This is the story of how I almost walked away from, and ultimately returned to, Christianity. I actually wrote this and put it in an e-mail, but I figured I’d put it on the blog, too. I’ve left it the way I wrote it in the e-mail to my friends, but I think you can get the gist of what happened, even if you don’t understand all the references to churches and people.
I don’t know why I’ve been putting this off, but I have. It’s been difficult to try to come up with the words to describe what’s happened in my life, without saying things that don’t need to be said, and skipping the things that do. I still haven’t figured it out, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway.
So here goes.
I feel like I need to start at the beginning, so please bear with me, okay?
When I first became a Christian, I was about as on-fire, scream-the-gospel-from-the-rooftops as you can get. I wanted to share my new faith with anyone and everyone, and I really believed that I could just say some words with feeling and they would all see what I could see and come to Jesus instantly, and with all the fire and enthusiasm that I had.
It didn’t exactly turn out the way I’d hoped. I kind of beat people to death with it, whether they wanted to hear it or not, and I alienated, irritated, or downright pissed off just about everyone in my sphere of influence.
I see now that from the very beginning, it was more important to me that I be “right” and that everyone acknowledge that fact, than to be loving and compassionate, but truthful. When people would disagree with me, I would try to argue theology with them, which is stupid, pointless, and childish. I didn’t know any better, but still, I think I caused a lot of people to run away from Christianity.
I still struggle with wanting to be ‘right’ and trying to convince people of it, but now, instead of being proud of my ability and desire to debate, it’s something I’m ashamed of.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When people didn’t embrace Christianity even after I’d beat them about the head and neck with it and done my level best to ‘prove’ it to them, I got angry at them, and then, as I’d always done, I turned that rage onto myself.
Someone has defined depression as ‘anger turned inward’ and man, is that the truth! I didn’t begin to realize and deal with it until fairly recently, but I’ve always struggled with depression… From the time I was about six years old [in Kindergarten, believe it or not].
Any time I would try something new, I would have expectations of how things should turn out. When it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, I felt like a complete failure and hated myself for being such a loser.
When I became a Christian, I expected that everyone around me would see the miraculous change in me and just naturally want what I had. When that didn’t happen, I began to second-guess myself, and eventually believed that their not converting was my fault.
“If I had just [fill in the blank] they would have accepted Jesus. I’m too [fill in the blank] to ever bring someone to Jesus. Who was I to think I would ever make a difference in anyone’s life?” and about a million variations of that. It was constant, relentless, and it broke my heart.
Fairly early in my Christian walk, I felt called into the ministry… As in preaching ministry [similar to Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer]. I had a passion for lost souls, and I wanted more than anything to be an evangelist. But the more I tried to help people, the more they seemed to turn away, and the more depressed I got.
Eventually, I adopted the ‘in all you do preach the gospel, if necessary, use words’ approach… Which meant that I just lived my life quietly and never talked about my faith with anyone anymore. I still wanted to reach people for Jesus, but without words, I was kind of lost.
I only knew Christianity as a list of ‘don’ts’ at that point, and that really doesn’t have much to do with the good news at all. Matter of fact, limiting behavior and activities without helping people to see the real reason we limit/get rid of those things [and what we’re supposed to replace them with] kind of sucks, and it’s not even half the story.
By the time I had Shaya, my dream of full-time ministry had been replaced by severe post-partum depression and despair, to the point that I was barely surviving.
My walk with Christ had turned into a nightmare. I had gone from “on top of the world” joy and happiness, to almost completely dead, lowest of the low, despair.
That, and my relationship with my pastor had gone from a loving, nurturing, disciple-ing relationship to a domineering, judgmental, and mentally abusive one. I don’t think he intended it to be that way, but as he became burnt out, and as I fell spiritually and emotionally into despair, things just got ugly, you know?
Eventually, the pastor left the church, and so did we. At that point, I was still trying [and failing] to be what I thought a good Christian was, so when he left, I was just exhausted and needed to go somewhere else. When we left the church, I began thinking about everything that had happened between the pastor and me, and I began to feel like he had abused his authority, and had really been on a power trip, trying to control me and rest of the congregation to stroke his own ego.
Understand that I have no idea if what happened in reality looked anything like what I perceived. I was so screwed up by depression that the mental abuse I remember may have been mostly in my head. I was placing motives on him that may not have been there, so I just don’t know. But my reaction to it was very real, and very destructive, and that’s why I’m sharing this part of the story.
I would imagine that his burnout made him thoughtless and insensitive, and my depression made me very overly-sensitive and probably paranoid, and both of our issues made us very selfish and incapable of seeing things from the other’s perspective. Whatever the reasons, it caused me to begin a huge journey into my faith, and eventually into other faiths, to try to find God [because I felt like I’d lost him somewhere].
Because I now distrusted any authority figure, I didn’t feel like I could go to a pastor to ask questions. I didn’t want to care about a pastor again, either. I wasn’t raised in the church, so for all I knew, every pastor was only in it for the power it gave them, and their motives were just to control people. And even if I didn’t really think all pastors were bad, I knew at least a few were, and since I’d been fooled once, it could happen again.
So this line of reasoning led to the belief that if today’s pastors could be power-mongers, then so could the pastors from fifteen hundred years ago or so when they decided which books would make it into the Bible and which wouldn’t. I began to doubt the infallibility of the Bible, and eventually, I just believed that Christianity was a religion, created by man to explain the unexplainable, and that it was no more true or false than any other religion.
I began to look into some other religions and found that there were quite a few similarities between Christianity and other world religions as far as behavior toward others goes. In others, there was similarity in how you should ‘treat’ God. I was looking for similarities and found them, so I began to examine as many religions as interested me and started taking the things I found in more than one [and the beliefs I liked] and adopting them into my own, home-made faith.
All of this took several years. When we moved to St. Joe, I was questioning my religious teachings, but still believed that Christianity was true, and was still trying to figure out exactly what it means to be a Christian. I began to get active at TPCN, made some great friends, watched and participated as our small group began to really seek God’s face and figure out what it is that we as Christians are actually supposed to be doing.
Again, I got excited. There were things I felt like we should pursue. I shared them with my friends, and again, they all kind of said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” to my ideas. Now granted, my ideas were radical, and instead of checking subtly whether they were ready for that extreme of a commitment, I plowed in and dumped the whole thing on their heads because I was excited[!] and I just knew that they would be on the same page as me [why oh why am I so slow?!?].
When they weren’t, I was hurt and disappointed, but I was able to let it go because I could see that the group was looking for the same thing I was: authentic faith, lived out in our daily lives. We wanted to live the way Jesus lived. We just didn’t really know how to go about it. So I decided to go with the flow and see what they would come up with. As a group, we began to brainstorm how we could begin to live our faith, the things we could do, and how we could share what we’d found with others, both inside our church and outside it.
We went forward with enthusiasm, expecting that others would be on the same page as us, and join our effort. Heh. Sound familiar? Again, this is only my perception, but I felt like we were, um, not exactly discouraged from our dreams, but definitely not supported in the sense that anyone was willing to adopt our dream as their own and help us pursue it.
That was kind of the last straw for me. It seemed like everything I tried went down in flames. When I looked at the church in America as a whole, and then read the Bible, I couldn’t see much similarity at all. I looked at people like Gandhi, who was Hindu in faith, but followed Jesus in how he lived his life and thought, “Dang! How is it that a man who never ‘accepted Jesus as his lord and savior’ lived his life as Jesus did, and so many of us, who are Christians ‘saved by grace,’ reject His teachings?”
So I rejected ‘Christianity’ because I felt like it was a sham. Much of what we’ve made Christianity into is a sham, and that’s the plain truth, but I threw out the baby with the bath water, so to speak. When I rejected the religion “Christianity” in America, I also rejected the Bible’s authority, and by extension [although it wasn’t my intent] I rejected God [or at least one of his chosen methods of communication with us].
I searched for Him in other religions, but they felt as empty as Christianity. So I wrote a blog entry, asking a lot of tough questions, and a couple of days later, I got a comment from a guy in Russia [Moscow, to be exact] offering to answer some of my questions. We had a dialogue wherein he tried to argue me into believing that Christianity was the only True religion [heh. It didn’t work any better on me than it had on my friends so many years ago. Go figure.]
I kept needling him with reasons why his arguments weren’t working, how they were ‘logical fallacies’ and all kinds of other stuff. I was kind of testing him because he was studying to become an Orthodox priest. Another pastor! Was he going to abuse me too? Eventually, I pissed him off so much he couldn’t see straight, and he said some stuff that was just plain mean.
I had been praying all throughout my journey that if I was wrong, that God would get me back on the right track.
I never wanted to reject God, but I didn’t trust the men he had entrusted to tell His truth, you know? I had built a wall that must have been ten feet thick, because it took some crazy man who didn’t care one bit if he hurt my feelings saying that I was NOT a Christian, despite my protestations to the contrary… [In my mind, I was still a Christian, but without the Bible or any “doctrinal manipulations perpetrated by power-mongering men,” or the lackadaisical Laodicea-type Christianity we see so much of in the States, where believers will do anything, as long as it’s what they’ve always done, or doesn’t require any extra work, or doesn’t infringe upon their comfort-zone].
The only problem was, I had taken one of the lifelines from God to me out of the equation [the Bible]. I still had prayer, and believe it or not, God always answered them, even if it was silly stuff like asking for cooler weather [or warmer, depending on the season].
But without the Bible, I had no anchor, no guide except my own flighty heart… And as much as I hate to admit it, my heart seems to have ADHD it flits around so much! Most importantly, he never left me, even though I didn’t always know it, and eventually, he answered my prayer that he would correct me if I was heading in the wrong direction….so anyway, back to the story:
So after I’d frustrated the poor Russian guy to the point that if we’d been talking face-to-face he’d have punched me, he wrote an e-mail that had me on the floor of my bedroom in the fetal position for several hours, sobbing my heart out. I literally screamed out to God [thank goodness no one was here! ] and as I let all that agony go, I realized that the Russian guy really didn’t have much to do with why I was crying.
I was reliving, through my Russian friend, all of the pain and hurt I’d carried around for almost ten years from that first pastor. Understand that I really believed I’d forgiven the pastor and healed from the wounds, so when I suddenly remembered what had happened, I was shocked to realize how unbearable the pain still was from that experience.
After my initial hysteria, I prayed and asked God if what I’d been taught was all a lie, or if he really was that big of a jerk. He actually answered my impertinent question, and began reminding me of all the teachings I’d ever learned in Christianity. It was really fast, but a thought would come to mind, and I would know he was telling me it was true. Another thought would come, and he would say, “That wasn’t me.”
It went like that for a while, and when it was all over, I was a complete mess from the sheer exhaustion of crying that long and praying that hard and fighting tooth and nail against Satan for my very soul, but I was healed. The wall was gone, and I was once again in the arms of my Savior. I was exhausted, and so sad and amazed that I’d carried that wound around so long and not even realized it, and that it had done so much damage.
The next day, I went to Turning Point, not because I wanted to, but because Steve made me. I think I was still in shock from my ordeal, and I didn’t think I could deal with people, but Steve’s a big weenie sometimes and he drug my butt out the door, whether I liked it or not. I left the sanctuary to go pray, and I think I went back, but I don’t really remember now.
I know it was obvious that I’d been crying, and I just kept praying that God wouldn’t allow some well-meaning but clueless person to come over and ask me what was wrong [no offense to anyone, but the last thing I needed was someone who was incredibly cheerful to come up and ask me why I was crying, or to tell me it would all be okay, or use some other Christian Homily to try to cheer me up].
When the service was over, I was standing in the foyer waiting for Steve, and Gloria came up to me. She’s such a short person, but when she walked up to me and I looked in her eyes, it was like she was the only person in the room. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a compassionate expression before, but she spoke to me [can’t remember what she said exactly, but it was something like, “You seem depressed, and I would like to call you, and some other stuff] and then the next day, she called and we talked, and I told her the story I’ve just written to you.
The next Friday was Encounter, and Steve and I went. We had a time of testimony toward the end, and I shared a little bit of my story with the people there. Since then, I’ve been spending a lot of time in prayer and asking God to lead me to the right place to grow closer to Him and to really, finally, learn what it means to be a Christian.
I’ve learned through hard experience what it isn’t:
It isn’t a list of ‘don’ts’ [Things You Must Not Do or You Will Go Directly to Hell]. Following the letter of the law out of pride is exactly what the pharisees got into so much trouble for. They were obeying the ‘rules’ for the sake of looking better than others who were not. If their motive had been obedience to the law out of love for God, they might not have been called ‘brood of vipers’ so much.
Christians who obey the ‘rules’ simply because they want to be right, or because they want to think they’re better than someone else, are legalists, and the pharisees of today.
Yeah, I’ve been there and learned it the hard way.
What sucks though, and what I’ve learned more recently [like in the past few days] is that from the outside, obedience to God out of genuine love for him will often look like legalism, especially if your life isn’t so filled with love for others that people don’t even notice what you don’t do because what you are doing just oozes the love of Jesus all over everything.
It isn’t extreme liberalism, though, either. You can’t only focus on the love and mercy of Jesus, and tell people that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you believe. You can’t just talk about how wonderful being a Christian is because it’s not completely true [although there are parts of it that are wonderful] and you can’t dilute the tough parts of following Jesus in an effort to make the Gospel more palatable.
Many Christians today seem to focus totally on the the “easy” stuff, like where Jesus says, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” and completely forget the part where he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it..” [Matthew 16:24-25] There’s also the part where Paul says we’re supposed to crucify our flesh, and make ourselves a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to the lord…
Um, that ain’t easy by any stretch of the imagination… But it’s worth it, and then some.
Somehow, we need to figure out how to be obedient to God because of our love for him, and yet still be compassionate and loving toward others as well.
I think it’s funny how the ‘religious right’ is so concerned about forcing everyone to obey God’s law that they forget to take care of orphans and widows, prisoners and the oppressed. At the same time, Liberal Christians seem focus more on human rights, and compassionate ministries, but they rarely talk about the hard sacrifice of our ‘self’ that we are called upon to make every day, or the eternal consequences of sin.
It’s like each side only has half of the Gospel that Jesus taught us, and that’s a tragedy.
I didn’t tell you that after my meltdown with God, and after I recovered from it, my faith was so much stronger than it had ever been before. I knew the Truth, and I knew what was expected of me, and I knew that God would lead me to people who could give me the practical knowledge and ability to apply it to my life.
I’ve found a couple of places to get that knowledge, and one of them is a book called “The Road to Reality” by K.P. Yohannan. [here’s a link ]
The man doesn’t pull any punches, but I think it’s one of the truest, most Biblical pictures of what it really means to take up your cross and follow Jesus I’ve ever seen.
There’s no fluff, no “feel-good-ain’t-it-great-to-be-a-Christian-in-America?” malarkey, and it hurts like hell to read it because it strips bare our pretentious pseudo-piety that cares more about numbers, money, and buildings than lost and dying souls. It reveals our ‘riches’ for the useless rags that they are if they aren’t being used to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and bring the Gospel to the far reaches of the world. This book will either piss you off or break your heart and change your life, or both. I hope you’ll read it, though.
So there you have it. Peace out.