For a while now I've been in a season of...I'm not really sure what to call it. My faith is still buoyant, but it's floating by different means than I'm used to. My relationship to the Father is still active, but the way we communicate has certainly changed. My search for wisdom and knowledge continues, but I'm asking very different questions today than I have in the past.
It's uncomfortable. I'm just not sure where to begin or what part to tackle first. With all of these thoughts bouncing around lately, I figured an all out audit was the best place to begin.
There are a few noticeable side effects to my current condition. I'm not proud of all of them, but they are my reality. Here's the real picture of me.
1- I don't trust people I don't know, especially Christians
I know this stems from a trust issue I developed years ago. Joy and I were hurt, unintentionally, by our church family in a time of incredible need. We simply couldn't afford to have people turn their backs on us at that time, yet it happened. I developed the following assumption about Christians during that time of our life that I still can't seem to shake.
"The vast majority of people operating as Christians are more concerned with how they feel than doing what is right."
I saw people avoid us because they didn't want to say the wrong thing, so they just disappeared. Self preservation was more important than helping. They couldn't risk being in an uncomfortable situation, so they didn't do anything.
I've since forgiven the people who we were hurt by. But almost six years later I catch myself assuming this of all Christians whom I don't know, especially the ones that I perceive to be more conservative. If I, a supporter of Christ's church, have such a strong feeling of resentment and hurt towards Christians, I can certainly understand why many non-believers have very strong feelings of aversion towards the church, too.
2- Prayer is painful, so I've been avoiding it
I was at a Bible study last night and we opened it with a guided prayer time, using Jesus's prayer in Luke 11 as our guide. It was a struggle to get into, but once I did my heart poured forth. I prayed about things that I hadn't addressed with God in a very long time.
After losing our daughter in 2011 I started to question the value of my prayers. What is worth asking for? What is completely out of the question? If my prayers aren't answered anyway, why even bring them to the Father's feet?
I began thinking of my requests as reasonable and unreasonable, and this has severely changed the way I see the Master. It also changed the way I see myself in relation to Him.
3- I've been building God like a Lego set
I recently began reading the book of Acts. Instead of going into it with a study planned, I read it beginning to end three times. The first time through I was struck by the God I saw. The God I like was there, showing compassion and love to the lost and the broken through His people, but three people struck down dead within a a few chapters? Is that really necessary? Where is the rebuke? Where is the second chance? This isn't the God I've been acknowledging.
This caused me to evaluate the picture of God I've agreed to see. And now that I'm studying what scripture says, I'm realizing that my picture isn't accurate. I've been picking out all of the traits that make me feel good and make his message easier to share, and in the process I've left other parts of him by the wayside.
This realization hasn't caused a 180 in the way I see God. I still believe His love trumps all and that His forgiveness is offered to all who will seek it out and obey. What it has done is helped me to remember that He is mighty. His choice will always trump what my logic says.
4- I've learned to love people who are different than me
One of the positive side effects of my current condition is that I've allowed many of my preconceived ideas and judgements to dissipate. I've learned to accept people where they are and love them as human beings -- as people made in God's image. I've developed loving, trusting relationships with people who are very different from me, and that's been awesome.
I've learned to value people without first qualifying them with a set of rules. I've learned to love people because they have inherent value, not because they've done something to earn it.
5- I've chosen to be myself. All the time
It's hard to be myself. Judgement and the fear of judgement held me captive for decades, causing me to become a two-faced person. Depending on my surroundings and company, I'd choose who I was going to be. Do I turn on Church Stephen, or can I just be Saved Stephen? Both identities were connected to Christ, but Church Stephen was filtered and fake. Saved Stephen is rough around the edges, but much more willing to be real and vulnerable.
Over the last two years I've become Saved Stephen permanently. I've quit putting on the show for people inside the church, and especially outside the church. I'm realizing that people like the real me better anyway. No, there's not praise and plaudits like I used to get, but letting someone see my flaws also lets them see the saving power of our God.
Being honest with myself and others is the only way I know how to evaluate my current position. I'm willing to be changed and molded in the ways God desires, but I have to know where I'm starting.
I know I'm forgiven. I know I'm chosen. I know I'm made in the image of God. I know every human being was made in the image of God. I know God loves me. Now I just have to figure out how to match all of this up with the brokenness that is part of relationship, the church, and our world.