Most of the questions I get from readers are about my faith, my weight, my addictions, or my marriage.
My relationship to God is the most important thing in my life. I say to instead of with because I experience my faith journey more like an effort to align myself rightly with Him than to be friends with Him. I don’t get Him enough to try to be friends. I find Him entirely too unpredictable. To be friends with someone, I gotta be able to predict with some confidence what she’s going to do next, so I’m not constantly sweating. God makes me sweat profusely. Guessing God’s next move is like trying to make a casserole…no matter how closely I try to follow directions, I NEVER KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT. Scary.
Still, aligning myself correctly to Him is my only real goal down here. My relationship to Him is what sets right all the secondary relationships in my life – my marriage, my friendships, my parenting, my writing. And so I am constantly thinking about God. Truth, you can call it if you’re uncomfortable with the G word. I am always considering - What am I supposed to learn about God, about what is True… from this argument, this seashell, this tragedy, this rainbow, this friend, this enemy, this child, this disease? I believe that everything that enters my life is an invitation further into the heart of God, and if I accept the invitation, and step closer instead of hiding, I learn and grow and my perspective broadens ever so slightly. Things get lighter and clearer.
Drinking and smoking and binging and purging were all my ways of rejecting Life’s Invitations. I still reject them now, through over-shopping and overeating and talking too much and zoning out on the internet and TV, but my rejections are less frequent and less dramatic, and I call that progress.
You know, it’s a tricky thing- writing to a specific and incredibly diverse audience about my particular faith. Especially because I have never, ever, in my whole entire life, met anyone who agrees with my faith ideas. So please, don’t worry- I don’t expect you to, either. It is certainly okay if you think I’m wrong- as a matter of fact, I am certain that I’m wrong. How could any of us be “right” when guessing about God? I agree with whomever said that we have as good a chance of understanding the mind of God as a colony of ants has of understanding the minds of humans. And I’m just an ant, but so is everyone else. Even the most educated gals, even the guys behind the pulpits . . . they’re still ants like me. And I’d rather make my own mistakes about God than someone else’s. So I think and listen and write and pray and read and try, try, try to learn, to receive. And I trust that God can speak to me, and that it’s okay if I write about it.
A minister once wrote to me and said, “Isn’t this privatization of faith that you discuss dangerous? Everyone cannot just believe whatever he wants. What keeps people from deciding then, Jesus is a cantaloupe!”
Well, I guess I believe that things get more dangerous when faith is not privatized. When people are not encouraged to study and listen and think for themselves. It seems to me that things get dangerous when people blindly follow religious leaders. Because leaders can be good or they can be bad. And so I think that we can ask for counsel from educated religious leaders, yes. But as with everything else important in our lives . . . our health, our parenting, we must ultimately be our own leaders when it comes to faith. Because we can each read, we can each pray, we can each think, and we can each sit silently and listen. We cannot count completely on others to have the answer for us, ever. God is speaking to each of us, always. And I don’t necessarily want to know what He’s saying to you, I need to know what He’s saying to me.
And so I told the kind minister that while I respected him and his vocation immensely, I didn’t believe in mediators between God and man. I told him that I do believe in teachers. And I told him that I was a teacher too, and that I considered my most important role to be teaching students how to think for themselves.
And I told him that when I die, I expect to sit down with God to discuss my life. I expect that only She and I will be at that meeting – not She and I and my minister. And so I live that way now, too. It is not a lack of respect, it is just respecting everyone equally, including myself.
*As a side note, since receiving this email I have considered at least twelve ways that Jesus is just like a cantaloupe. But that’s for another day.
In general, my faith revolves around questions rather than answers, and I think that’s okay. I am very wary of people with too many answers about God. Faith is supposed to be a mystery. If anyone tells that you they’ve figured it out, they know all the answers, the rules, the system or equation that will set you right with God, run. If someone makes God small enough to fit inside her head, she’s made Him too small, I think.
Craig and I are considering becoming official members of our neighborhood church. This is a big deal for us, because a few years ago we promised ourselves we wouldn’t choose a denomination. We couldn’t imagine the need for it. Still can’t, really. We considered ourselves religious rolling stones. But we’ve fallen for this little church, and we started wondering if our religious “freedom” wasn’t just another word for nothing left to lose (thank you Janis.) Because we know that any faith worth a damn is a faith worked out over a lifetime of relationships with other people. It’s a commitment to and with other people, is all. Church is just a commitment to try to live a life of a certain quality, a life of love, of humility, of service, alongside others whom you will care for and allow to care for you, even when you are difficult. It’s a group of regular old humans trying to love each other and the world in superhuman ways. And so it’s a hard way of life, but to me, the only way of life that makes any sense. When people ask me if faith, if church, is comforting to me, I say – sort of. But mostly it’s challenging.
Anyway -I was afraid to join. Because I don’t want to pretend to believe anything I don’t believe. And I don’t want to pretend not to have doubts. And I don’t want my children to be taught things about God that I’ll have to undo. Before I joined any church, I needed permission from whomever was in charge to be different.
So I invited one of the ministers of the church over to my house.
I was scared.
But we talked for two hours. And I told her my concerns. I told her that I thought I wanted to join her church, but that first, I wanted to make sure she wanted me. I told her that I am a troublemaker.
I told her that I love Jesus madly and deeply, but my problem in church always seems to be that I understand Him differently than many other Christians seem to. And I love these other Christians, and I don’t want to bother or offend them. So I just felt like maybe it was better for me to remain unattached to any particular church than to disrupt a perfectly lovely one. She seemed to understand exactly what I meant by this. She reads the blog sometimes, I think
I went on to admit that I had all kinds of doubts and questions and even negative feelings about the Church’s role throughout history. But I told her I still loved the Church so much, which I thought was weird and interesting. I felt kind of like St. Augustine, who said, “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” I told her that if I were to be a member of her church, I would need her permission to speak respectfully but freely and differently at appropriate times. To be myself.
Basically, she said she wanted me. She liked me, I think. She said our church would fit me just fine. She doesn’t mind a troublemaker or two in her fold.
So we’ll see. My biggest fear when entering any church is always…Oh, Jesus. What are they going to teach my babies about God? This worry makes me sweat, too. So guess what I did? I signed up to teach Sunday school. And I’ve already fallen in love with my Sunday School Team. I’m not sure they know I’m a troublemaker yet, though. God help them.
I realize I didn’t get to my faith-y questions and doubts yet, but this is getting long. Next time.
Love you all.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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