In my last post, I talked about wanting a “fig tree” moment with Jesus. In John chapter 1, the disciple Nathaniel speaks out loud his doubts about Jesus, and Jesus tells Nathaniel that he saw Nathaniel while he was under the fig tree. Nathaniel immediately proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God. He hadn’t yet seen the “greater things” – the miracles, the crowds of followers, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – but believed that Jesus was God for the simple, assured knowledge that Jesus knew him and saw him in that moment under the fig tree. That’s what I needed. Just one moment that would be enough to walk step-by-step in faith. In a way, that’s exactly what happened for the next few months. Little by little, I felt God speaking into my life, and now I want to share some of the ways that happened.
I’ve already talked about a few people and resources who helped me. There was Carrie and Ty, friends whose faith in the face of tragic death completely blew me away, to the point that it caused me to look deeply inward and realize that I didn’t have it.
There was Rich Mullins; I read An Arrow Pointing to Heaven and started watching his concerts on YouTube. Mullins is someone who went against the grain of his fundamentalist upbringing and the conservative religious industry in which he struggled to work and remain authentic. The simplicity of his faith and patience with himself, God, and his journey with God – where he readily admitted that he didn’t know everything – was so refreshing.
There was my friend who pointed me to The Liturgist podcast, which not only helped me be okay with the way my faith was unraveling, but made me feel like I was in community with other people who were going through the same thing.
During this time, I was involved in one of the most amazing and impactful small groups I have ever been a part of. It was a place where I could openly say such blasphemous things as, “I don’t think sin is really that big of a deal,” and, “What Jesus is saying here doesn’t make any sense,” and, “Why should I trust what Paul says about wives and husbands when he wasn’t even married?” And finally, “I’m scared of death; I’m not sure how I would feel if I was dying; I’m not sure God is good.” The amazing thing about this small group is that it contained a handful of the pastors, elders, other staff, and small group leaders at my church, and they all encouraged this level of honesty, didn’t try to talk me out of it, and graciously let me “be where I was.” A lot is said about “meeting people where they are,” but I think it rarely happens. Our instinct (or the way we’ve been cultured as Christians) is to teach and “hold accountable.” Even as I shared things in the group, I wanted someone to just give me the answers. But this group full of equipped leaders and teachers didn’t say one thing remotely close to the cliches we often hear.
God has you right where he wants you.
Jeremiah 29:11 says…
You just have to have faith.
And they didn’t try to explain away my doubts with apologetics. They just let the conversation happen. I think everyone in that group acted a lot like Jesus.
Then, the weirdest thing happened: out of the blue, I developed the practice of having a daily quiet time, for the first time in my life. I bought a little study book on Psalm 119 because I saw it on Instagram and thought it was pretty, and every day for 26 days I woke up early, read scripture, read the short devotional, and journaled my thoughts. I didn’t plan it or intend it – it just happened. I didn’t use any notes or commentaries; I didn’t look up the word meanings in their original language. I put as little effort into it as possible, and it may have been my most prolonged period of honesty with God. My responses are full of snark, questions, and objections – things that show the pride and dissatisfaction and anger in my heart, sometimes not even related to the scripture I was reading.
I still hold out hope that half of the Old Testament isn’t even true. What do these stories show me that is more valuable than the lives of innocents? I’m sorry, but You showing me that You are on my side and will win a fight for me doesn’t outweigh how I feel about believing in a Holy God who murders people left and right – who wipes out whole generations. It’s one thing if evil just happens, but the Bible is “clear” about Your hand in it. So what about genocides that happen today? How am I supposed to know what You’re “behind”? What are You up to, and why can’t You do it without making Yourself look like a dick?
Don’t let me be put to shame in my hope!
That is (I assume) all Christians’ secret cry: BE REAL! BE GOD! If You’re not, I have wasted my life and my words and all I’ve believed is worth nothing. I’d be shamed in the face of those who have provoked me – those who have found it fun to mock Christianity. Those who troll on Facebook.
Nothing I do seems worthwhile. I struggle to see significance in my day-to-day life. Why, Lord? “How long, O Lord” must my life suck?
Every time I hear something “Christian” about to come out of my mouth, I want to hold back. Because what do I know, really? And how was I ever certain?
Clearly I am not offering that studying the Bible is part of a magic formula that will get you through times of doubt. Clearly I think the Bible is confusing and full of a lot of things I don’t like. I wasn’t trying to pull my faith up by the bootstraps. I wasn’t driven to the Scriptures, searching for answers. This didn’t feel holy. It felt therapeutic.
During that time, my churched offered a Sunday school class for young adults called “Jesus 101.” And, what a coincidence, I happened to hear exactly what I needed to, every Sunday, for a month. Our pastor taught from the book of Mark, that’s central question is, “Who are you, Jesus?” In response, Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”
…Which, of course, was exactly my conversation with Jesus that had been going on for months.
And while our conversation about it still hasn’t ended, I heard some things in that class that left me in awe of Jesus. I felt uncomfortable in church, felt uncomfortable around most Christians, didn’t really like God, had no clue what I believed about heaven, felt all sorts of entitled unfairness about my life situation, yet couldn’t get enough of hearing about Jesus. Thoughts like: maybe Jesus didn’t seek out to perform miracles so much as they just leaked out of him, like when the bleeding woman touched his robe. And how he laid down every ounce of his power for the sake of a real relationship with us. And how the cross is the place where Jesus is enthroned in glory, and those sitting as his right and left in glory were the two thieves. How, to defeat evil, Jesus had to let it do its worst to him. How he brought things full circle with Peter, the betrayer, on the beach after his resurrection.
I felt like I was joining the fandom of some epic fantasy novel. The hero was so good, and the plot so complex that I could have listened to it explained to me all day and still have had more to uncover.
Then there were songs that became significant to me, and of course then went viral, so I heard them everywhere. During one particularly uncomfortable moment in a yoga class where I couldn’t relax into a pose, the song “Let it Go” by James Bay played over the speakers, and I don’t know if it was the final release of my hip muscle or the fact that I felt completely existentially lost, but I started crying when he sang,
If this is all we’re living for, why are we doing it anymore?
Jesus got real and on my level, like If you’re not going to trust me and keep pushing me away, why is this even a thing?
There’s more I could share, and probably will, but for now I just need to reiterate something. A couple weeks ago, I met with some of my favorite missionary friends, Brian and Shelly. Near the end of our time together, Shelly brought up my blog and was interested to hear about the responses I’ve gotten from people I’m close to as I experienced these times of doubt. Having been on multiple diverse mission fields, Brian and Shelly have seen a lot, and their surprised response to what I had to say reminded me how good I have it. God was so gracious to me, has been always, and I consistently fail to recognize it. Even now, though I think I’m learning and growing in general through this journey, I’m not writing this from a super humble place. I still feel quite entitled. I’m still angry at God for things he’s done – not even to me! I still feel like God is the big guy in the sky with all the resources and all the answers who chooses to be withholding. The hard thing to get over about that is that I’m right. God is that, albeit so much more, and I can’t change him. I can only try to change my attitude, meanwhile totally privileged to be covered under his grace.
Looking back, I feel like there was this comfortable bubble of security around me the whole time, without which I wouldn’t have had the bravery to ask God the questions I wanted to ask. Without that protection, I don’t know if, today, I would still be wanting to write about God on my blog. Thank you to all the people living the Jesus Way who have been in my life the past year and a half. I am privileged to have been able to let my faith unravel because of you. You are that bubble of protection, God love you. And if you are a person who needs a person to be that place, I am here and will do my best.