So hey. This got longer than I anticipated. Just a head’s up. And I’m not looking for a spiritual debate here. I used to be a person who might vehemently argue to the end because I believed every one had to believe EXACTLY AS I BELIEVED. I don’t do that anymore. I love you as you are, whatever it is you choose to believe. Some Christians don’t like that. That’s okay too. Live and let live, and all. This is just me sharing what’s in my heart.
Fact: I wrote the title of this post, sat here and stared at the screen, then got up and went and took a shower.
This is a scary topic for me. Scary not because I don’t know what I believe in, but because I do know what I believe in, and that’s kind of a sensitive thing for a lot of people. I’ve casually mentioned it here in passing, but have never truly fully espoused my deeply rooted beliefs here on the interwebs. That’s for a lot of reasons. For one, people don’t like to be preached at and I don’t want to preach at people. For two, all the teaching jobs I’ve ever had have been at Christian schools. One day, when my kid(s) are in school themselves, I have every intention of returning to teaching, and I liked teaching in Christian schools. I have a fear that one day someone who is looking to hire me (for the first time, or… again) will read what I’ve said here about what I believe, and even though my beliefs are, at their fundamental root, considered “Christian,” decide that I’m not rigid enough and therefore not hire me. I thought about all of this in the shower. I decided right there with Selsun Blue soaking on my scalp and in my hair because I have a wicked dandruff problem that I have to be one whole person, and that person has to be the same out in the world as she is on the internet, and so if I’m truly being real in real life, then it should be okay to be real here on the internet. So here we are.
Not only is this topic scary, it’s also complicated, right? Because there are all kinds of theological implications and what not, about which entire dissertations have been written and studied. And I just can’t go there right now. And it’ a hard topic to even begin because, well, there’s a certain Sunday-schoolish angle that has to be addressed, and then there’s the bigger, broader picture of what the Sunday school answer really looks like in real life. I’m going to do my best here to to do both.
The Sunday school answer I have for you is this (and it’s only a really simplified paragraph of it): I believe in God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, who are all one in the same (this is one of those theological bits that I don’t really care to get into at this very second, because I’m not trying to convince you of what I believe here, just share it with you). I believe that God created the universe and the world and everything in it. I don’t know the specific details of how He did it or what it exactly looked like, so I don’t care to get into a conversation about evolution, because for all I know, He had a beautiful plan for His creation that involved evolution. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Neither was anyone else, actually. But I trust God had a hand in it, and over it, and the master design for it, however it happened.). I believe that humankind is so very painfully and deeply flawed, and there is an eternity after we die, and that God is God over that eternity, and that humans do need salvation. I believe in heaven and hell. I believe that God is not a God who stands back from us coldly and distantly, but I do believe that sometimes He steps back. He’s like a good parent, you know what I mean? The kind who lets their kid explore for themselves and do hard things on their own and even lets them get hurt every now and then, because we ALL learn by doing. We learning by failing sometimes. We learning by hurting sometimes. We don’t learn when we are shielded from the world. God gets that. God invented that, I think. God is not a helicopter parent, I’ve decided. But He also is like a good parent because He knows when to step in and pick us up, and carry us. He knows that sometimes we need to be held and helped. He does that too, I believe. I could go on with this metaphor, but maybe that’s for another day. At it’s most basic, the most critical part in all of this, is that I believe that God sent his own son, Jesus, down to live on this earth for awhile to live amongst His creation and really get a feel for what life is like on the Earth He created. Then, because He saw how horribly depraved we are and that we could never do enough of those sacrifices of poor animals to make up for our depravity, He decided He would make the ultimate sacrifice for us, and that all we would ever have to do was accept that sacrifice and believe in it and Him, and we would be golden. So He let Jesus be killed by his own people. Then, because He’s God, he showed us that there is life after death and He rose three days later and walked this earth and then somehow made His way back up to heaven. How? you ask. I have not the faintest idea. I don’t have to know. I’m really okay with not knowing, but if you’re not, that’s cool too. That’s why people study theology and whatever.
END OF THE SUNDAY SCHOOL EXPLANATION OF MY BELIEFS.
Okay so Sunday school aside, there’s more, because all of that is well and good, and really I guess it’s the heart of the matter, but what does that even mean for life right now? Right here? Today?
And that’s where it gets complicated because it means different things for different people and looks different in reality for everyone. I went to a private Christian school in high school and middle school. I learned a lot about sin and how horrible we all are and how I needed to not sin and blah blah blah. They were doing the best they could, I think, but it terrified the hell out of me. I got all kinds of anxiety issues because of it. OMG! God is going to hate me because I made this bad choice! OMG! I can’t do X, Y, or Z because God says not to and OMG WHOOPS I DID THEM AND NOW I’M DOOMED FOREVER! I spent a lot of time being afraid of my own choices and mistakes. I spent a lot of time being afraid of God.
When I say anxiety, I mean my body was wracked with it. I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up all night literally shaking. I slept on the floor of my bedroom. This is where my “fall asleep watching TV” habit began because the TV took my mind off of everything I thought I was doing wrong and therefore making God angry by doing. I used Ben.adryl or Nyq.uil some nights to sleep. I called my dad in the middle of the night on so many nights and he would sit there, half asleep, listening to me ramble on about how I was so afraid that whatever I was doing was wrong and not what God wanted for my life and then, since I had had that thought, how if I chose to do it anyway after thinking about how God wouldn’t want me to do it then I would be in HUGE trouble with the man upstairs and that’s just like saying, “No,” to God’s face and who can do that and not be smited by Him?!?! The circuitous thinking went on and on. It’s exhausting just remembering it.
So for me, being a Christian at that time meant being terrified of every wrong choice I ever made.
Then I went to college and was marginally freed from the fear of doing everything wrong. I mean, I still believed what I believed, and I still found myself a little bit afraid, but as long as I didn’t date anyone, I was okay. 99% of my anxiety was always related to dating- what if God doesn’t want me to date this person? Are they Christian enough? OMG PHYSICAL “STUFF”? WHERE’S THE LINE THERE?!??!?! WHOOPS I CROSSED THIS LINE AMIGOINGTOHELLNOWOMGSOMEONEPLEASEGETMEOUTOFTHISRELATIONSHIPNOW!! That was all in direct conflict with my somewhat sensitive heartstrings which didn’t want to hurt another person and so I would spend days feeling anxious because I felt like God wanted me to break up with someone (Don’t even. I know.) and yet I didn’t want to hurt this person’s feelings or make them sad (again. I totally know. You don’t have to tell me.). So there I was.
I became a camp counselor at a Christian outdoor adventure camp (I would link to it, but I’m afraid I might be an embarrassment to them, so I’ll just let it be unknown for now. It’s an awesome place though.) summer after my sophomore year of college, and that was the beginning of the change. This is where I began to know God more as a God of Love than a God of Fear. My experiences here deserve a post- no, an entire book- of their own, so I’ll just leave it as I have it. It’s where my ideas about who God is and how God wants me to live began to change. I still experienced anxiety. I even had anxiety WHILE I WAS THERE. My second summer working there was so full of my own anxiety ridden nights that it seems ludicrous that I would say this is where it all began to change, but it isn’t really. This camp was the catalyst.
I got a camp boyfriend that first summer and we dated for a long time. We were long distance and it was a tumultuous kind of relationship. I spent the entire first 2 months of our relationship (back in the real world, away from camp) feeling anxious and staying up all night talking to my dad about how I wasn’t sure if I should be with this person- for many, many reasons that I won’t list here. I eventually found a way to squash all the anxiety and continue on. The next time the anxiety came was the next summer and I was back working at camp and he was in basic training for the Coast Guard. So much worry about so many things. I cried a lot. Then he got out of basic and was different and I was different and I felt more anxiety about all of that. I was insistent that I should be with this person because I had managed to squash the anxiety in the beginning and I didn’t want all of the hard anxiety squashing work I had done to be for nothing. So I prayed that God would keep us together.
And thank God, He didn’t.
Throughout the end (because it was a long process) of this relationship, C and I became better friends. We had always been friends, but we became better friends because C was my go-to “OMG WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH MY BOYFRIEND?!” guy. He was the first person I went to when boyfriend and I broke up (the first time). This isn’t pertinent to what I believe or anything, I just find it interesting how God works things sometimes. This was a time in my life when I needed God to carry me and help me. I believe He did that in providing C.
So boyfriend and I eventually broke up permanently and it’s the third best thing that ever happened to me (aside from marrying C and having E). C and I were friends and somewhere along the way a mutual friend suggested he ask me out. At the start of C and I, I definitely thought about the anxiety. I thought about if I would have it with him or not. I wrote in my journal about it (I became an avid journal-er with the anxiety and all). I talked to C about it. So we started dating and I found myself telling God that I would not feel anxious about this. No. I was going to date C, and not feel the anxiety. I felt kind of bad telling God I wouldn’t let that happen, but not bad enough to feel anxious.
It’s like I took a step back from God. And really? I did. I stepped back. I felt like I had to if I wanted to learn to be normal. C and I had a lot of conversations about God and our beliefs- because I was really worried that he didn’t believe the same things as me and then I was going to have to feel anxious about that and maybe break up. But one thing C said has always stuck with me: “I don’t think God wants you to be afraid all the time.” C, who does not often talk about God or salvation or anything like that, gave me some of the most profound spiritual wisdom I’ve ever received. He also told me that he believes in God and Jesus and all that jazz, but that he feels his beliefs are better lived through actions than by talking about them. So he does good things for others. He is kind and he helps.
Huh, I thought.
I read a lot of books that had a lot of impact on what I believe and how I believe it. Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller, and Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore are two that come to mind immediately, but I know there are more. I started to believe in Love. That God, who has done and is all of the Sunday school answers I shared above, cares a whole lot about how we Love Others. First He cares that we believe all that jazz I spewed above, then He cares about how we treat and consider others. He is less concerned with our perfection than I’ve believed all along. And so I decided to stop talking so much about Jesus and the Cross and Salvation, and DO YOU KNOW MY GOD? (not that I did a lot of that talking anyway, which was another thing I was always feeling badly about) And start loving others. Because when I think about Jesus in the Bible? He spent a lot of time loving on people. Sure, he preached. He told his story. He told God’s story, and that’s important. But He really loved people where they were at.
I’ve spent a lot of time feeling badly because it feels so uncomfortable for me to preach at people. I’m not one who wants to go around telling people all about how much I love Jesus and how I’m going to heaven and how they should accept Him into their hearts because they need to go to heaven too. I’ve felt badly about that for a long time, like maybe I’m not a good enough Christian because I just feel funny about getting all Gospel-y and preachy with others. Then He gave me C, and showed me that we all have gifts. Some people’s gifts are sharing- up front and up close and DIRECT- about God, which is totally cool for them, and others? They show by how they love.
So I believe in loving others. I believe in loving them where they’re at, whatever that looks like. I believe that if Jesus were here, he would love people regardless of what they look like, what kind of music they listen to, what kind of sin they’re committing, whether or not they’re going to church…. whatever. He would love them because He’s an inclusive kind of guy.
And I know there’s a lot more to this Christianity thing than just Love. There’s a whole bunch of deeper things. But I figure if there is one thing I can do regularly and well, it’s love others, and that’s like, the second most important thing He tells us to do. He tells us to love Him, and love others. I can do those two things. The rest will sort itself out, I guess.
It’s not my business to be judging how other people are living their lives. It’s not my business to tell other people what their sin is. I lived too many years afraid of sinning, and I’ve learned it cannot be avoided and we cannot walk around in shame because of it. But we can love. We can love ourselves through our own stuff, we can love others through theirs, and let God handle the rest. I’m not even sure it’s my business to be trying to handle or manage or mandate other people’s salvation. That’s why I just can’t bring myself to be preachy. God tells me to love Him and love Others. He will sort the salvation stuff out with them in His own time. My job is just to show them Love. I believe God has all the rest under control.
I know I’ve talked about her a lot lately, and I can’t promise I’ll stop anytime soon, but Glennon Doyle Melton from Momastery says she knows only two things to be true and I like those two things enough that I’m borrowing them:
1. I am God’s beloved child.
2. So is everyone else.
I like that. Especially #2. Everyone else. Everyone is such an all encompassing word. I like it.
I’m not perfect at the loving others all time. I’m just not. But I’m human. God made me human. So I’m not going to be perfect at anything, ever.
That’s what I believe.