Friday, September 21, 2012

Getting Real

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.

8 comments:

  1. I love this. Someone very close to you in your life feels the same way and chose to go his own way. I know exactly how you feel. I've experienced getting far away from God in my life and trying to find something else to guide me, to believe in. Truth is; it's easier to believe in God because it's what I know. It's hard and time consuming to learn the traditions, policies and procedures for another religion/way of thinking. For me, it's like a placebo, when I don't have the strength to deal with what's going on or am needing hope in life, it's a way to make myself dig deeper. It's comforting to believe. But deep in my heart I don't believe. I can rationalize the shit out of anything someone tries to argue with me about religion (thanks to Danny..lol) and I surely don't believe the bible. But still I need that comfort. The thought that I do have somewhere to turn when my own willpower is shot. I want to believe like I used to, I want that connection, but I just can't seem to find it anymore. So I too, linger in the mist between wanting to believe in something I don't believe in. I agree with you that if God is real, then we will be forgiven for our doubts because luckily there is that little clause: once saved always saved and that is what I cling to as well. I hope you find what you are looking for or come to a point where you are comfortable just being where you are. You are certainly not alone.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi - you once reached out across cyberspace to me, so I thought I'd wave back a few years down the line.

    I feel the same in so many ways. One thing that interests me popped up in Joanne Harris' Chocolat as I read it today. There are no good or bad Christians, only good or bad people.

    In my heart I recognise that if we all lived as Jesus taught, the world would be amazing. Not many are living up to that, especially in churches and I feel sad.

    One of the other things that has always bothered me is that Christianity doesn't promote learning and seeking. I think a season of reading around and learning and truth seeking is never wasted.

    So I'm sat around, reading what I can, trying to make my own 'church' from serving those around me, and baring my heart and being vulnerable where I can to connect with others. I'm not doing a great job, but hearing from you like this makes me feel less alone.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am sorry that you are having this crisis of faith.

    Someone (maybe C.S. Lewis, maybe someone less significant) once said that those who get to Heaven will probably be very surprised, both at who is there, and at who is not there. The tidiest, most "together" on the outside people are not always the ones who are truly redeemed.

    Personally, I don't believe the once-saved-always-saved thing. I don't see it anywhere in the Bible, which, if you don't believe the Bible, is immaterial. But since I do believe the Bible, it makes a difference to me.

    I do believe that those chosen and foreordained by God for salvation will be saved and cannot lose their salvation. I believe that salvation is something that God grants. He has mercy on whom he will have mercy (Romans 9:16). If he has mercy on a person, that person will be saved, and not only saved, but also changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    I believe that there are a lot of people out there who think that being saved depends on what they do. From those who come from a works-based mentality to those who claim that it is only by faith, they all think it depends on them, even if it is only dependent on their choice. They pat themselves on the back for having made a good choice and look disdainfully at those who have not made the same choice.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I believe that it is only by the grace of God that I am saved. I am not any better than anyone else. Because of some mercy that goes far beyond my understanding, and even farther beyond anything I might deserve, I have been chosen. I cannot condemn those who appear not to have been chosen. I can only pray to God on their behalf, hoping that he will extend to them the grace he extended to me, that he will open their eyes to his truth in his perfect time. If they are dead in their sin, not seeing or hearing, then they are simply helpless.

    The tough part is humbling ourselves to believe that God knows everything, and is perfectly good and just, and always does the right thing, even insofar as his decisions about who gets mercy and who does not.

    I am sorry. I am probably just making you mad. I used to teach a Bible study, and it was a place where women could come and ask their messy questions. I've had a number of them come back to me and say that they appreciated that it was the one place where they could voice their doubts and deep questions without fear of condemnation.

    There are inconsistencies in the Bible, for instance, compare 2 Samuel 10:18 with 1 Chronicles 19:18. This does not, however, falter my faith. The Bible never states, "The Bible is the inerrant word of God." That is a statement made by man. The Bible does say, "Your word is truth," but that could mean something slightly different. The Bible also says, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God... the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." So the Word is Jesus and Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life..." When the Bible says, "Your word is truth," it may not mean that every single word is infallible. It may mean that Jesus is the true message from God.

    I'm just saying. And rambling. I'm sorry. I'd really like to spend some time with you, and just talk about this. There is so much I'd like to say, to apologize about for when people do dumb things in the name of Christ, to hear your pain, and let you hear some of mine, and to explain why I am a Christian anyway.

    The modern church also completely fails in how it handles the issue of suffering. We are called to suffer. We will suffer. Suffering doesn't mean that God has left us. It can't possibly mean that. And, in fact, the Bible explains that it does not. But a lot of "Christian" people are just like Job's friends and tell those who are suffering that it is clearly because they have sinned. That's unbiblical.

    I promise I will stop now. I appreciate your honesty and I can't tell you how much I long to sit down across from you and have a heart-to-heart talk.

    If you are looking for ways to increase your faith I would say, (1) ask God to reveal himself to you and (2) read about people like Corrie Ten Boom (The Hiding Place) and Mother Theresa. I have also found C.S. Lewis very helpful, but I imagine you have already read him.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yeah, I remember you telling me about that book with the donors and such. I myself have always felt the heart such a hidden beautiful thing I can not help but feel that it is the stronger and mightiest of our fleshly selves. Maybe it has something to do with the way it is worded and placed in the Bible. We are asked first to give our hearts. It's beautiful.
    This past year we had a month or so in Ephesians. Though we go(to church) less then sometimes, I heard some beautiful and interesting things being dissected in chapter 4 about laying aside the mind of the old. At the time struggling with my own fears and doubts. It's a scary thing when you question the very earth you always stood on. Anyway, it really stuck with me this year, and I found it curious that your post stirred it back within me.
    Seems to me the people with the most joy, true joy, are the real deal so to speak. If the joy meter is down Jesus isn't taking up much space.
    We heart our church. The evidence is in the people. Love begets love, joy begets joy, and when we are around those that encourage us and the full Spirit of the Lord is upon where two or more gathered you can't help but find real truth.
    It may come down to y'all needing a life change. If that's what you choose.
    Anyway, I hope y'all find a place that pushes you to think out of your comfort zones but brings knowledge and joy and all that rainbows stuff. But rainbow stuff that is real because Jesus's grace is real and beautiful.
    Hope you find some peace along your truth journey. :)
    Good share
    well written
    much love
    B

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for all your comments everyone.

    Alex, it's good to hear from you. :) I still have your kitty cat hat you knitted me, Fiona wears it all the time! I wonder if you still have the painting? I agree with you, if we all lived as Jesus asks us to, this WOULD be a great world. Whether Jesus actually is the Son of God, I do not know, but what he preaches is right, which is why I still want to raise my children as Christians. It's the best path to walk. (Saying that, all of the Christian doctrine I still find beautiful. It's just impossible to say if the details, which are the fundamentals, are actual facts.)

    Ruth, you did not make me mad at all. :) I am confused though by one thing; if you believe we are fully saved by grace alone (as do I) then how do you apply to losing your salvation? If we are saved by grace alone, how can we lose our salvation by works? I believe if we were not saved by works, we cannot lose our salvation by works either. If God has predestined us (as I believe he does) how can we possibly lose our salvation? Or maybe I'm not understanding you clearly.

    I also like your point about the Bible never claiming to be the inerrant word of God. It seems outside 'orthodoxy' to say that, but you are right; it's never stated as such by itself! Very good point to think on.

    Thanks Kristen and Rebekkah for your comments too. It's good to hear from all these different perspectives. I also appreciate the complete lack of judmentalism (is that a word?) in all the comments. :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Lori,

    I wasn't clear. What I meant was that I think there are a lot of people who assume they are saved because they did something (like saying a certain prayer, or walking up an aisle or what-have-you). They shouldn't assume that they are then saved and can never lose their salvation.

    I'm sure I am saying this very badly, but it is related to the end of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said that there are many who will say "Lord, Lord," and God will tell them, "Depart from me, I never knew you!" (Matthew 7:21-23)

    My point is that it is all God, nothing we do. So we can't say, "I was saved when I was six and said the prayer in Sunday school, so I'm covered; nothing else matters." God saves us, and when He does, He actually sends His Holy Spirit to live in us and change us. This is all throughout the New Testament, but very few churches teach it. There is no salvation apart from a life lived in faith and obedience.

    We actually left a church because I couldn't take the mindset that it was OUR job to get people saved, and the emphasis on "decisions" and no time spent on actually discipling. The thing that bothered me most was that there was not much love between the people. It was all a big competition to "reach the lost." Jesus said that all men would know we are His disciples when we show love for one another (John 13:35). However, in a lot of churches these days, it is almost considered a waste to love the saints. You are expected to put all your energy into loving the lost instead. The problem is, if that's all you ever do, what about your "body life" would ever be attractive to the lost and make them want to get connected?

    Have you ever read John Piper? His book "Desiring God," is one of the most mind-altering books I have ever read. I don't know if it would help you find your faith, but I just think it is an amazing book -- Piper presents a solid, true picture of who God is that we rarely see or consider in our churches today.

    Everybody goes through times of doubt. It is natural and (I think) unavoidable. We are believing in things we cannot see and waiting a long time for things we hope for. My son wrestles with this stuff, and we talk, and he does believe, and in the end I think his faith will be deeper for the exercise it has undergone.

    For me, when I doubt, my anchor is this: If I am wrong, and Christianity is false, I have lived a good life, trying to be unselfish and seek virtue through my belief in God, and I'll ultimately rest unconscious in the earth. That's all I have to fear. On the other hand, if I am right and those who don't believe are wrong, and Christianity is true after all, I will go to Heaven and they will go to Hell, and it will be a very bad thing for them and a very good thing for me. This is sad for them, but I don't think I want to trade my eternal destiny just because God didn't have mercy on someone I wished He had had mercy on.

    It is a difficult thing to trust God on this level. My dear grandfather was not a believer when he died. It had never entered my reckoning that he could die before he turned to the Lord, but he did. I do not know how to handle this, except to trust God and believe that He is good, as He says He is.

    Now I'm rambling. I hope I answered your eternal security question. I do believe in eternal security, but I don't think everyone who assumes he has it really has it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'll be shot straight to hell for this but if your looking to explore the 'dark' side try ex-christian.net. good place to explore

    ReplyDelete

Leave your comments here.