word." Bottom line is, I mean, there's no way to know 100% certain anything.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Grace Hill: So you're gonna have to put your faith in something of how it all works. And so we have to just continue on that journey, inviting the doubts and the questions when we have them, but also realize, you know, nobody who's claiming to have it all figured out is being honest, because there's so much mystery here. And we have to learn to kind of live in that in-between. Like I said, live out the questions with rationality and logic, but also understand that any worldview you're going to ascribe to is going to have a large level of mystery. We have to walk in humility every day and be considerate of the fact people do believe different things. We need to be better listeners.

Eric Huffman: Sure. I think to think about churches, it seems like there's two different polarities in churches. I mean, some churches are like, you know, your typical like First Baptist Church of whatever, which is like what you grew up with ?? like what I grew up with to a certain extent, like everybody holds the same assumptions, and then everybody knows what's true. And that's that.

And then you got to some other churches that are fringy-ier but they're their. Unitarian Universalist style churches where nothing is known, nothing is capital T or whatever, like truth. It's Just like subjectivity, to each their own. Both are fundamentalist by the way. Yeah, we call Baptist fundamentalists and Unitarians, like understanding or something. They're just different fundamentals.

And yet what we're trying to do here through the podcast and at the church, and everything, and a lot of other churches are doing this, we're not the only one, but we're trying to have a culture where we sort of hold the line on the things we believe for sure and we allow those things to illuminate the questions that we all still have rather than taking either of these extreme positions.

But why don't you just tell me and the listeners what it was when you discovered Maybe God? This isn't sort of a self-aggrandizing thing. I hesitate even to go into this. But like, what was it that you felt like you found that really felt like water in the desert?

Grace Hill: Yeah. Well, so back in that season of like, "I think I might have to walk away from the church because I feel further from God there," that was another period where I really felt God showed up for us. I remember there was this evening that my husband was not supposed to be working, but he had to go work. He had to go show a house. He's a realtor and so we had to open this house for these people. And it was supposed to be his business partner opening the house, but he went for him because his business partner couldn't be there.

Anyway, these clients were real fixated on they needed a wall, this certain size for this giant artwork that they had. And my husband was kind of intrigued. He said, "Well, what is this artwork?" And he said, "Well, it's the hands of Jesus with nails through them." And he says, "Oh, that's really interesting."

So they get to talking about religion and church and all this stuff. And they tell my husband about there's this church called The Story here in Houston and it's a place where skeptics and doubters are welcome. Because, you know, my husband had shared a little bit snippet with them of kind of our journey and kind of my quandaries.

So my husband came home and told me about The Story, and we both were just like, "What? There's like a church that recognizes the heart of the skeptic needing maybe some extra specialty, a place to belong?" So we started listening to the podcast together and kind of like binge-listened to it. And we were just blown away at the topics that were being discussed, the stories that were being shared, the questions that were being asked.

And it wasn't all done in the super tidy, like, "Okay, now, you know, it's buttoned up and we've got all the answers. It was a place to kind of marinate in some problematic issues here and there, big questions, but with hope. So it felt real and authentic.

So I remember our first Sunday we came in January. I mean, you probably remember this. I came up to you and Geo, I was crying. Because I said, I feel like I'm coming home to no home I've ever known before. And it's felt that way ever since. You know, I've found what's so unique about The Story is that there's no fear that you need to feel in asking questions. Like, you can ask your questions in small groups or come up to you after service or whoever. And it's a culture of like, "Yeah, let's talk about this. Let me share what I think." Or "That's a good question. Let me get back to you."

There's never this deer in the headlights, like, "What? We can't talk about this at church." You know, it's just a really welcome place for maybe people who aren't even a Christian yet or are thinking through things or people like me who really will probably spend the rest of our lives committed to Christ but going through seasons of deep intellectual doubt that we need to be reminded of "You're not alone. You don't have to do this alone. My faith will be strong for you while yours is weak."

Eric Huffman: Or just even sort of scarlet letters for going through those seasons. Like, a lot of times you don't go through those seasons because it's a dark time. Sometimes you go through seasons of questioning because your faith is alive. It's a deepening of your faith that's intellectually stimulating. And some of us are wired that way where that's where we really grow the most.

Grace Hill: Right. And I think, because there's so much knowledge and data coming at us all the time, there's so many opinions being thrown at us about everything, we have to be skeptical of truth claims, right? And so I think some of that mentality probably is just a healthy part of the culture and like, do assess, like, think critically about what you believe to be true.

So I think maybe now more than ever in history, it would be great to see churches recognizing the need to build a culture of healthy curiosity, so that when our young people come to Sunday school or service with questions or to their parents at home with questions, that they don't feel the only options are to either, you know, we'll keep them quiet or have to leave the church. Like there's a third option. And that is, bring us your questions. Let's talk about it. The Bible is full of questions.

Eric Huffman: That's right.

Grace Hill: The Bible is a permission slip to ask questions. It's not full of people who have all the answers. You've got great leaders of God mourning and crying out, "God, where are you? This doesn't make sense anymore. Why have you left us?" That phrase "the Bible is a permission slip to ask questions" I got from this book I've been reading A Curious Faith by Lore Wilbert, I think it is. But she had that phrase in there and it just has resonated with me so much, that we need to create a place where our young people are seeing church as a place that's safe to come with those questions, and that our Bible is giving us permission to not have it all together, bring our broken pieces, and let's pick them up together.

Eric Huffman: It's A Curious Faith by Lore Ferguson Wilbert.

Grace Hill: Yes.

Eric Huffman: If you're listening and you want to look her up, L-O-R-E Lore. Right?

Grace Hill: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: So to sort of bring this full circle, if you're sitting in that Sunday school class again today and the question comes up, how do you know that God loves you, how would you think of that question or answer it differently today?

Grace Hill: I mean, I think for me that question brings me to this bigger idea, like why is there something rather than nothing in the first place? Like God didn't have to make any of this?

Eric Huffman: That's a deep answer to the question, by the way. You know, God loves you. Why is there something rather than nothing? Let us pray

Grace Hill: Well, no. Let me unpack it a little bit. No, it just makes me think about, God gave us children and kittens and books and hot coffee and life at all. And this life is really hard. I don't know why He made it so hard. Maybe if I designed it, I would have done it different. If He gave me all the answers, I might not like them.

But the fact that any of this is here at all to me speaks of like this hunger in our hearts for this transcendent joy in which we were designed to live forever. And we can start tasting it now. You know, there's so much talk in Christian circles about getting to heaven and that's... I think, once you accept Jesus here, you're part of building the kingdom now right here on Earth. And yes, the full manifestation of that is coming but it starts now.

And we can go through the cancer and we can go through these horrible hard things together in Christian community knowing that the sadness is not the end of the story. It's not the only story. I think sometimes what happens is we think the sadness and the hard things, the evil things, that's the most true reality of life. And who says, who says that's the most true reality? I think the true reality is this joy and hunger that were designed to be in unity with this perfect God who loves us perfectly where we don't have to do anything to earn it. He just loves us because He loves us. He made us for the pure joy of it.

I think the fact we're here at all, and the joy that's possible in Christian community together and kingdom building together is how I think about the answer to "how do we know God?"

Eric Huffman: It's really interesting.  It's so funny. I totally see where you're coming from. It's just funny how it works. It always works this way. Sort of in your earlier stage in life, you sort of dismiss those simplistic answers about how other people answered the question, and then you went on this journey for like, I don't know how long, 10, 15 years of going through more complicated questions in search of some deeper truth.

And that search did bring you deeper truth, but it runs you right back to simple answers again. Which is like the fact that any... Like I get to hug my kids like, which is exactly what the people in the Sunday school class were saying, you know, 15 years ago, but you put all this thought into it. Yeah, you have all these substantive reasons to take delight in these things. That doesn't mean your original resistance to was invalid. Like when you talked about the suffering problem, like women who are prostitutes to no choice of their own and turning tricks in front of their kids under the bed and just horrific imagery, which is true, it's part of the world today.

But even that is a reaffirmation of what you've discovered in your journey because you know beyond a shadow of doubt, you are sure that's not the way those women should be living their lives. That's not the way those kids should be living. That's not the way it should be. Which means there must be a way that it should be. There must be that sort of capital S Should or what Dr. Craig would call like that great ought, the great and mighty ought. And that tells us that we have this notion of some divine justice for evil in the world we have because things must be made right. That brings us back to like just do the work.

Grace Hill: Yeah. And it's interesting you mentioned, you know, coming back to where you started that idea. I've often thought about that. Like, I am I back at the place where I started? And I think this phrase always comes to my mind of like, coming back to where you started isn't the same as never leaving.

Eric Huffman: No.

Grace Hill: Part of finding that passion again and finding your purpose in life is like you have to go through these dark seasons.

Eric Huffman: That's right.

Grace Hill: It's not something to be run from. And I think sometimes that's what's hard is our culture is like, anything hard want to run from it, you want to fix it, and get away from it. And sometimes I think God is like, "No, I'm not just good in the good seasons when things feel right. My goodness sometimes is most felt in the darkness and the hard things, don't run from them. Don't pray them away."

It's hard to, I guess, have that mindset. We don't want to be uncomfortable. But it says in the Bible, God's close to the brokenhearted. And so I think sometimes we have to learn to companion well with darkness and doubt and hard seasons instead of this is a problem to be fixed. No, this is a place to journey through and learn and grow deeper roots of the soul.

Eric Huffman: That's right. So I'm just so grateful for your particular voice, Grace. I want to encourage you and anyone else listening that's walked a similar journey to be bold, not that you need that encouragement. But I hope you will understand that these questions, this voice God's given you it's for a reason and you're not a fly in the ointment. In some ways, your perspective is the oil in itself. And I just want to encourage you to continue to put yourself out there and be fearless.

Grace Hill: Well, thank you so much for having me. And I would just want to say in closing, like, if there's anyone out there listening who is in a really dark place, if you're feeling suicidal, if you're feeling the anguish of deep existential crisis, I know how sharp and acute those feelings can be. If I could have coffee with you, give you a hug, and tell you, you know what? You're not alone. I understand. Sometimes it helps to know just one other person understands that you're not crazy. And reach out for help. Start talking. Like give yourself a voice. People have the same questions and you can be a leader in your own circles and community by starting to get the help that you need, by starting to voice the things you're struggling with. You're not alone and there's joy on the other side.

Eric Huffman: Amen. That's a good way to finish up. Thank you, Grace, for all your time today.

Grace Hill: Thanks.

Eric Huffman: Really appreciate.

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