Confessions of a former, former Christian

The 4 phases of my Christianity – Pt. 4

Phase 4:

I’m finding it’s much easier to write about the past than the present. The past has context, perspective, distance, closure. What’s going on right now has none of that. I’m also finding it’s very hard to put the resolution of every struggle I’ve had with Christianity, all the ways my questions and fears were answered, into a single, all-encompassing post. The phase I’m entering right now is where I hope to be the rest of my life, and it will take the rest of my life to figure out what it means and how to do it. And the best part is, I’m really ok with that now. So rather than trying to wrap it all up here, I will continue to spell it out, piece by piece as I move forward. I reserve the right to change my opinions as I go. Hopefully they will get better with time.

I haven’t cared about much for a long time.

My life, for the most part, has been about nothing. I could cheat and say it was about my family, but that’s mostly a cop out. It certainly hasn’t been about work (and all my co-workers scream, “You got that right!”). I’ve had some small goals, some worked out and some didn’t, but no big vision. At one point I thought it was about God, but that was more just role play (see Phases 1 & 3). I don’t know how to explain this, but I don’t really need to because I think most people live here. With the absence of a meaningful story to live, I have filled it with distraction and recreation.

Spiritually speaking, I was at least willing to call myself a Christian for the last few years, but I was fully aware of the fact that it didn’t really mean anything. I thought about God, but only in a casual “I’m sure I’ll be a better Christian in 5 years”, much the way you say, “I’ll weigh less and be in better shape in 5 years, I’m sure of it”. I wanted to get started, but the second I would think about it, all these visions of what I was going to have to do, what I was going to have give up, the perceived loss of being honest, the faking I would have to start doing, the guilt for screwing up….it effectively ended those aspirations.

My “big moment” is going to sound very anti-climactic. Don’t get too excited. I don’t want to get your hopes up. It was a strangely simple thing that made me change everything. There’s nothing new about the grand revelation I had. There was no special knowledge or profound discovery involved. It’s just an old cheesy concept, that for no good reason, finally sunk in.

Some friends told us about a presentation of Handel’s Messiah put on by the Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestra and the SW Baptist Theological Seminary choir. They said it was performed at the seminary on Thursday for free, and then Friday and Saturday it moved to Bass Hall downtown and cost a bunch of money. I, of course, attended Thursday night. It seemed like a very Christmasy thing to do.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Handel’s Messiah before, I never had, but it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I really don’t know what I was expecting, but whatever it was, this wasn’t it. The whole thing is basically telling the story through song about the promise of the Messiah, the arrival of the Messiah, the death of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the Messiah. But the way they do it is to break the story down to about 40 sentences, and then they just sing each line like a thousand times each. It really has the potential to be kind of irritating, to be honest (at least to the un-cultured like myself). I even looked over at my wife early on when the guy sang, “He is like a refiner’s fire!” 57 times in a row and said, “Ok, jeez, we get it already….”

But as it went on, something about the story, and the repetition of the lines, really began to get me. For no real good reason, I’m actually starting to get a little emotional sitting here watching this thing. A good thing to remember when you’re sitting with your family and you start to tear up for no apparent reason is to keep your face forward at all times, avoiding eye contact at all costs, and for god’s sake, don’t sniff….it’s a dead give away.

Although I couldn’t really explain what I was reacting to, something about this very basic story was really starting to have some meaning for me. In the Old Testament, Israel was waiting for the Messiah to come, and once he gets here, he will be the answer that the people need. There was so much expectation, so much longing for the one who will change everything. And two thoughts occurred to me.

First, they were waiting and waiting and longing and aching for this one they didn’t know about, and I’ve known about him my whole life and never really cared. I had a total lack of appreciation for it because it had been thrust into my face since childhood.

And second, the verse, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them the light has shined” I heard as though I’d never heard it before. There’s no way I can explain this in a way to make it as meaningful to you as it was to me, but it suddenly meant something deep to me. I was living in darkness. And by that, I don’t mean I was living in wickedness and evil and sin (although I do my fair share of that, don’t get me wrong). I was living in the dark, lost, bored, going nowhere, living for no reason, just totally dead inside place. And this image of a light breaking through into that kind of darkness just really did something to me. The one that they were waiting on to come shine the light into their hopeless situation was standing there ready to be the same light to me.

Once this concept had cracked the ice, so to speak, I sat there and listened to the rest of the story as though for the first time. The very basic story that God came down here, put himself through all sorts of crap he didn’t have to go through, and died, for me, hit me hard.

The message that was being repeated a thousand times over and over in my head, just like the lines from this performance, was, “God loves me”.

There’s something about the phrase, “God loves you” which has always seemed so completely cheesy to me. In fact, I sort of feel cheesy having just written it. But what was echoing in my mind was that God loves me, and it was dawning on me that I’ve never really felt that before.

It was very much like the climactic scene from Good Will Hunting. The one where Robin Williams is telling Matt Damon that his abuse was not his fault (“It’s not your fault” “Yeah, I know” “It’s not your fault” “Yes, I heard you” “No, it’s not your fault” “Hey stop screwing with me” “It’s not your fault” “sob, sob, sniff, hug” “It’s not your fault”). That’s exactly how the conversation was going in my head:

“God loves me”

“Ok”

“God loves me”

“Yeah, I know, I get it”

“No, God loves me”

“Yes, I know, that’s not a new idea”

“God loves me”

“Thank you, now shut up”

“God loves me”

“Why are you doing this?”

“God loves me”

“So, wait, what are you saying?”

“God loves me”

And then it was like the dam just broke. God loved me. He’s always loved me. He loved me when he made me. He came here because he loved me. He died because he loved me. He wants me to come to heaven to hang out with him because he loves me. He’s interested in what happens in my life because he loves me.

That realization changes everything. I’d never really felt that before in my entire life. I understood the concept, like I said, there’s no new information here. But for the first time ever, God showed up and looked me in the eye and said, “I love you”, and I believed it, and it was real to me.

My perception of my and God’s relationship up to then had been like a friendly boss and a former employee. The boss says, “Hey, I’ve got your job waiting if you ever want it back”, and you say “Great, thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.” But your boss isn’t exactly sitting around crying that you’re not there. He doesn’t love me.

But when I thought about my relationship with my kids, it was totally different. If one of them was suddenly gone, I would be totally distraught. And if I they called me for help, all I need to know is, “Where are you? I’m on my way.” I don’t care why they left, I don’t care what they did, I don’t care who they’re with, I don’t care who I have to hurt to get to them, I’m leaving immediately and going to go get them because I love them. And it suddenly occurred to me, that’s exactly how God feels about me, only a whole lot more.

Like previous times when I’d thought about starting up a relationship with God again, immediate questions jumped into my head. Questions about what to do next. What was I going to have to start doing? What was I going to have to stop doing? How was I going to have to start acting? And this time I had to pointedly tell myself, I’m not going to worry about that. I’m not going to go to the “So what do I have to do now?” place. I’m just going to stay here in this place for a while. If I rush ahead and don’t get this, I lose it all, and none of the rest of the pieces will fit if this piece is not there first.

I’d decided if I ever got back with God that I wasn’t going to subject myself to this big “sinful living purge” out of duty and the feeling that, “well, I guess I shouldn’t do that anymore”. But many of things I really didn’t want to give up, I don’t even really have any interest in anymore. I know I’ll still fight with sin and temptation, I’m not an idiot, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it, and getting rid of the sin in my life is not going to be the number one goal. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even going to be on the list anymore.

God loves me and that’s it. I love my kids and their behavior doesn’t change that. God loves me, and there’s nothing I have to do to keep it that way.

It’s only been a few weeks, but so far the genuine feeling of this little spark of awareness hasn’t gone away. It hasn’t diminished at all. And it’s changed everything. It’s already had an impact on my relationship with my wife, and that’s something I’d thought would never change. I know I don’t have to do anything to keep God happy with me, but suddenly there are all sorts of things I want to do because he loves me.

For the first time, what I need to do, how I need to live as a Christian suddenly makes sense, and will have to be the topic for another post. But none of it is out of duty, none of it is because I have to, none of it is forced, and none of it is false. I want to live like I’ve never lived before because I have a whole new perspective of who I am. I am someone that God loves.

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December 23, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

4 Comments »

  1. Hey Chris – I read all four phases tonight (I love to read your writing) and so enjoyed the story of your journey. For me it is always about coming back to the realization that it’s so much more about Him than it is about me. And His love is so amazing! Keep sharing your thoughts – it will make an incredible impact on others. And I’m glad you experienced and enjoyed (the repetitiveness of) the Messiah! Christmas blessings to you and your family!

    Comment by Pat Watkins | December 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for sharing your journey! I’d love to sit over coffee with you (assuming you are a coffee drinker) and hear more about your journey with life, faith and Jesus.
    Growing up a church kid myself and doing it all right and making all the right choices led me on a path where I was desperate for a discovery of grace in my own life. The horrifying discovery at some point after my college years that I didn’t really think I needed grace put me on a crash course, designed of course by the Father Himself, to discover grace at work in my life and partnered with those discoveries was the overwhelming simple conclusion that I was truly important to Him, just me, and that He loved me just because He did. I don’t know if you are much of a reader but one of my favorite authors and books is “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Henri Nouwen. I discovered as I read it that this good church girl was very much a prodigal daughter and that I lived in my heart very far away from God.

    May you be amazed daily with His desire for you, His grand love for you and His pleasure over you just because you are you. May you discover the joy of living freely in your Father’s House!

    Many blessings on you and your family,
    Amy (Humbert) Bailey

    Comment by Amy Bailey | January 3, 2010 | Reply

  3. Chris,
    I’m reading a very good book right now called “Because He Loves Me” by Elyse Ftizpatrick. Its through Crossway Books here in Wheaton, which I have a number of connections to. Its not cheesy. Its doctrinal. Its a book about the gospel. And its very good.

    sp

    Comment by Scott Polender | September 29, 2010 | Reply


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