The conversation at The Loft this week centers around a “back to school” theme. I wrote this post about a year ago, remembering a season of my education in which I learned some truth that was completely unexpected:
There is no going back into a former faith.
There is only going forward.
I hope you’ll join us at The Loft for more insights on this timely theme!
My faith unraveled at a Christian college. I know that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen, and I can remember wishing that a hostile, atheistic professor had bludgeoned me into my doubts with brilliantly irrefutable arguments.
It would make for a much better story.
Instead, the truth is I just got numb. The constant barrage of meaningless requirements that were, somehow, mysteriously related to Christianity: plowing through a three-inch thick commentary on Romans with no specific assignment in mind (other than to reach the back cover), fending off the desperate and over-bearing overtures of my “dorm mother” who wanted to befriend all “her girls,” and trying to stay awake while the combed-over, suited-up preacher-of-the-day got carried away and stole time from the class that followed our mandatory chapel.
One day it all got to be just too ridiculous.
Eventually, of course, I realized that the problem was localized and that what I had been objecting to was not “Christianity” itself, but a mindset that existed on a particular campus in a specific zip code. Having said that, it would seem that the road back to faith would have been like flipping a switch—yesterday I doubted, but today I am choosing to believe. However, the truth is that calluses on the soul are even tougher than the ones on the soles of our feet, and it’s a long exfoliation that thins their numbing presence.
My first mistake in trying to live my way “back into faith” was my direction. There is no going back into a former faith. There is only going forward. In looking for yesterday’s faith experience, I was forgetting that I was not the same kind of believer I had been before. Even so, mysteriously and graciously, through the blur of career and ministry, then marriage and four children, a sprout of faith was growing again, but in a brand new way. This time, I was being guided by Truth rather than by the “experts,” attempting to live in the moment of showing a spring daffodil to a tiny boy and then sitting on the damp grass to talk about the God who made it.
Always in the back of my mind during this quiet rebirth was the idea that I wanted to do something meaningful for God. “Something meaningful,” naturally, could only happen if I had to learn another language, live in another culture (the more remote and risky the better), or, most important, if I could see results for my efforts. Unfortunately, this was the polar opposite of what I happened to be doing at the time, which was caring for my young children, trying to write, and shoveling a path through the house every few days. Worshiping at the altar of “results,” I certainly could not see how ministry (as I defined it) would ever be part of my life again.
Then one day a back injury flared up, and I was lying on the floor trying to get relief from the daily pain, while at the same time entertaining my toddler and baby. Surrounded by building blocks and picture books, I grabbed my Bible for a quick read and was handed a job description from an Old Testament prophet:
“He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple. Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously. (Micah 6:8)
There it was, and it made perfect sense. There’s nothing like a diaper pail in the bathroom for 11 years to serve as a reminder not to take oneself too seriously. But even after it was retired, there were little boys who mirrored back my character flaws and stretched me to the limits of where I could confidently practice “fair and just.” Lately, it’s the puzzled amusement of teen boys: “Yeah, Mum, I check out your blog every so often.” My patient husband of 25 years shows me every day what compassionate and loyal look like, but most especially on the day when, standing in front of an empty sock drawer he declared, “Hon, even with all the studying you’ve been doing lately, you’ve hardly missed a beat around here.” (Is he a keeper, or what?)
For me, finding the way forward doesn’t mean that I never look back, but I’m careful how much time I spend looking in the rear view mirror–either wistfully or regretfully. The doing and the being of my Micah 6:8 job description are all present tense.
So, even though it will always be important to me to be learning about God and to be able to articulate what I am learning in some way, the difference, going forward, is that I really want to stand beside someone else and share the view.
To crack open the Word of God and dig for truth as if my life depends on it. To stand in awe of truth that feeds my faith and then sit at the table with my Sunday School class and be amazed together. To read, and re-read, and read again the words about Jesus that translate ordinary faithfulness into radical discipleship and that transform baked macaroni and cheese and a bowl of home-canned green beans into bread and wine. To put flesh on the bones of God’s commandments before my sons and grandson, even though I understand that they will see me contradict daily the truth I teach.
To read a book that presents theology like a laser show of worship and then pass it along to a friend. To come to the end of a blog post knowing that I understand some aspect of the walk of faith better than I did before I wrote it. To desire God, not as a means to the end of fulfilling my own wishes, but as the end Himself.
This, for me, is the way forward.
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