Crystal

I’ve learned that people live out their faith in different ways – for example, some people’s faith is primarily emotional, and some, logical. I have always had a logical faith. Evidence of God is easily found in reviewing His creation. Evidence of His Son Jesus is easily found in comparing the Old Testament prophecies to the account of Jesus in the New Testament. That’s not to say that I’ve never been emotional about my faith – just that primarily, my faith is logic-driven.

The church I grew up in, however, was filled with folks who had a very emotional faith. This created quite the dichotomy in me. While I stayed up late frequently reading through my Bible and analyzing the passages and writing analyses in my journals, the folks in my congregation sang, danced, laughed, and cried about their overwhelming gratefulness that they had been forgiven, sinful as they were, they were still forgiven and free and loved. I thought it was beautiful to see so many people so touched by God, but it also left me confused. I fought to do everything in my life literally by the Book. What sin did I have? I never felt that overwhelming thankfulness that my own sins had been forgiven. Though I knew they were, I had no experiences of my own to generate the kinds of reactions these folks around me displayed so readily week after week. I found myself thanking God for whatever it was he forgave me for that week and moving on to studying His Word to help prepare me to make all the right choices once again the following week. But I also began to feel contempt grow in my heart for those emotional worshipers around me as I felt more and more isolated by them for my seemingly inferior faith to theirs, as I grew to realize I would never jump around and scream, shout, and cry the way they did. I decided that their out-of-control emotions were what drove them to sin so badly week after week, and began to cut myself away from my own emotions and rely more and more heavily on my sense of logic.

And so the cycle continued for quite some time. It grew deeper as I watched those around me with care, and turned to the Bible as my safety net, my guarantee that my life wouldn’t get as messed up as they said theirs had. Gradually, little by now, I can see in retrospect how I began talking with God less and less as I read His Word, and began offering bargains to Him more and more. The conversations became one-sided. ‘Well, God, my desire is to honor You, so I know you’re going to bless me.’ I had learned to trust my ability to make decisions so completely, knowing I had always depended on His Word for guidance in the past and had seen that steer me well then, until I slowly stopped consulting with God at all when it came time to make a decision. Sometimes, I would let Him know what my decisions were. ‘I’m going to do this now, because I think this is a great way to please You. I know you’ll bless me because I want to please You and this is all for you anyway. I was drifting away from Him, and I didn’t even realize it.

Before long, I began to get some negative feedback from friends and family. I found their questioning my choices highly insulting. Now, I began to use the Bible not just to bargain for what I wanted, but also to justify my own pride. I didn’t need anyone else to talk to God for me. I can talk to God myself.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being laser-focused on God’s direction in your life. But when you’re actively talking with God and pursuing Him, you will have habits that will reflect your relationship with Him, you will have relationships with folks who can mentor you and keep you accountable, and you will welcome these things. You’ll know whose opinions you should heed and whose you should ignore. At this time in my life, I was becoming more and more isolated from everybody – friends, family, even church altogether – I had stopped reading my Bible (I knew everything it said already anyway, why read it again?), I had stopped my regular talks with God, and I had stopped tithing completely. My habits were deteriorating, and I was accountable to no one.

I will never forget when I first had the realization that something was wrong. I was several years fully into trying to do life my way and then claiming that it was somehow all for God’s glory. Things were starting to go wrong. Very, very wrong. For the first time in a long time, I found myself thinking to myself the smallest, quickest little prayer – a prayer of fear and desperation – ‘God, why aren’t you blessing my efforts?’ Instantly, tithing came to mind, and shocked, I began to reason with God. ‘That couldn’t possibly have anything to do with it. I can’t tithe right now, I have no money. You know I’m planning to tithe extra one day when I’m able to tithe again.’ But this was the first time I had even tried to talk to God in a good while, and this time, with things going sour, my eyes were a little more open than before. I saw the truth of the entire situation in that moment. I saw that God had been put up on a shelf to sit and wait for me to make my life match the view I had in my own head of what it should be, and that none of the decisions I was making at that point were truly honoring Him. I cried, for the first time in a very long time, and begged God for forgiveness.

It felt great to be talking to Him again, but that encounter didn’t end the way you’d think it would have. Because when I looked ahead at the life I’d built around me, and about all the changes I’d have to make to fix my mistakes and rebuild a relationship with God – a real one – and I was horrified. And believe it or not, the conversation ended with a bargain once more. Let me finish these things I’ve already started, God. Then I’ll fix it. You’ll see. I’ll fix everything.

In the next few years, I learned that reading Christian self-help books is not the same as reading the Bible and having a relationship with God. The Bible can be an instruction manual in some ways, but it is not a simple checklist. Nothing it says matters if you don’t have a relationship with the author of it all, turns out. And so a few years later, I found myself divorced, in debt, and living with my son in my mother’s house once again. If you haven’t been through it, it’s impossible to understand the magnitude of that situation. I was going to be the one to go out and do life right. I was going to be the one to make my marriage last forever, because I was going to do it the way God says. Yet my situation was not an overly emotional one for me even then. I got into those situations by going through the motions, without vesting much emotionally into them, except for maybe my own pride in the successes I expected myself to achieve. And so I was primarily frustrated at my own failures, and began going through the motions once again to try to fix things. (yeah, some people just never learn, you know it?)

That is how I found myself back at church, at Soul Purpose Church meeting in my old high school in Bealeton, and that is how I found myself working on the One Month To Live small group study book one night. The assignment was to write a letter to God, and tell Him why you’re angry with Him. I balked at it, completely. What? Angry with God?? This obviously wasn’t one of the more poignant assignments for me – I had no beef with God. But to check off the little box that I had completed that day’s assignment, I sat down at my computer and began to type. ‘Today’s assignment is to write to God and tell Him why I’m angry with Him. That’s odd – I’m not angry at anything, really.’ And I began to type all my justifications, and explain why I was okay with my situation, because I knew I was following God and doing my best to honor Him, and I knew I was living by His Word…yada yada. All the same old crap that I had been telling myself for years, untrue as it all was. But this time, it clicked, and hard. As I began to type all the ways I felt I had been a good girl and done what God wanted me to do, I began to feel a sting in my eyes as hot tears began to form and fall. I began to feel *actual* anger rising in me with every self-justification I shared. Before long, I was sobbing with the realization that I had suppressed all along. I finally had a real talk with God, with an open heart. I ended with apologies and repentance again this time, and decided that I had a new focus. I wasn’t going to pursue all the things that I thought would make it look like I was being faithful to God to those around me anymore. I was going to pursue God, plain and simple.

The change in my heart and in my life was immediate. It felt great to connect with God again, and then to start watching Him put the pieces of my life back together, instead of doing it myself my own way and messing it all up. It even felt great to be able to see my own sins and feel repentant and grateful for grace in my own life.

I am still very much so a primarily logical faith kind of person. I love theology and Bible study and exploring how God’s Word and science fit together. But I have also learned to allow myself to feel, how to be in a real relationship with God. I know I can talk to Him, whether it’s about how He designed our complex bodies, or about why He would let my kids struggle with some challenge in their lives. I am so thankful for Grace, that I can reconcile all those years lost into a beautiful, meaningful relationship with my Savior and Creator.