I have been wandering through the maze of faith and doubt this year like never before. Life has progressed in such a way that I feel the need to toss overboard nearly every theological bent that's been ingrained into me over the past 5+ year of intense Biblical discipleship and training. I believe that this is precisely the purpose of trials in our human existence. Hardships lead us to have decide what is truth, what is important, and what we most value. Pain strips us humans of everything. And it leaves us with a desperate ache to stake our lives into what will hold, stabilize, and support. Unfortunately, many times, it can lead the human heart to toss everything overboard...even eternal, universal truths. As for me, I do not feel shaken in regards to salvation by and through Christ alone, the Cross, and the ultimate, eternal purposes of God. To be honest, it's all that I am left with in the harsh realities that I have been awakened to. That's very good, very comforting, is it not? Yes and no. By nature, I am able to live with conceptual knowledge. I can live in my mind, my daydreams, ideas, and possibilities. None of it ever has to be tangible or immediately gratifying to my five senses. I just "get it" and I've been okay with it being untouchable. The Gospel in its fullness is very easy for me to grasp and give full mental assent to. And it's not merely cold mental assent. I can feel inflamed by knowledge. It moves me and I seek to own it beyond just agreeing to the facts. I have long pursued to connect my heart and mind in my most basic beliefs. But something funny happens with my usual way of thinking, feeling, and living when I experience heat and pressure in circumstances. I fall apart. Concepts, ideas, and possibilities don't hold anything for me. I need something to physically grasp, something that touches me with an experience that is all-surrounding and tangible to my five senses. Heat and pressure are known to reveal, to strip away, to make known what is true. It might be easy, as humans being afraid of that level of vulnerability, to pick up the scorched shreds of our existence and continue walking on as if we truly are okay, as if our whole world didn't just explode. But as much as I would like to be, I have never been very good at pretending or hiding...
This past week, as I was purging items in my home, I decided to be more selective about what books I own in my collection. I love books, but let's be honest...am I really going to re-read all the books that I have read over the years? Not really. I could always make a trip to the local library if I really needed to read a classic again. Thus, I've made a note to keep the books that have truly touched my heart at many different seasons of my life, those books that can travel with me through all my personal changes and never grow old or under-valued. In my mind, that is what makes a book worthy of keeping. I have lots of fun, insightful, and sweet non-fiction/fiction/historical/christian living/theological/natural health selections that have been great. But many of them don't stand the test of time for me. So, out with them! As I have sifted through each selection, I have come across a few books that I never read but always meant to. One of those selections is Practicing His Presence by Brother Lawrence, a short read of personal writings by Brother Lawrence (brother of the Carmelite monastery in the 1600s) and Frank Laubach (modern missionary and mystic writer of the 1930s). I concluded that it probably wouldn't stand the test of time in my collection, but I thought I should at least read it before giving it away. Each night before bed this week, I read a few chapters until I completed it. I turned the wheels of mind, produced many questions, and pricked my heart. Both men were wholly devoted and given to God. It is admirable. Four years prior, I probably would have been so intensely inspired by this book that it would have thrown me into feverish thoughts of how much more I ought to love and pursue my Lord. This time, my heart is sensitive to its impassioned words and pious thoughts. Rather than drawing me in, it turns me away. It tires me as I have to think about pursuing God, keeping Him near in my thoughts, and keeping up with an attitude and thought-life that models selflessness. Both Lawrence and Laubach wrote of the resounding peace and joy that filled their hearts and their everyday life experiences because of God always being on their mind and on their lips. It's not like they are advocating a works-based salvation. They constantly lend full credit and gratitude to the Lord doing the work in them and producing the fruit of the Spirit in them. They genuinely loved God and truly did not desire many of the normal, earthly pleasures or experiences. With full hearts, they ran after Him. That sounds so dear, so admirable, so spiritual. It's a sweet thing that they lived such a life. However, for the past five years of my life, I have burned myself up with passion to just know that kind of life every single day, with consistency, and increasing in zeal. I never doubted that I was ever exempt from suffering. I only resolved to be thrown head along into devotion to God even through the pain.
But something changed.
It's a confession that I still feel shame in revealing. It has exposed my pride to the depths.
Oh, how I wanted it - that Christianity that is high, almighty, ever-triumphant, ever-victorious, ever- increasing in holiness, purity, devotion, faith, and selflessness! I never felt "forced" by religious mindsets or works to pursue it. No, precisely the opposite! From the fullness of my heart, I desired that! And I wanted my relationship with God abounding in intimacy, peace, and joy. Always, I wanted to surrender everything, the wholeness of my being, to Him and be totally swallowed up in Him!
It was as if the heavens shut me out from all this. It was as if God Himself might have been mocking me, laughing at my impassioned heart obsessed with all things holy when I am really just a silly girl living in a raw and disappointing carnal world. That's when I experienced the present reality of pain and loss which feels increasingly more real than all that Christian fluff. That's when I gave up all those lovely desires of God Himself and told Him that if He wanted me, He'd have to come down to my level and bring me up to those sacred, untouchable things of heaven.
What happens when a genuine believer no longer seeks Christ?
No longer prayers?
No long reads Scripture?
No longer worships Him?
No longer even responds to or receives anything of Christ?
And is no longer associated with a local church, a ministry, a fellowship group, or any community aspect of the faith?
What happens when a genuine believer actually finds themselves on the outside, unable to relate, fellowship, or agree with any denomination, theological circle, or group found in modern Christianity?
I ask these questions because these are real questions springing from real battles that many Christians face. I ask these questions because I am that Christian. I have had to ask those questions every day for many months. I've sat and wallowed in tears because the answers don't come easily.
All my previous discipling and theological training would tell me that I am surrendering to my flesh. It would tell me that I am sinning and rebellious and complacent and selfish. In fact, I would not deny any of these things. Objectively speaking, this is true of me. If this meant that I need to go to a special boot-camp or jail, well I'd gladly turn myself in! But I have never felt the need to hide it from God, considering the fact that He is already aware of my heart. In fact, I have thrown it in His face. He's tough; He can take it. I wanted everything that was pure, good, holy, Scriptural, and of-Him and what did I get it? None of it. All I have been given is disappointment, disillusionment, exhaustion, loss, and pain.
So, I have wasted away days not pursing Him, not responding, and not receiving.
Is the "abundant life" that Christ spoke of only achieved when we pursue it? When we act on His promises? When we respond to Him and receive what He says?
Many of the theological circles and ministries that I have aligned myself throughout the years have never once told me that I can do it on my own. They always proclaimed Christ-in-you and the powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If ever I have tried to "produce" holiness, purity, maturity and ever-deepening relationship with Christ on my own, then I clearly never listened to the fundamentals of what those ministries, books, and Christians preached. So, I cannot blame any such persons. The blame must lie in myself. Or, God.
I have thrown out enormous piles of my Christian living and theology books. In the heat of my emotions, I might say it's all their fault that I am where I am. But that would be avoiding the real issue and just trying to play the blame-game. Personally, I just cannot read those books or even listen to many sermons or certain Christian music anymore without viewing it all through the lens that I once wore. Maybe I am just the exception, the "special" one that failed to live the abundant and victorious Christian life...
I like to blame myself, because it feels very noble and self-responsible. I am too extreme. Too black and white. Too passionate. Too all-or-nothing. I have never been down-to-earth. I feel too much and I'm too sensitive and too obsessive. I am too zealous about spirituality and perfection in the context of Christian living. I take everything too seriously.
Self-flagellation is one of my darkest secrets. Not many know this about me. It's self-flagellation in my thought life and its twisted and corrupted. In truth, it has no place in the life of Christ. It takes many shapes and forms through the working of the flesh....it creates lists, and rules, it tells me what should and should not be in my life now that I am a "holy Christian," it even creates demands, goals, and conditions. It calls the shots, it separates, it controls, and it tells me and others what we should look, live, speak, and think like now that we are good Christians. It's uptight. It's obsessed with restraining itself and employing discipline. It's ready to point out faults in others and even in myself! The reign of control that it spans is nearly endless. It even redefines the Love of Christ into a more Christ-like reflection...that sounds incomprehensibly opposing, doesn't it?
Truly, I am a mess these days. But what a revealing mess it has been! I sense I am becoming more acutely aware of flaws in the "system" of much what passes for Christianity these days - much that I have adopted and accepted without question for years. It has definitely not been my own ability to perceive it, but rather the fire of God in my life, tearing down and making known, as in Peter 4-17, a "time for judgment to begin at the household of God." Judgement seems like a terribly harsh word, unloving, and wrathful. Perhaps our sensitive human hearts will always initially perceive it in that way, but I am coming to see it has a sweet mercy. Whether or not I respond to the Lord, He takes great patience in drawing me to Himself by removing the boundaries, the hindrances, the methods, the lists, and the expectations. I learn every day that the Lord is ever more patient with me than I or a million godly souls would ever be with ME. So, He takes great pains to remove me from my own ways of thinking, from the ways of even the most spiritual and godly of communities. He has set Himself to the work of of my sanctification and He doesn't require me or anyone else to meddle with this process. What shall I look like on the other side of this fire? I cannot imagine and I even find myself with an irrational fear of the result. But what have I ever to fear if it means that I will come to a day when prayer, worship, and Scripture shall flow from me as natural as I breathe today? What do I have to fear in knowing that I shall one day learn to trust Him as He truly is?
Christ my Lord, my dear Savior...He whispers to me in the bitterness of my life, "You shall love Me. You shall love Me. It will take time, my child. Do not fear the anger, disappointment, anxiety, sorrow, disillusionment, and loss of identity that seems to define you at this point along the journey. I am allowing you to taste the depth of your own humanity, the frailty of your flesh, because I love you. You will one day walk by my side with a surrendered trust that only comes through the most bitter disappointments and disillusionment with everything that your human eyes have perceived as holy, good, and sacred. You will one day love Me, not with the zealous heart inflamed by My holiness and perfection, but because of My own humility that has ever-pursued to enter into your days, including those days marked by your own flesh-dependence and obsession with My holiness. I wish for you to accept that you are pure to Me now, without blemish, glorious in My sight. But you do not know this now. Although you accept it as an objective, eternal truth, you have not accepted it as an always abiding, present truth. I wish for you to accept that I love you for who you are now - the you that I've always delighted in, the you that I not only love, but I like! The you that I not only accept, but that I want to be with! But you do not know this now. You will one day. Then, you will enter into the deeper fullness of what it means that My truth sets you free. You are free, but presently live as if you are shackled by people, theologies and ideologies represented by various communities of My children, methods, opinions, painful losses, the changing seasons of your life, and even your own manner of thinking and feeling. My heart aches that you hurt yourself with these things, pounding them over yourself each day. But I see the day when you shall become weary enough to let all of this go and take hold of my hand as if for the very first time. That day you shall also see all these confusing experiences and the losses that I did not prevent as your freedom. The greatest and most painful experiences of your life are setting you free to take hold onto Me alone. Up until now, your hands have been full of all that you have gathered along the path of following Me. I don't just want you to follow Me, I want you to hold onto Me. I want you to identify yourself with My very being. I want you to know, as you and your husband have known each other in your most intimate moments, that you are My perfect daughter, My delight, My beauty, and I withhold nothing of Myself from you ever, not even when you doubt Me, not even when you rage at Me. I am always fully yours and you are ever fully Mine. This will set you free. And you shall love Me."
There's a sweet story that I would very much like to share. It touched my heart when I read it recently, but that shall come in the second part of these posts on my inner reflections. It should be noted that these words of mine are not meant to stir up strife or resentment. This is a snapshot into my journey. Writing and sharing about it as how I have chosen to express it. There are some in my life who have known me as aligned to specific ministries and church circles throughout seasons of my life. I have no personal qualms with anyone. It is all a very inward struggle that I communicate here and wholly between me and the Lord. I find release in sharing this struggle with honest but grace-filled words because it is my way of upholding hope that, despite the many differences within the Body of Christ today, the love of Christ towards us is and will always be central, knitting us together. Although I very much sense my "differences" in relation to many Christians, I do not see myself as separate from them although common ground between us, in regards to ways of living and thinking, may be rare to find. The Love of Christ and the work of the Cross is and always be sufficient. Thus, I do not seek others to necessarily agree with me in my reflections and conclusions. We're all on different paths with the same destination.