Arriving at an intellectual acquiescence to Christianity left me stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. I knew that I could not travel down the roads of other religions or atheism, but I had very little toleration for those who called themselves God’s people. Scripture makes much of the family of God, and I knew that I couldn’t call myself a Christian and not be an active part of that community. How could I reconcile this with the awful experiences I’d had? I’d seen revivals crushed, pastors forced from their pulpits, the Bible used for personal gain. How could I possibly be part of that group?
This was to be a stumbling block for quite some time, but I had other problems. I’d done enough reading about historiography and the bibliographic test in particular to accept that the Bible, and the New Testament especially, had been accurately preserved. (If you are skeptical, do some research yourself – using unbiased sources. They do exist.) I was not hung up on the finer points of inerrancy; it did not matter to me if numbers of soldiers had been rounded up or down. The Bible is not explicitly a history book. Nor is it a science book, so I took no issue with a non-literal reading of the Genesis account. It seemed readily apparent to me that the Bible contained things from the mouth of God and things inspired by the author’s relationship to God. What mattered is that this is what we needed to know.
(An important note here: Not everything recorded in the Bible has God’s seal of approval. I grow weary of people pointing to episodes of, say, incest and claiming that God is fine with it. Anything in those pages that goes against His commands is clearly wrong, even if a consequence is not mentioned).
My problem came in a clash between what my mind accepted as true and what my beliefs pushed me to live out. This dissonance showed itself in my hunger to know more about God while I lived apart from Him. I could read a passage and think, “Yes, this makes sense,” and then go out and do the exact opposite. Don’t sleep around, God says. You’ll get hurt and tangled up if you do. I knew in my gut that was true, yet I was so obsessed with keeping my then-boyfriend (now husband) that I rationalized that, somehow, it wouldn’t happen to me.
Again, I was blind to my own hypocrisy and quick to see it in others.
A mental acceptance of the Gospel does nothing. Even the demons believe (James 1:19). I had enough firepower in my arsenal to engage in intelligent, spirited debate – but my heart was empty. My life was hollow. I didn’t look any different. I didn’t feel any different. And I knew, somehow, that this didn’t make sense. I read of encounters that Jesus had with people and how they came away completely changed. Why was I the same?
Why did I resemble those who opposed Him?
The boyfriend and I got engaged on a beautiful summer’s day in his Alaskan hometown. After at least 5 years away from the church, I suddenly felt that we needed to make it part of our routine. Was this God drawing me to Himself or me making a connection between marriage and going to church? I don’t know how the will of God and the will of man works together. I didn’t want to actually be involved with a church. I didn’t want to get to know people or be part of a ministry. I just thought we should go and listen. Put in an appearance, so to speak.
Chris just shrugged his shoulders and went along.
We decided to go to a service at a large, non-denominational church in our area. I can’t tell you what the sermon was about. I can’t even tell you one song we sang that day. What sticks out to me is the realization that I had to either get on the boat or turn away completely, no matter how little sense the turning away made. As we drove home, I looked at Chris. We can’t sleep together on Saturday night and go to church on Sunday, I said.
He was quiet for a long moment. You’re right, he replied.
This was the first, tentative, adult step I made in the faith. I would love to tell you that it’s been nothing but success ever since, but this is not the shape my journey has taken.
I was still consumed with being accepted. Before long I discovered that a gal I’d met in college also went to this church. We renewed our friendship and it wasn’t long before she and her fiancee were the closest friends that Chris and I had. At the time, she had no discomfort with the difference in her professed beliefs and her party lifestyle. Sadly, we went along for the ride. Even now the smell of stale cigarette smoke makes me think of one too many hours spent in one too many bars.
Chris and I began working with the youth group at the church. This had far more to do with my longing to be part of a special group of friends than anything else. I rationalized this crossing of boundaries into the realm of “them.” I told myself that I wouldn’t be anything like the Christians I had seen abuse their authority. While I didn’t use the position I had to hurt anyone, it didn’t take much time for me to see that the partying I was doing didn’t line up with the message I was sharing with the girls in my group. How could I possibly be arrogant enough to tell them that it was wrong to party, silly to be obsessed with shallow things and that their drama would hurt all their relationships when I was engaged in those very things?
One overcast day a little over a year after we got engaged, I walked past a motorcycle accident and a crying flower girl through the doors of a wedding chapel, on my way to become Mrs. I was scared to death. The church had insisted upon premarital counseling if we wanted one of the pastors to serve as our officiant, and that counseling had been disastrous. Some ill-worded advice had resulted in crashing waves of confession that neither of us knew how to deal with. Who could we talk to? Who would help us? Some of these confessions impacted portions of our families, so that was out.
Still, I took as deep a breath as my corseted dress would allow, squeezed all the blood out of my father’s forearm and made those serious vows.
Marriage was HARD. I was living away from home for the first time, in a 450-square foot apartment that reeked of cigarettes, with a man I wasn’t entirely sure I liked sometimes. The tasks of housekeeping itself weren’t difficult; I’d been taught to keep things clean and comfortable. I could work out a system for laundry and make a grocery list. But how in the world was I supposed to live with this person, day in and day out? He liked his showers way too hot (still does), had a loud voice and a big presence. All the little things that had seemed charming while were dating began to drive me nuts.
Worse yet, he was starting to act funny. Chris never got sick, so when he started to complain of an upset stomach and began to lose weight, I worried. He was tired and snappy a lot of the time. He came home from his church men’s group anxious instead of encouraged. Normally a gregarious, stereotypically outgoing person, he withdrew. He didn’t want to go anywhere. Didn’t want to do anything.
Shortly after our first anniversary, we agreed to go on a camping trip. I was surprised, but happy that Chris seemed more like his old self. Perhaps the long winter and the first difficult days of marriage had taken a toll on him as they had on me. Maybe we’d get into a better routine.
For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here.