(It’s been a while since I posted the previous entries in this series. If you haven’t read them or need a refresher, here’s the links:
Do you ever find that it’s easier to draw out a tale than to finish it? The telling of the event is always more natural than bringing it to a solid and worthy conclusion. I used to dream of being a writer, once upon a time, as an idealistic junior high student with big hair and even bigger glasses. I fantasized about a career in children’s literature and wrote dozens of original stories and poems. Most of them, however, I never finished. It felt just too difficult to come to a good ending.
For this series “My Journey to Freedom,” I have felt this exact same way. It feels like a whole lot has to be crammed somehow into a clear and logical ending, when in truth there is no ending. It is a journey, after all, and although I live free in Christ, I haven’t arrived. Not yet. 😉 Still, I will do my best to explain to you just what happened in my life the last year or so that radically altered my thinking and my faith. Some have questioned why. Why share this tremendously personal story online? Won’t people perhaps vehemently disagree with you, or scorn your choices, or even be offended that you have not followed the path of your youth?
Indeed, the reception of the previous posts has not all been good. I think that it is hard and scary for some people when you start asking questions about the things you were taught all your life. Believe me, I fully considered that before embarking on the first post of the series last summer. I balked at doing it at all, knowing it would absolutely cause controversy, but the Holy Spirit kept nudging me to write my story.
In September of 2012, the pot that had been slowly simmering for so long finally burst into a full boil. I could not handle it any longer – all the rules, the stress of doing everything just right, the frustration at not feeling as if I were ever pleasing God, everything. So I just quit. Right then, I talked to Chris, who had been having similar feelings and frustrations of his own, and we agreed together to leave the church we had been attending for eight years. All at once, everything stopped. I no longer taught children’s church; there was no more nursery duty to fill more of my church time. We had no idea of where to go or what to do next. We attended my in-laws’ church for a brief time on Sunday mornings, but we did not go anywhere else on Sunday evenings or Wednesday nights. It felt strange to have my entire spiritual world upended, just like that. I found, to my consternation, that pretty much my entire social life had revolved around church, and now I felt empty and alone. I worried that we had made the wrong decision and prayed for answers and for peace.
This is when I made a heart-rending discovery. I prayed, but I didn’t feel connected to God in any way. I tried to keep reading my Bible, but God still felt distant and aloof. Without all the rules and the busyness of my former life to masquerade as spirituality, I was left with an empty shell of a Christian life. My personal relationship with Jesus Christ had suffered dramatically as a result of my focus on outward behavior. I didn’t know how to fix it, how to draw close to God. I knew the verse by heart – “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” (James 4:8) I feared that maybe I wasn’t really saved, that maybe somehow it had all passed me by. The Bible wasn’t speaking to me, and I was desperate to find out why. Surely someone else had experienced this exact same dilemma as my own – that of growing up in a Christian home and then becoming disillusioned with it in their adulthood. I hit the internet and searched for people with stories like mine. It was difficult to find anything, and the ones I did find had heartbreaking endings of the author turning away from God. I didn’t want to do that either.
By this time, we had found a new church that we attended once a week. The pastor there preached through the Bible, verse by verse. We started attending when he was in the book of James. After every service, I would go home and search out the things he had said in my Bible, to see if in fact they really were true. He said then (and has said it many times since, as it’s a favorite statement of his) “Stick to God’s Word. It has all the answers to life, and it’s the best commentary on itself.” It was as if the Holy Spirit had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You heard him! Now get home and get in God’s Word. He will do the rest.”
And so I began to search the scriptures.(John 5:39) Through a lot of stilted, uncomfortable prayer and heartfelt journaling, I started to see who the God of the Bible really was. I realized that I had always had this view of a big scary God who was never quite pleased with me, no matter what I did. But my Bible revealed a God who is a loving Father, full of mercy and grace.(John 1:14) He is also all-powerful, and we are admonished to fear Him. (Psalm 111:10) Being God-fearing does not mean worrying about whether I am doing enough to please Him. It does not mean ending each day in frustration and defeat because once again, I did not live up to what I thought I should. No, being God-fearing means a reverence for God and the boundaries He sets in His Word, knowing that there will be consequences when those boundaries are crossed. And yet, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) Of course, I’m going to fail – I am a sinner that needs a Savior – but when I seek His forgiveness, he removes my sins “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12)
And when I began to see God in this whole new light, my prayers were not so awkward. I looked forward to meeting with Him every day. Bible reading was not a drudgery – some days I only read a verse or two, but God spoke in my heart through them just as much as the days I read chapters. I realized that it was okay to question things, and I took my Bible and went right down my list. Bible versions? Proper music? Dress? How often to go to church? As I prayed and studied, it was evident that a lot of these controversial areas were about personal conviction, not scriptural mandate. The breath of freedom that this discovery brought me was exactly why I titled this series “My Journey to Freedom.”
The journey is far from over. I still don’t know all the answers. But now I am living in this new-found freedom, worshiping and following my Savior, rejoicing in the hope that He gives, not the fear of not enough. I write this for that person who may be searching, just as I did, for someone with the same experience as their own. If that’s you, run, run, run to receive His amazing grace and unfailing love. Be encouraged that there are answers and that there is hope. Most of all, know this: God will give healing to the good girl who just never could be good enough.