I had heard of Rachel Held Evans for years before stumbling across a worn copy of Searching for Sunday: Loving, leaving, and finding the church at a used book sale. It gathered dust on my bookshelf before I picked it up to read months later. And HOLY MOLY. Few books have affected me the way that one did—I read it once, then read it again six months later while I watched a beloved church unravel.
For a season, Sunday mornings consisted of rereading particularly resonant passages of that book, latching onto the language Rachel used to describe emotions I couldn’t yet name. It’s still the first book I recommend to anyone who is walking through a fractured relationship with the church. My journals from that time are littered with quotes from “RHE,” small sentences that felt like life rafts at a time when I was spiritually drowning.
God spoke to me through Rachel when I couldn’t hear Him on my own, lending her words to my own grief and confusion—and ultimately guiding me back into the church.
Katelyn Beaty summed up well Rachel’s contributions to Christ-followers best, but I’ll add that for me, Rachel’s writing gave permission to much that the Church at large had not.
Rachel gave permission to struggle with the manifestation of Christ on earth. She allowed for the unresolved, the unfinished, the incomplete. Again and again, her writing affirmed that the Church is somehow equal parts exquisite and excruciating—both laborious and necessary.
Rachel gave permission for lamenting that all is not as it should be—down to her very last blog post about Lent. Her writing affirmed the depth of pain that so many have experienced at the hands of the church, while never belittling the Christ’s bride.
Rachel gave permission to be women of valor. At a time when I felt like my gender put impossible walls between me and the Church, Rachel reminded us that it is “not our roles that define us, but the integrity and bravery we bring to those roles.” In a time when “Christian female celebrities are usually known for their personal stories, not their theological belief statements,” Rachel was unapologetically knowledgeable, opinionated, and bold, though it came with great criticism from the evangelical community.
Eshet chayil to you, Rachel, and to all who your life touched.