Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Struggle for Authenticity

So in case you haven’t noticed, I’m continuing to write very sporadically. I think it’s because right now I’m in something of a spiritual wasteland in which God feels quiet and distant and I feel very disconnected from my spiritual life. Several times now, I’ve sat at my computer and started at an empty blog draft screen for minutes before realizing I just don’t care to write about my meager and sputtering faith right now.

This past weekend, I went on a retreat with my young adult group. We spent an evening, a whole day, and a morning at a cabin in the woods, having fun and chatting and kayaking in between listening to a speaker from our church and discussing his sessions.

I felt as though everyone there grew, and learned, and found a gold mine of truth there. I did, too, in a way…a non-spiritual way. I enjoyed laughing and having fun conversations and spending a whole day kayaking on a lake. I learned how much I value relationships.

And if you had been at the retreat, I bet I could have convinced you that I had just as much a good time during the spiritual talks and the discussions we had about them afterward. I offered well-thought out input in the form of carefully worded responses, and I listened attentively during the sessions (though I admit  I may have scoffed my displeasure at a few things he said. Real mature, I know.).

But inside, I spent this past weekend coming to a terrible realization: I feel as though I’ve been living out a farce. That whole time we spent talking about the Bible and how to live as Christians, that whole time we spent sharing testimonies and exchanging Bible verses…that whole time, I feel as though so little of what I said was truly the genuine expression of my heart.

I realized for the first time how much of my life I spend in fear of judgment, in fear of how others will perceive me if I’m honest about where I am in my spiritual journey. Behind closed doors, inside the recesses of my heart, I hold all these convictions that I earnestly believe reflect the heart and will of God. Be radically inclusive; don’t alienate people. It’s okay if you don’t have the answers to life’s hardest questions; the Bible teaches us, but it is not the direct Word of God himself, and it is certainly not a simple, cut-and-dry road map. Gay people can love God and have faith that is as genuine as  a pastor’s.

These are the things I was thinking, the things I feared to say aloud. And I realized: authenticity is one of the scariest things imaginable. To lay yourself bare, to express the truth as you best understand it, is freaking hard.

So I stayed silent while the speaker spoke. I stayed silent while he talked about Sodom and Gomorrah and how homosexuality is one of the few sins God says he especially hates. I stayed silent while he talked about how the mark of a “solid” Christian is that you read you’ve said the Sinner’s Prayer, you read your Bible daily, and you witness to nonbelievers.

I stayed silent through this, and a lot of other teaching that I have found to be life-draining and oversimplified and alienating of other human beings. And I realized that I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to craft careful answers that I know won’t raise red flags, for the sake of convincing others that I’m right on the same page as everyone else. I don’t want to hide my beliefs about homosexuality, about the Bible, about the way that I often struggle with doubt.

I want to be real. I want to be truthful.

But the next question is: do I have the guts? Because if I don’t, I fear leaving church may be the only way I will ever acquire authenticity in my life. And I know that running is just never the answer.

My God-Shaped Hole

They say that all human beings have a God-shaped hole in their lives. That we all are born with this innate sense that there is more to this life than the mundane routine of everyday life, that there is something bigger outside ourselves.

They say we starve for it. We desire it, even though we don’t really know what it is we’re longing for or waiting for. There is this elusive restlessness that sits in the underbelly of our being that is never satisfied, never allows us to feel at peace.

They say that there is only one Way that will fulfill that longing and satisfy that deep desire. They say that Way is found in the personhood of Jesus, in saying a prayer of repentance and submitting your life to the Lord.

That’s what they say.

I prayed that prayer when I was five years old. I don’t remember it, but I remember that my father walked me through it. I grew up raised in a Christian home, attending church nearly every single Sunday of my life, and doing all the kids’ programs when I was a child and all the youth programs when I was a teenager.

But that’s not all. I grew up with parents who valued authentic relationship with Jesus, who taught me and my siblings that this Christian life consists of so much more than what goes on beneath a steeple. We prayed as a family often, and we had Bible studies together. I would talk about God with my mom all the time, and I would argue about (okay, sometimes fruitfully discuss) God with my dad less than all the time. My parents are conservative, but not tight-fisted; they let us grow and mature on our own, teaching us but not holding it against us when we ventured outside the umbrella of what they believe is right.

Despite that upbringing, despite being raised to seek after God in every part of my life, I’ve never felt that fulfillment that Christians say only Christ can bring. When I am unflinchingly honest, I imagine that I feel as much doubt and angst and general yearning for more in life that the most die-hard atheist might feel.

Yet I believe in the miracle of the incarnation with all my heart. I claim Jesus as Lord, I claim the Bible as the Word God gave us to reveal Himself to us (even if I view scripture in a different way than most most conservative Christians). Shouldn’t that mean the God-shaped hole in my heart has been infused with the Holy Spirit?

I no longer think so. I don’t think that “hole” ever really goes away. I have moments of joy and peace, but they are always fleeting, always temporary. I think this Christian life is more like a series of hills and valleys, ebbs and flows, moments when God’s presence feels as near as your own breath, and other times when the most honest thought you can conjure is one of doubt and wondering, “Is there anything at all beyond this tangible life I can see?”

But I think that longing exists so we are drawn outside ourselves, driven to seek more, strive more, reach beyond our mundane existence for the hand of the Father, the hand of the One who is always waiting to embrace us with open arms.