What a year and a half it’s been. What a year it’s been! What a month it’s been! What a day it’s been!
My favorite thing about writing – whether it’s a journal or a blog – is that I can look back on it in a few months and realize what’s changed or what hasn’t changed. I get to look through the questions I was asking, the problems I had, the struggles I faced, the victories I had, etc.
I look back on this year and realize I’ve worked through:
-moving out of a house and into a new apartment
-getting into a relationship, and the good and the hard things that come with it
-leaving my old church, finding a new one
-same old song and dance – you know (if you’ve been reading) everything that’s different about my life.
Some people applaud how openly I try to write (And I always feel there’s room for more openness) but I merely see it as the way to publically chronicle everything that’s been going on. I don’t see it as courageous or groundbreaking, I see it as real, helpful, and honest.
I write today because I feel as though there’s been significant progress in my journey, and I’ll use the cliché “faith journey” because to me, faith is always involved in every single aspect of life. I can’t get away from it, no matter how hard I’ve tried. I’ve lived as a functional atheist and found it wanting, and even quite taxing on my psyche, confidence, and my peace.
I write today because I’ve felt moments of peace in the last few weeks – real, genuine peace.
But what’s funny (and I told this to my journal last night, and now I tell it to you) is that it’s not a feeling I expected to have. It’s not peace the way I figured it would manifest itself.
It’s not peace I have from some unbelievable spiritual encounter, I’ve definitely felt the Holy Spirit’s presence more thickly than I have recently. It’s not peace from some great theological revelation or destination I’ve come to – I’ve studied the Bible more in past days than I have recently!
I think – if there is a conclusion I’ve drawn lately – it’s that I’m not alone. And, loneliness was a trap I found myself falling into especially after leaving church – I feared that I was the only one thinking the thoughts I was thinking, struggling with the temptations I faced, grasping to hold on to the truth of Jesus, feeling like I’d fallen away or decayed, etc. I kept telling myself I was the only one. I kept telling myself I had secrets to hide, and nowhere to take those secrets. The people I found myself close to weren’t people I felt comfortable having theological conversations with – with a few exceptions.
Exceptions like my friend Liz, who, it turns out, hops around more churches than I do, and is just fine with her faith. Who I have bounced more thoughts off of than anyone else, who I have questioned my faith more with than anyone else, who I have complained about church with more than anyone else, etc. She’s been a rock of a friend.
Or my friend Madelyn, who is the epitome of someone being passionately in love with Jesus – who I cried with in the parking lot of a Qdoba one night when I had just had an encounter with a super-spiritual old friend and no longer felt welcome in the fold. I told her how out of place I felt, how out of sorts, how far from home. How empty my heart had been, how passionless my life had been. And she said that she hated that for me, but she listened and prayed with me and hugged me and from that day on, I knew it was okay.
I don’t know if I’ll ever stop telling this story, because I’m still so fresh from it and it colors so many of my thoughts of late.
On one hand, I felt like I was losing my faith, and it felt like I had lost it, at one point. It seemed I had walked away from the fold, seemed I no longer had a home, and wasn’t willing to do what it took to be back. I didn’t like what I thought of when I thought of Christianity.
It was evolution – in the way I thought. I thought about things more thoroughly. From more angles. With a broader understanding of the world.
It was devolution – in the way I behaved. I made mistakes I never had before. Got drunk at a baseball game. Used new words. Justified my mistakes. Got lazy at work. Started to gossip about people. Complained a lot. Got angry. Really, really angry. Got anxious. Got bitter. Got insecure.
It was deconstruction – of the way I approached my faith and the role it played in my life. Faith was no longer a means to an end. Faith was no longer something I did because I had to sell it to someone else in the form of a Sunday school lesson, a worship song, or a sermon. I didn’t have an outlet for my faith anymore. Faith had to become my own, and I had to start to own it in my everyday life – I had to figure out what it meant for my faith to take over my relationship, my work, my spare time, everything else. A deconstruction of outlets, and a deconstruction of my reputation. I was no longer the preacher guy. No longer the worship leader. I may have been that still to the people who know and love me – as in they know my gifts and my strengths, but it was as though God had to take those away from me to make me realize that those don’t define me.
It was reconstruction – of what it meant to be a Christian: this time, for God’s sake. This time, with no preconceived ideas of why I was a Christian. What does it mean to be a Christian in a new (to me) city? What Christian traditions resonated with me the most? Was I a Pentecostal? Baptist? Presbyterian? Methodist? Episcopal? What made the most sense? What kinds of sermons did I like? Worship style? Did I like new churches or really old churches? Should I just start a church myself? Why do I even go to church, especially if I’m not involved on the front lines? (Side note: I remember several people saying I wouldn’t be content to just go to church and not get involved, and they’re half right, but half wrong, too. I am happy to just go. I’m happy to go to the church I currently go to, where I feel involved in history, I feel involved in communal worship in a whole new way, where we take communion weekly, where we sing old music, where we pray out loud together and in unison and where we echo the reading of God’s word with saying, “thanks be to God.” I LOVE it.)
It was reconstruction of my identity. Reconstruction of my purpose, and of my passion.
All in all – it was growing up. It was changing rapidly and widely within the sovereignty of God: knowing that there was a lot of space to fail, a lot of space to change, a lot of space to grow and a lot of space to explore, all the while trusting that nothing – even the darkest nights of my soul – could take away the love of God from me, even when I didn’t feel it like I did before.
And as always, the process continues. I’ve swung from extreme to extreme. I’ve attended modern churches, and I find myself currently attending a very, very old church (as in 200 years old.) I’ve listened to sermon podcasts, and I’ve listened to podcasts where people talk about God but also their drunk stories. I’ve found myself wanting nothing more than to stay home on a Sunday morning, and I’ve found myself wanting nothing more than to go to church on a Sunday morning. I’ve wanted to attend start-ups and wanting to attend establishments. Wanting to sing contemporary worship songs, and wanting to sing hymns. I’ve found myself wondering if I’d belong in my old church anymore, and if I’d enjoy it just the same as I did before. But one thing is true above everything else: all the while I know that God is just as real now, in my current, just-so-happens-to-be-Presbyterian experiences, as He ever was in my past, just-so-happened-to-be Pentecostal experiences. They’re both valid, they’re both true. Because God is still God.