Getting real is a pretty scary thing. Getting real on the internet is just plain ludicrous.
Getting real in front of anybody means opening yourself up for judgment, criticism, pity, unwanted advice and remarks, changed impressions and possibly isolation and desertion. Some people will appreciate you getting real; some will leave you for it.
I haven't gotten real on this blog in a long time. It's because what's real isn't pretty. It isn't what I want to expose about myself. I don't want people talking about me or talking to me about it or giving me their opinions or thinking of me differently. I don't want people's sympathy or false charity.
But on the other hand, there must be tons of people out there who are afraid to get real because they feel isolated inside and don't realise there are others feeling the same way, because no one else is getting real either. So maybe if I get real, I can speak to someone else who needs to know they are not alone.
People are always telling me I should write a book. These people are probably just really nice people who like to read my blog, so I never really take it seriously. (Besides, I have written a book, but no one is buying it!) The truth is, I may be a good writer (or maybe not) but to be a great writer, you HAVE to get real.
To grow, you have to get real. You have to confront yourself and the weakest, most vulnerable corners and nooks of your soul and shine the light on them. Seriously, who wants to do that?
I've confronted my dark shadows. I've admitted them to myself and to one or two of the closest, most trusted people in my life. But until I have aired them in the open, they will remain dark and scary. Like wet clothes, they will remain damp, mouldy and foul until they have been hung on the washing line, have flapped in the sunlight. And then those clothes can wrap people in their warmth and comfort; but not if they are lying damp in the darkness. There they cannot help anyone, or me.
I don't know if I'm still a Christian.
For well over a year now I've been struggling with a rapid unraveling of my lifelong held faith in God. I'm not talking about little niggling doubts. I am talking about full-on disbelief. It started a while back when a Christian sect proclaimed that it was about to be the end of the world. They all prepared for the Second Coming and then, surprise surprise, it did not come. I felt so sorry for those people, and also felt a bit smug. I mean seriously?
Then I read a blog article, I don't even know how I came across it, that said all Christians were just as foolish, for while they didn't claim to know the exact day the Second Coming would occur, they still believed it would. It hit me like a lightning bolt. We really are stupid.
Jesus told his disciples their generation surely would not pass before the Son of Man returns (Matthew 24:34, among others). Yet their generation did pass, as did many, many more. Why are we still holding onto the belief that he is coming back?
The glib answers about 'this generation' meaning x, y or z did not answer it for me, and very, very quickly, my entire faith began to crumble. I remember distinctly working a shift at Blockbuster that day and having the heaviest heart because everything I ever believed was fast slipping through my fingers like running water. I came home and told Scott. We talked for ages and ages about it that night, and have been talking since.
That year was a classic year for such an unraveling to occur. Textbook even. People will tell me that it is because of what happened that year that my faith 'faltered'. The truth is, those things didn't cause my doubts, but they proved them. That was the year I lost a huge group of friends and endured painful betrayal, triggered by the death of another friend and her baby boy. That was the year my beautiful niece was born with Down's Syndrome unexpectedly. That was the year both of my parents remarried. (And the fact that they divorced in the first place had already ripped the foundation right out from under me a couple of years earlier.) These things were not what made me doubt God's existence, but they did help put me in a frame of mind that was already weakened and burdened with doubt.
I was hungry and desperate for some kind of sign from God, something to keep me going with him, because I wasn't ready to give up. Yet everything around me screamed otherwise. Christian people all around me were two-faced, back-biting, petty, callous, self-righteous, hypocritical, surfacy, mean, out to get one another, fake. If the Holy Spirit really dwells in us, where is the evidence? Where is this 'fruit' of the Spirit we are supposed to have? I could list on one hand how many Christians in my life actually exuded the fruit of the Spirit in their everyday lives. In no way am I claiming to be any different either. I can be a terrible person.
I continued to pray, almost invariably beginning with, "God, if you are even real..." Most nights I spent praying to the ceiling, but I didn't want to give up.
The Bible teaches plainly that once you have been saved through faith in Christ, no one or no thing can separate you from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39, among others!) The only consolation I had, and have, is that if God of the Bible is real, if Jesus of the Bible is real, then I cannot be lost. Not even my lack of faith can separate me from the love of God. If it is real. This truth (if the Bible is true) is what has freed me to acknowledge fully and truthfully to myself that I do not know if I believe anymore. Because if it is true, then I MUST search for the truth as honestly as I can to find my way back home. If it isn't true, then what is lost by my searching?
I started looking for other churches who could help fill my need for truth. All I found was more and more not to believe in. From the happy-clappy charismatics that believe anything and everything, to the Sunday-only church goers who believe nothing, I found no help. I found myself getting angry at sermons preaching condemnation and our unacceptable sacrifices to God. Maybe these hard hitting challenges were meant for someone, but they weren't meant for me. More than ever I just needed assured that the pit I am living in is okay, that God can meet me there too. But this is not a popular message preached. My own church did nothing for me either. Every Sunday message was the same glib 'God is love. God is a pink and fluffy cloud in the sky who loves you, amen'. There was nothing to sink my teeth into, not to mention a safe haven where I could be totally honest about where I am. I was too afraid of the repercussions and the whispers.
I searched the internet. I found all the useless Christian-speak annoying and stupid. I tired of the way Christians talk to one another, like we are from a different hemisphere with a language all our own. (I recognise all groups of people have their own jargon, from online geeks to doctors to high schoolers at the mall. But it's still annoying.) I revisited my old online haunt Christian Guitar Resources (oddly, despite being set up for guitar tabs, it had a very active and intelligent theology forum, which I hoped still existed). Surprisingly, one of the top threads was entitled 'Why I am not a (very good) Christian'. A guy who had been a regular on the board years ago when I was a regular too had written the post, and nearly all that he said echoed what I myself was (and is) experiencing. It felt so good to be in company with someone else. Many of the responses to his post were the same well-meaning but naive responses I expected, like 'Have you tried reading your Bible?' (but what if we don't believe it is true?) or 'You need to pray about this' (but what if there is no God?) or 'Do you go to church?' (yes, and you should see how people treat each other there). But there were a few responses that spoke to me deeply and have kept me going. In particular, I'll share the premise of the one that I cling to dearly as my only hope as I feel all my support and foundation of the faith that I built my life upon crumble continually.
This guy described three stages of the Christian's journey of faith. The first stage is faith in God because of what we see. This includes evidence in our own lives or the lives of others around us. It includes any sort of 'salvic moment' we may have experienced. We believe in God because we feel him or 'see' him. As this faith matures, it becomes about what the Bible teaches. We begin to distinguish that what we feel and what the Bible teaches are often not the same, and we must rely on the Bible only as our foundation for faith.
Here is where most people live the rest of their lives (if they ever even get to this stage; many people live in the feelings stage forever). But, he said, there is a third stage. This is when we go beyond believing in God because of what we feel and beyond believing because the Bible tells us so. This is when we believe solely because we can't live without it. In the face of all the evidence stacked against it, in the face of virtually no reason to believe it, we believe anyway out of pure, blind faith. Pure, blind, baseless faith.
I have looked into other things outside of Christianity to help define and shape this fork in the road I am facing. General 'spirituality', etc. Before all this, I'd have never looked into it, because I would've automatically discounted it as false. But with an open and searching mind, I began reading. Much of what I came across struck me as true in some sense or another. I could never shake the feeling that without Jesus, it was all missing the crucial link, but it never stops occurring to me that this is because the idea of Jesus is so deeply ingrained in me I can never forget it. True or not, it's ingrained deep in my psyche. Which leads me to the utmost stumbling block to my faith in God - the psyche.
We are all aware that the brain is a powerful thing. But do we realise just how powerful? We can convince ourselves of anything. ANYTHING. We can heal ourselves from disease by the power of the mind. We can be plunged into a tub of ice and feel nothing by the power of our minds. We can be 'slain in the Spirit' or 'speak in tongues' by the power of our minds. We can believe in God by the power of our minds. Do you see why I now find it so hard to believe that what I always believed was not just all in my head?
I read several books about organ transplant recipients. It sounds like I'm about to go off on a tangent, but stay with me. These people (mostly heart transplant recipients) told their stories of discovering new tastes and preferences, using words they'd never used before, having dreams of their donors with facts that they couldn't possibly have known (and discovering these facts were indeed true) and many other things that cause one to wonder if there is something in the organ itself that is passed from donor to recipient greater than just bodily function. Most scientific-types will find this ridiculous (my husband included!), but the premise was that perhaps there is a 'heart code', a cellular energy or memory that is carried in the heart. Okay, okay, it sounds stupid and utterly unbelievable, I know. But one point from that book in particular (The Heart's Code by Paul Pearsall) stood out to me. Every religious group, and even non-religious people, refer to the heart as the centre of their being. We feel things in our hearts, we love or hate with all our hearts, we know in our hearts, we believe in our hearts. Yet our minds are stronger than our hearts and dictate what we do with our feelings and beliefs. Our minds dominate and manipulate everything, including our hearts. But what if our hearts really have something to say? The weaker organ that we cannot live without submits to the stronger organ we also cannot live without, but what if we tried listening to our hearts? Could there be something real to that?
This is where I am right now. My mind tells me not to believe. My heart tells me to believe. My heart wants to believe and needs to believe. My mind does not believe, but it kinda wants to, as well. I will not ignore my misgivings or my very rational reasons to not believe, but I am not ready to give into them entirely. If I have to go the rest of my life like this, I will. And if there is a God, I think he will honour this. I will not listen to people say that my disbelief is displeasing to God or is unacceptable to God. Maybe it is, but if he is the God I think he is (the God the New Testament makes him out to be), he is putting me here for a reason and will not cast me out for my disbelief. In fact, he is loving me and holding on to me regardless of my lack of faith. If he wanted me to believe automatically, he could make me do so. He has not done so, so I am here for a reason. Whether it be to discover the truth is elsewhere or whether it is for me to press on indefinitely by blind faith alone, I am meant to be right here, as uncomfortable as it is.
I do not know if I believe in Jesus of the Bible or God of the Bible. I know that I want to believe, and I know that is foolish. I know it is laughable to want to believe something in which all the evidence is stacked against. I also know that to deny either side of my current experience would only prolong it and would only be a farce. I may stop believing altogether, I may go on forever in this agonising half-way house or I may have a complete regeneration of faith. Whatever happens, I'm ready to be honest about it. To my family, to my friends, to the nay-sayers who will gloat over me, to everyone, because I am getting real, and we all have to get real at some point or else we go on living in a blur.
My husband and I have left our church. We have left mainly because it does not feed us spiritually or theologically. There is nothing there for us, no deep, sound teaching for us to bite hard into. We have also left, because we have had enough of the un-Christian attitudes and actions of people who are supposed to love Jesus. No one is perfect (me especially!) but the church politics are doing nothing but souring Christianity for me. I hope to find another church for my kids' sake, but for the time being, I am searching for the truth on my own and hope I will be supported by those people around me who both do and don't share my Christian roots. I hope that God will find me in this mess. I feel like Peter when Jesus asked his disciples if they too were going to leave him. "To whom shall we go?" (John 6:68)
I don't know where else to go if not to God... but I don't think he needs another pretender, so here I am. The real, confused me.