There is a misconception at times that faith leaders don’t experience the same feelings the rest of us do when tragic events occur, that they don’t ask questions of God or feel the same sadness, confusion and resentment that can envelop others in a crisis. Christian Evangelist Priscilla Shirer, daughter of the minister Dr. Tony Evans and an “accidental actress” as she calls herself, says that’s not the case.
“Sometimes we’ll look at people of faith or just people that we admire and we think, ‘Oh, they have access to some level of hope or some depth of faith that I don’t have access to.’ That they are, in some way, immune to the real challenges and feelings and emotional realities of just being human,” she tells ESSENCE. “Yes we have faith to cling onto, but we’re still living with our feet firmly planted on Earth.”
Shirer speaks from experience. She’s been there, wondering why things turned out as they did, feeling discouraged and disappointed and asking God to help her remove hardness from her heart following heartbreak. For her, the last couple of years have been ones of tumult. Before the pandemic, her family incurred the loss of eight loved ones. The deaths included the unexpected, like a 38-year-old cousin Shirer was especially close to having a massive heart attack. Then there was a loss she had to prepare for. At the very end of 2019, her beloved mother, Lois Evans, passed after a battle with biliary cancer. The landscape of their family would transform just months before the world would as COVID-19 spread. If that wasn’t enough, Shirer was also told a tumor was found in her lung.
Admittedly, these back-to-back life changes left her shaken—but her faith remained. She leaned into it.
“People of faith are not immune to the wrestle, the struggle, the disappointment, the questions that we are asking in the face of so much uncertainty. But what faith does is it lets you ask your questions to God without questioning God. And that’s where the anchor comes in,” she says. “That I still know God is who He said He is, I know that his character is sure. And at the same time without questioning any of that, I love that we have a God who’s gracious enough to let me ask my questions and be authentic in my humanity and express my disappointment while still trusting him through it all.”
The ability to better handle life’s rainy seasons is what Shirer and her family are aiming to help people do with their new book. She teamed up with her father and her siblings, Jonathan, Anthony and Chrystal Evans Hurst, to write Divine Disruption: Holding on to Faith When Life Breaks Your Heart, coming out on Nov. 9. For people of faith, the message they hope to convey is that you can find strength and remain encouraged by knowing that the same God with you during joyous occasions is also there when things fall apart.
“Honestly, on this side of eternity, we probably will never have clarity on the ‘why’ to all of the negative things that He allows to happen,” she says. “But still, it comes back to the bedrock of His character. We either believe He’s good and kind and faithful and sovereign and omniscient and omnipresent and with us or not. And that faith becomes an anchor for you so that you’re not just pulled away into the depths of bitterness or anger or resentment. Even though you may feel those things, they don’t take hold.”
She adds, “The enemy wants to deceive you or you want to deceive yourself, saying to yourself that [God’s] not there, that He’s forgotten me, He can’t hear me, and I’m all alone. This book is your reminder that even when stuff is tough, as it has been for all of us in these last couple of years of uncertainty that we’ve gone through, that the same God, the same faithfulness and goodness and kindness that He exhibited to you on those mountain tops is the same thing that He offers to you in the valley.”
That faith, the kind that kept her mother positive in the face of death, helped Shirer move forward in peace—and in good health. Thankfully, the tumor, though found to be cancerous adenoid carcinoma, was removed in time. She didn’t require further treatment.
“It’s actually a miracle,” she says, noting that it’s something her doctor tells her every time he sees her. “Most people die from this because it’s so slow growing that there are no symptoms until it’s too late. It’s a miracle that I’m alive because I shouldn’t have even known that it was there.” She remains healthy because she prioritizes self-care, which can be difficult as an evangelist, mom (her two sons are entering into adulthood) and wife who constantly pours into others. But she is grateful for mentors who help her keep her cup full, helping her maintain mental well-being. She also makes time for physical activity and understands the importance of saying “no.”
“I’ve pulled back a whole lot in commitments because I want to prioritize the main things. So yes, my physical body, resting, exercising, but also my family. And making sure that I say no to the things that may be good opportunities, but they’re not the greatest opportunity for this season,” she says.
She is in a much better place these days, but remains ready for what life might throw her way in the future by fortifying herself with her faith. She encourages others to do the same, particularly during good times, to help them cope when hard times do come.
“Because we live on Earth, things happen, life happens. So when you know that in advance, then you proactively guard yourself, strengthen yourself, fortify yourself with the promises of God,” she says. “Any good house is built on a firm foundation. Contractors can’t pour a foundation when it’s raining; they have to do it before the skies open up and the rain starts. This is what we have to do in our lives as well. When things are relatively smooth, which sometimes we take for granted, those are the times when we have to be immersing ourselves in the truth of God, because that’s going to be the foundation that keeps us stable when we are in a storm.”