Wednesday, May 2, 2012

the wall & the journey inward: part I

I'm blogging through Kathy Escobar's fantastic series, Rebuilding after Deconstructing, in an effort to clarify some things for myself, to share my story, and to encourage forward motion. This is so not about whining or placing blame, or picking on any person or institution.  Just the story of God and me, up to now... abridged. 


This post is dedicated to working through the issues discussed in Part I: Honoring the Process. I highly recommend reading it for some context, but the idea in a nutshell is that there are stages to the Christian life. They are:
  • recognition of God
  •  life of discipleship 
  • the productive life 
  • hitting The Wall 
  • the journey inward 
  • the journey outward 
  • a life of love 
Last year my church went through a series called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality that, as I remember, pretty much uses the same model, so the idea of stages is not completely new. Going through the series with a small group got me thinking about my journey so far, but I've still never written it all out. Looking at my own life objectively (as much as that is possible) I believe that I was at The Wall for some time, and more recently began the journey inward.

The first time I can remember questioning God was when I was eight. I was having a conversation with my parents about free will, and they were trying to help me understand why God leaves some choices up to us. "He didn't want us to be robots", they explained gently, "he wants us to choose him because it's what we want; because we love him." I cried dramatically and said that he should have made us "robots", without free will, because then no one could make the wrong choice.

As I grew up, I was of course confronted with some big questions--I saw injustice in the world, the exclusivity of the Gospel as I learned it, the struggle of Jesus followers to actually act like Jesus, the arrogance and ignorance often found within church culture. I also experienced a lot of wonderful things--compassion, generosity, community, the way the Holy Spirit changes people, and so many second chances. I struggled with doubt, but I had a connection, a friendship, with God that steadied me. It seemed un-shakeable to me, especially as a zealous teenager.  I felt I was part of something bigger than myself: a counter-cultural movement (teenagers tend to like that sort of thing, no?)

My questions grew during the college years. Being an English major opened up a new world of thought. I gained an ability to craft an argument, an appreciation for the power of words, and awareness of the different types of writing that influence thought and culture and vice versa, or "literary theory". And so I learned to try on different lenses, to attempt to understand different perspectives. During this time I felt less and less at home in conservative evangelical culture, and more acutely aware of church culture's discomfort with postmodern thought. Unfortunately, there were also a few hurtful church experiences involving legalism and misinformation, and I developed a guarded attitude toward church leadership in general. Still, the connection with God remained, even as I felt less sure about what I believed.

At age 22, I was married to my college sweetheart, finishing my degree, and processing a surprise pregnancy just a few months into the marriage (my  Nickyboy is five now, and remains full of surprises.)I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with an English degree (is anyone?) and I got a little tired of being in my head all the time. I was overcome with a strong desire to learn a skill, to do something with my hands. So I went back to school to study nursing, and learned how to be a mother, how to be married, how to live on a tight budget--all at the same time it seemed. That was a season of pretty intense learning, of highs and lows, of growth. In many ways it was a sweet time.

When Nicky was two months old, my Dad was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. We were all devastated. My parents both had a strong belief that he would survive, and they amazed me with their faith and perseverance. He was with us for nine months after the diagnosis. Thin, tired, and unable to speak above a whisper, a few days after starting hospice care, he passed on. It was a relief to know he was not suffering anymore, but it was unbearably sad too. He was only 58; we certainly wanted him around longer than that.

There is so much more I could say about his dying process, but I think it's a little too personal for others in my family for me to share here. He was a precious person to all of us, and at his funeral people talked for hours about all the ways he had enriched their lives; all his years of service, his corny jokes, the freshness of his faith. I miss him every day. I wish my kids could have known him.

After his death, going to church was so difficult. I couldn't get through a worship song without crying or feeling disillusioned by the lyrics. I tried picturing him in heaven, without pain, stress-free, and that helped a little. I felt the closeness of God at times, but I was keeping my distance. I found myself scared; I went to church and felt like I didn't speak the language anymore. I hadn't felt like I fit in with the culture for years, but it felt magnified now. I volunteered for kids ministry, hoping to do some good and avoid focusing solely on my own problems. That was helpful, and I loved being with the kids. My church community was full of kind, down to earth people, but hearing phrases like "stand on the promises of God", and "prayer changes things" only seemed to increase my sorrow. I think this was the beginning of my Wall. The relationship that had been central to my life ever since I could remember was in trouble, and it scared me to think I could lose it.

I stayed busy with nursing school and home life, and we were part of a small group with an atmosphere of honesty and acceptance. It really was a healing environment. I think sometimes people didn't know what to say or do around me when I would talk about my issues, but they let me anyway, and they prayed for me. I'm so grateful for that. My deep un-settledness about God and church culture continued, but I got by. Life marched on as it does. We both finished school, got jobs, bought a house, and had our second baby, Silas. I loved my life but when it came to spiritual things, and especially when it came to church things, I often felt like I was just playing a part. One summer day in 2011, it all came to a breaking point.

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