The Death of Rachel Held Evans :: Grieving the Loss of the One who Saved My Faith

Yesterday morning I opened Twitter and doubled over in shock and grief when I read the news that Rachel Held Evans died early Saturday morning. She spent two weeks in a medically induced coma after experiencing complications from treatment for the flu, and ultimately doctors were unable to save her life . She was only 37 years old and leaves behind her husband, 3 year old son and almost 1 year old daughter. Devastating. For those who aren’t familiar with her work, Rachel Held Evans was a progressive Christian teacher and the author of four books on faith, doubt, and the Bible.  

I never had the privilege of meeting Rachel personally, and was only in the same room with her once, at the 2018 Evolving Faith conference, a gathering she co-founded. But despite only knowing her through her writing and social media presence, Rachel Held Evans profoundly impacted my life and saved my faith

Several years ago, amidst a growing political divide in the country and the church, my faith began to falter. A life-long Christian, the doubts I was having about the institution that raised me cracked the foundation of every aspect of my life, from friendship to motherhood to my place in the church. The beliefs I once considered unshakeable now seemed almost like fairy tales instead of tenets to define my life.

But mercifully, I found Rachel Held Evans. The first of her books I read was Evolving in Monkey Town {now re-titled Faith Unraveled}, which assured me that my doubts and questions were not offensive to God and were in fact a healthy part of my spiritual life. Though at times excruciatingly painful, I learned through Rachel that my faith will not survive without evolving and changing. 

Later, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church was a balm to my shattered heart that had all but given up on church. Last year, her latest book Inspired showed me how to see the Bible with fresh eyes, not as a static book of clear, straightforward rules, but as a living document full of different genres that have much to say about justice and redemption in today’s world. 

I also looked to Rachel as a mentor on how to have difficult conversations about faith and politics, especially online. As wildly popular as she was, many people vehemently disagreed with her on matters of theology and politics, often resulting in intense Twitter debates. Like Rachel, I don’t shy away from these types of conversations. She taught me how to stand my ground and defend my beliefs while at the same time respecting those who disagree with me and always remembering their humanity, even behind the computer screen. 

Rachel taught me that I can be a Christian and a feminist, and that an LGBTQ Christian is not an oxymoron, but rather a celebrated and cherished child of God. She modeled how to publicly apologize for hurtful words typed in haste or anger, and that even giants in the faith misspeak at times. She showed me through her candid tweets and blog posts that struggling with the balance of motherhood and career pursuits is normal, even for accomplished authors. She gave credit to “Mommy Bloggers”  in a blog post that always makes me smile, and regularly inspired me in my own writing. And as evidenced by the hundreds and hundreds of tweets, Facebook posts and messages on her blog, searchable by #PrayforRHE, #becauseofRHE and #SaintRachel,  Rachel impacted countless others in these same ways. I only wish she could know the enormity of her impact on so many. 

It’s a strange thing, grieving and hurting so deeply for a public figure- someone I only knew through words on a page and social media feeds. And yet, the tears continue to fall- for Rachel’s husband, children and friends, and for the rest of us- her community of doubt-filled believers who are now wondering how we will go on without her voice to lead us. We will always wonder what might have been- how many more books would she have written and how many more lives would she have impacted had she been given the decades we all needed from her life? It feels like a void that will be impossible to fill, and the unfairness of it all is crushing. 

But somehow, we will keep going. And as Rachel would say, Eshet Chyil! Women of valor! Carry On!

Thank you, Rachel Held Evans, for the profound ways you changed my life and saved my faith. I would not be able to still call myself a Christian today had it not been for your voice. The outpouring of collective grief and stories of your influence I have read since your passing is the closest thing to church I’ve felt in a long, long time. Well done, good and faithful servant. Rest in peace. 

If you would like to support Rachel’s family in a tangible, practical way, consider donating to the GoFundMe page set up to relieve their burden of medical bills and ongoing expenses.  

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  1. This was beautiful. She was an amazing influence in my life as well. I’ve been grieving all weekend as if I knew her personally. I met her once at a retreat my BFF and I went to when we heard she would be the keynote speaker. I’m so grateful for her boldness, wisdom, kindness, and love that she shared with us over the years. Eshet Chayil.

  2. Thanks for writing…. two weeks after her death, tonight I connected my need to go to sleep at 9 pm every night this past week with the realization that my fatigue stems from real grief. I never met her either, but she brought me too back to faith, after 20 years away. My family has a lovely church home because of her. On Thursday, am bringing dinner to a family dealing with a diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s …because of Rachel. I keep thinking of those words we will never hear, the thoughts that would have floored us with their insightfulness and clarity. And I grieve that they won’t be written.
    And there are so many of us- she reached deep into our hearts and souls, and there she rests still, and we grieve with memory and gratitude. Eshet Chayil. God bless her and her grieving family.


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