When peace like a river attendeth my way…
My faith journey as I know it now is not as it had been. I never thought I would be one of those people. I just knew that the reassurance that I had about God, my faith, my destiny, my purpose would be the one thing that would remain constant in my life. It has not been. I’ve only alluded to the ways my beliefs have transformed in subtle ways, careful not to offend anyone or have anyone think less of the Pastor’s Kid. But what I do know is that for me, the peace I found was in the freedom to ask the questions and allowing God to truly shepherd me through trying to figure out my faith. It didn’t look like they said it would look.
When sorrows like sea billows roll…
The dark cloud over my spiritual life began when I was in undergrad. There was much going on – a horrible “break up”, my grandmother’s death, a depression that I could not shake. I spent so many nights praying that God would allow me to shake the terrible feelings – the sense of worthlessness, the pain of rejection, the restlessness of going through the motions of spirituality (going to church because I didn’t have a choice in my house, acting holy while secretly hating how awkward I felt, praying to a God that I wasn’t sure even loved me). I had begun attending a church in State College and was even more turned off by some of the things I heard and saw. I was done.
I stopped attending church (at college) and decided that I didn’t care. I didn’t care about God or how He felt about how I lived my life. I could not feel, and therefore could not appreciate, the presence of God. I didn’t know He was there because I never had to deal with Him one-on-one, with not another soul to fall back on. Frustrated and feeling hopeless, I decided to walk away. I didn’t tell anyone; I just continued to fake my Christian life hoping that my unbelief would remain undetected.
When I did my study abroad in France in 2008, I was at a different place in my life. For some reason, I truly began to experience God in an unprecedented way in my life. But it wasn’t deep and spooky where I was praying for hours on end and just stayed in my room reading my Bible all day. I experienced God through the people He placed in my life at that time. Many of them were not Christians but I received such Christlike love from them that it pushed me back to God. I “dedicated my life back to Christ”, as some of you’s would put it.
Rejuvenated and excited for the first time in my adult life about my faith, I zipped through my senior year on fire. I graduated and the idea popped in my head to go to seminary. I chose Dallas Theological Seminary. That experience is a blog on its own. But let’s just say – the dark cloud once again emerged over my faith life. This time, the more I knew about the Bible, about the Gospels, about Eschatology and Soteriology, the more questions emerged. And the more the questions emerged, the more I was wholly unsatisfied with the answers I was receiving. I decided to leave DTS, angry and hurt, and unable to express my feelings to anyone outside of a privileged few.
The more life happened, the angrier I got. The more expectations of me as a PK, the more spiteful I got. The more I felt people whitewashed the answers to my questions as an attempt to end the questions, the more disgruntled I became. I nearly killed myself trying to pretend that everything was fine. I was literally going to church, crying the whole service out of frustration and going home. I was teaching Young Adult Bible Study and felt zero conviction about what I was saying. I knew I hit rock bottom when talking to a trusted colleague I yelled, “I hate everything about church/faith. EVERYTHING.”
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to know, IT IS WELL, IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL.
I’m sure with all the other life changes happening in 2013, my disdain with everything faith and church related was exacerbated. At the heart of it all, was that little girl who still very much needed to know that she is loved to the core of her being, not for what she does but for who she is. And with that admission, along with the admission that I was furious with God, I began this process that has been coined faith shifting. In a few words, it is the process of making your faith truly your own. I started with God and how I felt about Him. I spent several weeks just sitting and crying, cleansing my soul of backed up issues. I didn’t get them all but I got enough to give me a base. From there, I have been going over many of the things that I was taught as a child about my faith, doing lots of reading and praying about what my convictions should be. This process is still happening.
Shifting has been a scary and lonely place. I have wanted to engage some of my loved ones in some conversations but I’ve shied back from it for fear of being misunderstood or being branded a heretic. Someone accused me of becoming an atheist once while discussing the Church obsession with the writings of Paul versus the writings of Jesus – I was simply summarizing a book I read. It’s all a part of the process. I’ll probably always be misunderstood by someone. And my righteousness will be like filthy rags next to another brother or sister in Christ who will consider my questions and perspective as carnal, irreverent, or heretical (there’s always one). But it is well.
What is well with my soul, though, is the reassurance that God is with me every step of the way. I couldn’t always say that with assurance but walking this journey has caused me to know more deeply and believe more assuredly in a God who loves me. I’m thankful that, though my questions scare those around me, they can never be scary enough for the God of all. And when He is ready to speak, as with Job, it will be clear and definitive, sensitive to my probing but reminding me of His power. So that is why when I hear the Gospel these days I tear up – because it’s real now. When I hear someone speak of our worth and being created in the Imago Dei (Image of God), I tear up – because it’s real now. That’s why every time I hear the hymn It Is Well, I tear up – because it’s real now. My knowing it is well comes from my tried and true conviction – one I would not have if I did not let myself hit rock bottom with God and let Him sit with me there.
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol (the nether world, the place of the dead), behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will take hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the night will be the only light around me,” Even the darkness is not dark to You and conceals nothing from You, but the night shines as bright as the day; Darkness and light are alike to You. – Psalm 139:7-12 (AMP)