Dear Lily June,
To begin, a confession. A gracious, kind, patient woman of God has sent me an email, an email I haven’t known how to begin to respond to, and so I haven’t (yet) said anything in reply.
She isn’t the first. From across the world, from the other side of my own heart, I have been receiving well wishes and prayers from women who carry their faith like Atlas carried the world slung over his shoulder. I look at them with equal parts admiration and intimidation. I don’t know if I have strong enough shoulders to take on a burden so great, even if it might paradoxically make my entire life lighter for the bearing of it. To those ladies, fellow mothers all, I am in awe of their generosity. I hope they can forgive me my long silences. They are fuller than I can convey.
This is my start, to repay their kindnesses: I am trying. Because I am still relatively illiterate when it comes to the capital-W Word of God, I am turning to the words of men and women who have carried me through my life, and are only just now starting to connect in my heart (soul?) in meaningful ways I can, with all my limitations, start to make sense of.
The confession I really meant to begin with: That woman who sent me the email? She told me, in the gentlest possible way, that my attempts mean little if I don’t invite God into them.
So I have whispered aloud and alone in my office “God help me” before writing this. In my mind, I am met with the echo of my mother’s favorite quotation, snatched from the pages of the Ms. Read books:
“Fear not. Please God.”
And yet, I am plenty afraid. Of getting it wrong. Of failing to please God, myself, anyone. Of attempting, as Elliot Eisner described of the function of poetry, to use words to say “what words can never say.”
The confession I’m terrified to admit: I’ve lived most of my life fairly certain that I’m going to Hell, for a variety of reasons, most of which involve turning my back on Him. I have lied quite a bit but stolen little, and intentionally harmed others even less. I am not a rapist, a murderer, a molester, but I have been incredibly, incredibly selfish, caring more about my own pains than the pains of others. I am only trying, in my thirties, to change this. Is it too late?
In my heart of hearts, whatever my religious affiliations or lack thereof, I have spent most of my life believing that life is a gift, and the greatest sin is being ungrateful for it. By that definition, Lily, I’ve spent a long time as a sinner, not just being ungrateful for the live I’ve been given, but worse, acting like I’ve been blind. Like I haven’t even seen it.
And yet, as I look back through the library of my life, I see, much to the delight of a self-described writer and reader, that my faith always been there: In print.
I can count on one hand the number of poems I’ve memorized in my life. One I still remember down to the letter is a poem I memorized in high school, Stevie Smith’s “Our Bog is Dood.” Depressed and cynical about the beliefs of any like-minded herd (as any kid with a dysfunctional family who was taunted by cliques in high school might be), it appealed to my sensibilities. The poem’s narrator speaks with a presumably religious group about their “Bog” (i.e. God) being “Dood” (i.e. Good).
The trouble is, the group members can neither agree on who exactly Bog is, nor on the qualities that make said Bog dood. At idealogical odds, they turn on one another, and the narrator escapes, presumably belief-free and the better for it:
“Oh sweet it was to leave them then, / And sweeter not to see, / And sweetest of all to walk alone / Beside the encroaching sea, / The sea that soon should drown them all, / That never yet drowned me.”
I thought, in Smith’s speaker, I had found my prophet, and maybe as a teenager I had, momentarily. But for me, spiritual certainty has been as attainable as finding stillness in the middle of the ocean. Life–with all of its waves and tides–has kept pushing and pulling me in different directions. After all, did I really want to be that speaker who, upon encountering a sea full of imminent drowners, just keeps walking, smug in her sense of intellectual superiority?
In college, I studied a lot of God. I took courses on religion, American and eastern. I took a course called “Bible as Literature” and read, for the first time, the Word of God, as set in context, historically.
It was in this class that I first learned Christianity wasn’t always a beautiful beacon of hope the Hallmark cards and sitcom allusions of my youth had led me to believe. That Jesus, too, turned over tables in rage as I saw my father do, that he was a violent revolutionary, proclaiming (if you believe he’s “transcribed” in the Book of Matthew),
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
I knew nothing of being a parent, but the idea of turning people against each other unsettled me. The larger premise of God sending His child to the cross to die brutally for the callous cruelty and indifference of others seemed beyond me. (Confession: I still can’t fully understand this, though I’m starting to understand that the need to understand may be my own arrogance.) The violence of the Bible, especially against women–just like the violence of my father–frightened me.
In college, I also studied literature, where I was introduced to my favorite Shakespearean play, “King Lear.” I related to its plot of a dysfunctional family whose father has the power to bestow great gifts upon his children, but wants to dictate how they use them. My own father and I at the time were estranged, after I had watched him strangle a girlfriend my senior year in high school and called the police on him, an act which resulted in his revoking the offer to help fund my college tuition. His words at the time of that violence–“This is all a game to her”–seemed to echo back to me in Shakespeare’s lines from Act IV,
“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.”
In the play’s ultimate act of violence, Cordelia, the youngest daughter (as I was to my father) is killed senselessly, guilty of only being honest with her father about his foolhardiness.
God, to me, was starting to feel like an estranged yet divine parental figure, not only a figure who made me, then didn’t seem to care about my upbringing, but also didn’t seem to particularly like me (much as I felt about my own parents). I fell further into this kind of self-pitying religious rejection when I hit my health problems, a result, I knew, of finally having to begin processing–half as a child and half as an adult, as all early twenty-year-olds in America are–the childhood I’d been through.
I would fall in love with writers half in and half out of love (faith?) with their versions of God. There was Emily Dickinson who, in some poems, could speak with authority and certainty about Immortality and the capital-s Soul, and in others, could announce, unflinchingly,
“The abdication of Belief / Makes the Behaviour small – / Better an ignis fatuus / Than no illume at all.”
(My translation: An ignis fatuus is a will-o’-the -wisp, a ghost light seen by travelers at night, especially over bodies of water, like bogs. In comparing God with a false light, she is admitting uncertainty about her beliefs.)
Then there was Jeffrey McDaniel whose “Foxhole Manifesto” might be the single most accurate description of my spiritual life, especially in his struggles to label and define God, if only for himself.
But no other writer seemed to exemplify this torturous on-again, off-again relationship with their deity like Fyodor Dostoevsky, who ignited something in me through his characters that wrestled with their consciences, at moments brutally bitter and anti-social, in others wanting to save all, even the lowest, of society. The character of Ivan, from The Brothers Karamazov, may have been speaking to or for me when he attempted to convince his religious brother, Alyosha, that Alyosha’s faith was meaningless in the face of a God cruel enough to permit the brutal beatings of children.
In a passage that has never left me (maybe because its story seems so familiar, as if it still occurs on the news nightly), he describes one girl’s horrors to his brother:
“This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty—shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn’t ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child’s groans! Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much? Why, the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child’s prayer to ‘dear, kind God’!”
I, too, had once felt like a child who had cried out to a God that seemingly never answered me. I didn’t know how much fuller His silences could be than any person’s, but Dostoevsky must have had some glimpse into this truth. Once, he was sentenced to be executed in an unimaginably cold, stark Siberian prison, an execution only stayed at the last second by a letter from the Tsar, carried by cart. In that minute, strapped to a pole and looking into the barrels of a firing squad, Dostoevsky lived an entire lifetime, so the story goes. It was in that fearful trembling minute that Dostoevsky found his God.
In college, I also studied philosophy, namely “Intro to Existentialism.” It was there I would encounter thinkers like Sartre who believed God dead, but what surprised me was not connecting with that cynicism in the slightest. I always believed, with some small spark in spite of the darkness inside of me. Instead, I was intrigued by thinkers like Kierkegaard whose theories in Fear and Trembling may as well have been speaking directly to me. The book’s title came from the line in Philippians 2:12,
“…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
It was a far cry from my mother’s favorite quotation–“Fear not. Please God”–but the book, despite its subject matter, offered a surprisingly hopeful formula to faith for me. Kierkegaard philosophically ponders the biblical story of Abraham, called upon by God to sacrifice his only, long-wanted, hard-begotten, very beloved, son, Isaac. He defines this action as a contradiction:
“The ethical expression of what Abraham did is that he meant to murder Isaac, the religious expression is that he meant to sacrifice Isaac – but precisely in this contradiction is the anxiety that can make a person sleepless, and yet, without this anxiety Abraham is not who he is.”
Kierkegaard’s is a philosophy built entirely of these kinds of contradictions and paradoxes, with faith being the anxious leap between murder and sacrifice, destruction and salvation. This is what appeals to me most: He argues, ultimately, that faith is not a given, but a gift, granted to the ones most willing to make this leap. I had never seen it put in that direction before: That you don’t pray to/worship/take steps toward God because you believe; you are granted belief because you pray to/worship/take steps toward God.
He calls these steps/prayers/leaps “resignation,” explaining thusly,
“The act of resignation does not require faith, for what I gain is my eternal consciousness. This is a purely philosophical movement that I venture to make when it is demanded and can discipline myself to make, because every time some finitude will take power over me, I starve myself into submission until I make the movement, for my eternal consciousness is my love for God, and for me that is the highest of all.”
I wish I could say, Lily, that I wasn’t still terrified then of a God who asked a man to sacrifice his child, of a God’s son who put conditions on his love before he, too, was sacrificed, or who, at the moment of truth, called out so humanly to his father,
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
The pain of being abandoned by a parent, cut off and silenced; I knew it too well. I wasn’t yet willing to pray to/worship/take steps toward that God.
And then in grad school, I met your father, Lily, the man who would become the love of my life, the first wellspring of absolutely unconditional love I had ever come upon, and boy did I have a thirst to be quenched. He would (and still does) teach me so much. Like the poem he’d been made to memorize in college, that he recited for me and I fell in love with, despite all of its extraordinary difficulty, Gerald Manley Hopkins’ “Carrion Comfort.”
If I understand it at all, the poem is about about a man fighting his urge towards despair, maybe even self-destruction, when it comes to faith. Sure, he has, at points in his life, been dealt a raw deal, and he asks of God, who he calls “thou terrible:”
“Why wouldst thou rude on me / Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan / With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones?”
Whatever exact acts you interpret those lines to mean, it’s clear Hopkins feels abused, even preyed upon by God, and yet, he will not give up the struggle even towards faith in the face of all this. He is a man trying to understand how the pains of the world, of his life, could be for humanity’s, his, own good, and in doing so, he still acutely remembers when his struggle was at its sharpest, when
“I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.”
Should it matter that your father of all people would be the one to introduce this poem of internal struggle to me, Lily? Maybe, if you believe, like your dad, that
“God is in your perspective.”
If I understand your father’s words, Lily, he believes that faith is the choice between seeing the world as a series of coincidences, and seeing each path as leading meaningfully into the next. For instance, one could say that it was only a coincidence that, in looking up a Dickinson poem that demonstrated her religious struggle to write this entry with, I found the passage about an ignis fatuus, a will-o-the-wisp, randomly.
And yet, I only knew that word from dating your father, because it was the name of an entire poem (“Ignis Fatuus”) by his college poetry teacher, Larissa Szporluk, the poem that ends with some of our poetic favorite lines of all time
“Part of the sky is all of the sky, / the rest is wasted.”
She was, incidentally, the same teacher who required your dad to memorize the Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “Carrion Comfort” in the first place.
Your father, without knowing it, resolved so much of my crisis of faith just by loving me. “God is in your perspective,” he says, an interesting faith since he, like one of Ivan Karamazov’s imagined children, was abused as a boy and came to God not necessarily in spite of, but because of, it. And your father gave me you, the child I thought wouldn’t make it, the child I prayed for endlessly, not that you be born safely, Lily, but that you be delivered according to God’s will. “Do what you are going to do,” I’d pray fervently to God, as if there could be any other way.
I know that must be painful to read for you as my daughter, so let me explain. When I was told by doctors that I might lose you, I had to choose my perspective. I could pray that, regardless of any malformations, you be given to me so I could rejoice in your very presence in the world, but how selfish a pray-er might that prayer have made me?
I had no way to know, my darling dear, that you would be born healthy, with your organs inside instead of outside of your body, with a heart that had four working chambers or a brain two working hemispheres, or that you wouldn’t require a lifetime of surgeries your father and I might not be able to afford. If you were to be born into a fragile shell of momentary pain, I would rather your soul stay in Heaven, with God, a place where, when pregnant, I was first granted the gift of believing in, maybe as a result of so much praying. I would rather sacrifice my glimpse of you than to be a part of your suffering.
I awoke to the sunrise every morning of my pregnancy sure that the beauty of your soul lay just beyond it, and if it were God’s will, you would be given to me. Those sunrises became you, for me, and I prayed both to and about them. It was ironic, then, that your father named you, with the real name I don’t use on this blog. The name that means, literally, light. That part of the sky I could see became all of Heaven for me, Lily. It became all of the sky. It became all of love, of faith.
Does that mean, my darling daughter, that I love you more than God, and am thus not worthy to be loved back by Him who gave you to me? That is one perception of the situation. But another is seeing you and God and love as inseparable, the connection between the religious concept of a holy ghost and the literary allusion to a will-o-the-wisp as tangible, meaningful, purposeful.
After you were born–and born safely–it was also your father who gifted you and I with the Disney movie that we have already watched countless times together, Brave, a story about a mother and daughter whose entire lives are changed when one of them takes one small action: following a trail of will-o-the-wisps. The burgeoning believer in me wants to value the significance of all of this, especially since, in literature, a will-o-the-wisp often appears when the character who encounters them is attempting to achieve a goal that may be impossible to reach.
Kind of like explaining the evolution of one’s thinking about God in a single blog post.
Kind of like coming to God, as was described to me by the gracious, kind, patient woman in her email like C.S. Lewis did: “kicking and screaming.” Kind of like being pursued (her words) by God for a lifetime and finally surrendering. Kind of like falling in love with your father before I ever knew if he could love me back. Kind of like falling in love with you before I ever knew if you would live.
- By William Blake – William Blake Archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27197029
- By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32173788
9 thoughts on “Surrendering–On the Occasion that You Find Yourself in the Foxhole”
“I fled Him down the nights and down the days”
-Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven
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Yes, that sounds about right. In the meantime, wherefore art thou, Linda?
As far as I can tell, regarding spirituality, the journey is just as important as the final destination and love, the greatest signpost as well as souvenir.
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This post makes me SO happy. Well..that last paragraph, especially. With a father that has been a Christian since childhood (over 40 years of knowledge, including going to a university studying the Bible, being an elder at our church, and getting his doctorate soon in biblical studies), he has always been teaching me in these ways since I was just a tiny tot. I remember in Sunday school when I was only three, knowing that profound and all-abiding love of Jesus that I just can’t even explain in words. It’s safety and it’s love at its purest form.
I just wouldn’t feel right not talking and discussing what I’ve learned over time from studying real, true, and BIBLICAL Christianity* with good discussion and good perspective (that’s the kind you want!) if you would want to, of course. Nothing to pressure you or anything because, all in all,we have to make this decision for ourselves. If you want, you can ask questions that have been on your heart and we can give answers from a biblical perspective. And you can be sure that it’s coming from a good, solid place, which will be a bit of a reassurance 🙂 Because there are a lot of people that claim to be Christians who are are not at all true or genuine, or acting like they should be or believing what is biblical.
In the world, we are always told “You have to be good enough. If you’re really really good you’ll go to heaven! Just be good.” It’s positively exhausting trying to please God on your own. It’s absolutely IMPOSSIBLE. Have you ever thought of all the times we do wrong in one day? Our thoughts, our jealousies, our words? The human nature inside us is hopelessly flawed. Only Jesus (God’s son) was able to come and live a perfect life and that’s why God sent him. We needed Jesus to step in and be our advocate and to be that perfect lamb, to cover our sins that no one else ever could.
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9New International Version (NIV)
So, instead of looking at it like God sent Jesus because he was hating on him or being cruel, we can look at it with understanding that it was to fulfill His perfect plan that he’s set out to accomplish since the first day of creation.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, for whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life in Christ Jesus our lord.” John 3:16
And then, of course, God raised Jesus up three days later. There were at least 5,000 witnesses of this and many gave testimonies and became missionaries afterwards.
In the Old Testament, there were many laws and restrictions. Israel knew they had sin and that they needed these practices to cleanse them from it. (Animal sacrifice, and high priests, you name it…) They sacrificed animals and lived with a very heavy burden of their wrong doings and evil which the Bible is very raw and realistic about, showing the true downfalls of the world and people in general. In their temple that God told them to build, there was one specific area where God would dwell and NO ONE was ever supposed to go in, except for the High Priest, and even HE could go in very rarely!
In the Holy of Holies, as it was named, there was a very very thick curtain known as the “veil” protecting the area and if anyone except for the High Priest would go in, they would die. In there, the Ark of the Covenant was, and more importantly GOD Himself made known that he dwelt there.
This thick veil was representing the barrier between God and man. It was representing how holy God was and that his majesty shouldn’t be trifled with.
It also how God is such a righteous judge and holy God that he doesn’t have any tolerance for evil.
Moses was given the ten commandments:
1. You shall not have any other gods before Me
2. You shall not make idols
3. You shall not take the Lord your God’s name in vain
4. Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy
5. Honor your father and mother
6. You shall not murder
7. You shall not commit adultery
8. You shall not steal
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (aka don’t lie)
10. You shall not covet
Israel was CONSTANTLY giving in to their temptations and the world around them, making idols, and practicing debauchery. God was not happy whatsoever. He would tell them that their sin would have consequences and time and time again they would deliberately go against His commands. He is a holy and just God, so this is explaining some of the tensions that go on in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, however, things take a massive turn and we’re getting to the coming of Jesus! Jesus came into the world so we wouldn’t have to have all those animal sacrifices and High Priests and legalistic regulations.We wouldn’t have to rely on the High Priest to be that middle man in the process.
He came so we wouldn’t have to be separated from God, but have true communion and fellowship with him, (if you believe and trust in Jesus to be your Savior, and try with all your mind to acknowledge him daily). Jesus went through every single temptation you could have on this earth, yet without sin. He understands where you’re at and understands how you feel. He literally gave his life so you could have true joy and happiness in life and in heaven. Not saying that there aren’t going to be struggles in your life after asking for forgiveness and salvation, because trust me. There are. But having him, you have the best support system you ever could have.
Jesus came to give this hopeless world hope.
And in the Bible, it says right after Jesus died on that cross, the veil in the temple that I told you of? It ripped from the top to the bottom. A rip that no human could have possibly done. That, my dear, signified the completion of Jesus’ sacrifice. Finally, after all that time, God’s people were able to come directly to Him, with their thoughts, their hopes, their sorrows, their joys, and for forgiveness. And he always listens, always answers prayers. It may be “Yes, No, or Maybe” but he answers them always. The point is, He always hears you. And He’s always there for you.
It seems like such an uncommon and ridiculous concept to some if they’ve never heard it before or aren’t used to the idea, but there is a lot of reason in this, as well as a good amount of faith. But, hey! There takes an amount of faith in believing there isn’t a god, too!
Some believe that they aren’t good enough for true and saving salvation. To reply to that, you’d have to say “NONE of us are!” As the verse I showed previously states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 8-9
And here’s another one I like- “ But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
In response to the verse saying that it would set brother against brother, yes. It’s true. That is the verse that is speaking about how believing in Jesus would sometimes make things harder for you in the world. The world doesn’t naturally agree with God. It takes God working in you to really want to believe and get up and follow Him. This verse in particular is speaking of the hardships that come along with convictions, particularly, in this case, if family or friends do not accept you and what you believe.
I’d like to address one more thing 🙂 Because, gosh! I’ve been writing for forever! That feeling that you’ve been being chased by God your whole life ? It’s actually talked about in the Bible! It’s what happens when God is pulling you to himself, and showing you of our desperate need of a Savior to forgive, love, and cherish us, and that we need to try to do well for. That feeling of actually wanting to do good and to serve him and to be forgiven shows that He’s truly working in your heart, and it shouldn’t be intimidating. It should be so very exciting! 🙂
There’s a really good movie/experiment type thing that I’ve watched before that explains some things very well. You do not, by any means, have to watch it. But my friends and I enjoyed it so much I do not have any hesitation in recommending it to others. It’s talking a lot of evolution vs. God in the beginning, and throughout there is a lot of good and solid stuff in there. Here it is if you at all want to watch it! The only thing I would like to disclaim was that this was made before all the Duggar crap, and in the end credits they said about an event with their family, but that’s the only thing that I’d like to point out.
And if you want to ask more questions just for knowledge sake, like I said before, please do not hesitate to email me at email@example.com
LOL sorry for such the long read! I hope I didn’t sound like I was rambling at all…I just kinda felt called to talk to you about that a little. I hope you have a great rest of the day and I can’t wait for your next post 🙂
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First and foremost, I want to thank you for taking so much time to share your faith with me. It’s clear you were raised in a solid foundation of Christian love and understanding, and I truly believe that’s a beautiful thing. Your enthusiasm for your beliefs and generosity of spirit is refreshing, overwhelming and inspiring. I will continue to ponder all that you’ve told me, on that you have my word.
You have to understand that you were born in a home where faith was an exclamation point, whereas I was raised in a home where faith was always a question mark. I have experienced a lot of pain, loss and grief in my lifetime that has distanced me further from forms of faith, making it very hard for me to come to terms with what it is I do believe. Imagine, if you can, what it might be like to be thirty-one and only then first encounter the concept of gravity! To learn that the planet is all the time moving under your feet when you thought you were standing still. It would be incredibly dizzying and disorienting, and that’s where I’m at in my spiritual path.
It has taken me, in other words, two of your lifetimes just to come to the understanding of God I’ve written about above. It may take me even longer to find my path to him, be it Christianity, another organized religion, or a continued faith in humanistic spirituality. But your kindness in sharing what you believe is more appreciated than I can articulate. I hope, Hannah, truly and with all of my heart, that you continue to believe all of your life with such passion and intensity. And I hope you are willing to share your beliefs with others, just as I hope you will listen with an open heart as they share their beliefs with you.
That’s what gives me faith in, if nothing else, humanity. Be well, be blessed, and stay always who you are.
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Thank you for such kind words. It brought such a smile to my face! Just know that my email will always be open to you and that I appreciate all your writing and kindness!
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My parents made me go to church when I was a child. I hated it. Really hated it. The church that we went to was filled with all the “mean girls” from school (I was not in the popular clique). They were the ones most active in the church . . . the ones who were visibly serving up at the front on Sundays. It kind of made me think that if that was what religion was all about, then I didn’t really want it.
I ended up coming to Christ when I was about 17. It was a process for me, not an overnight decision that some of my other Christian friends describe. It took me a really long time to understand what Christianity really was. I didn’t learn it from being forced to go to church as a kid, but from asking questions of the Christian friends I had made as a teen–the ones who exuded a strange joy that I somehow knew was because of their faith.
I love the poem, the “Foxhole Manifesto” above. There’s a lot of truth in it. Church is still filled with hypocrites, it’s true. But I’m much more forgiving and less judgmental than I was as a kid. I can recognize myself as a hypocrite, too. What can I say? i’m trying. We all are. And it’s freeing to finally figure out what grace means–that I don’t have to be perfect, but can still be loved.
My story of how I came to believe in Christianity is long and convoluted, and not really important here. But I just wanted to say that it’s good that you ask questions and that you’re a deep thinker–that you’re taking the time to struggle through with the tough questions. If you ever do decide to accept a certain faith, all of those struggles will make it stronger . . . while at the same time making you more understanding of people who are seeking to find the answers themselves.
I remember as a child, when I heard that I was supposed to love God more than my parents, it seemed impossible. And I actually remember praying, thinking, “Sorry, God, but I can’t love you more than Mom and Dad. I just can’t.”
It’s odd that I remember being a child and so alarmed (if that’s the right word) that I wasn’t supposed to love anyone else more than God himself. It seemed so impossible as a little kid and still seemed impossible as I got older.
I met my husband after I became a Christian and he still had to remind me to put God first–to love God most. Hubby and I were close to getting married. I had decided that he was the One–that I loved Hubby so much I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him and I told him one time, “I love you so much. I love you more than anything.” And his response was, “Please don’t. Don’t love me most. Love God.”
God didn’t tell us to love Him most because He is a selfish God or tyrannical or jealous in a sinful, ugly way. He told us that because He knew if was best for us. That if we put anyone else first, we would be setting ourselves up to be hurt and to hurt in return. Hubby didn’t want to be my idol. He didn’t want to have pressure to be perfect. Hubby knew that he would disappoint me sometimes and knew that if I loved God most, I would offer forgiveness more quickly–that I would remember that he (hubby) was not my savior (he couldn’t be), just like I could never be his.
Maybe that doesn’t make sense to you. I commented on one of your previous blog posts about the line you said (I’m trying to go by memory so forgive me if I don’t quote you exactly right), “You can be someone’s helper or supporter, but Lily, you can NEVER be their savior.” I commented on that post by saying that it was such a simple statement but so hard to do. . . we want to be our own savior or we want the ones we love to be our savior. It’s part of our human instinct, I guess. We want to think we can be savior as much as we’d like to be our own God. But when we realize we don’t have to be our own or anyone else’s savior–that we can’t be, it’s freeing. We want that power to be savior, but when we let go of it, we realize how crushing that desire (or expectation) actually was.
I’ve been talking for way too long, but I do want to mention just a few more things. I know it’s all a matter of perspective, and my perspective of Abraham sacrificing Isaac used to be similar to yours–I found the story a bit, umm, disturbing, I guess. But now, I see it as one of the most beautiful stories of the whole Bible. God was testing Abraham. The test wasn’t for God. God, being all-knowing and outside time, knew that Abraham would pass the test. But Abraham learned through the test and the challenge. The test was for Abraham. His faith reached a different level by deciding that God really was more important than his greatest love on earth. Abraham was a wealthy man incredibly blessed by God. Asking for anything other than Isaac wouldn’t have had the same impact.
And another beautiful thing about the story is that the whole thing, the story in it’s entirety is a prophecy about Jesus. Instead of seeing it as a library (yes, it’s that, too), look at it as the 66 different books working together to make one big story about the nation of Israel being used to save the entire world through the work of Jesus. If you analyze it more like one big story, Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac occurs at the very beginning (Genesis 22), and it foreshadows what happens at the end (Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross). Abraham sacrificed his only son. (God gave his only son.) Issac was figuratively dead for the three day journey to Mt. Moriah.( Jesus was dead for three days.) Isaac was given his life back–figuratively resurrected. (Jesus was literally resurrected after three days.) Isaac was a young man–at least 13 years old–and willingly did what his father told him. (Jesus willingly did what his father told him.) Even the place is the same. Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem and crucified outside the city walls. And Jews believe that Mt. Moriah–the place of Abraham’s famous sacrifice–was in Jerusalem–where the current mosque called “The Dome of the Rock” is located. I know I’m over-simplifying, but interesting to me nonetheless.
The story wasn’t meant to be a story about a God demanding the death of a child. God makes it clear elsewhere in the Bible that child sacrifice was a disgusting abhorrent thing He hated. The story was meant to say something else.
So, again, I’ve been writing way too long, but I also want to mention that when Jesus said, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” He was actually referring to a Psalm, invoking the first line of a psalm was a way for him to refer to that portion of scripture. He would have been referring to the entirety of Psalm 22 when he cried out. If you look it up and read it, you’ll find a beautiful poem (as many of the Psalms are). It’s one that Christians believe contain a lot of prophecies about what Jesus was happening to Jesus. And if you read to the end, it has a happy ending. Jesus knew that he was doing the work his father sent him to do. He was in great pain, but he chose to do his father’s will.
If you’ve actually made it to the end of this comment, thanks. I appreciate your reading my thoughts and ramblings.
I also want to thank you for your email. Even though I haven’t responded, do know that it meant a lot to me that you would explain your history and take the time to write to me and encourage me to start writing again.
Your email was so kind and really meant a lot. I intend to respond, and I will. When my kids aren’t in school, I don’t take the time I need to to write. I know that’s a poor excuse. I should get up early or find other time to do it. Please be patient with me. I do intend to get back with you.
In the mean time, thanks for being who you are. Thanks for writing. And blessings to you as you travel your journey. God does always answer prayers. If you want to figure out who He is, ask Him to help you. He’ll help you wrestle through the troubling questions you have.
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The thing I have always enjoyed about your blog is your raw honesty. That came through once again in this post. I truly appreciate you sharing your heart and as I was reading I was wishing that I was sitting in a cafe with you just chatting together.
So much I could say, but feel more led right now to just give you a cyberspace (((HUG))) and tell you that God is smiling down on you! You have a beautiful heart! ❤
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