Jan 2, 2008

a death in the desert: abandoning christianity to find christ

Is there a word that's drier than dry? Desert experiences are often described as dry, but this isn't dry. This goes way beyond dry. This is beyond arid, droughty, sere, thirsty or waterless.

I've experienced dry before. You know those times when God seems distant and silent. But relationships are good, the routine of church seems normal, you still read your bible, use all the lingo and feel as though you belong. The times that God isn't near, but it doesn't really matter because everything else is still in place and life goes on. You believe that God will show up any day and it will be alright. I thought that was pretty dry.

But not this time. This is the desert experience I've been dreading my whole life. The one like Moses lived in for 40 years before God showed up in a pyromaniac's frustration, a bush that wouldn't burn. Forty years! I don't know that I have 40 more years and I sure as hell don't want to spend it here in this vast wasteland of doubts, questions, emptiness and the sound of my prayers bouncing around my head like echoes off a canyon wall.

This is beyond dry and it's my fault. Two years ago, I started asking questions about the american church and the culture of christianity I live in. It seemed that things weren't lining up with the bible that I knew or the words of Jesus. It seemed as though we were working really hard to convince ourselves and maybe others that this thing was really working and that we were really making a difference, just like Jesus wanted us to. But the more I really started to look, the more questions I had. The more wonderings I wandered through until I wandered my way into this desert.

I wondered why the abortion rate in church was now as high or higher than outside the church. I wondered the same thing about divorce. I wondered why we sang songs about giving Jesus everything, but less than 5% of christians give even a tenth of their income to their local church to support the staff and facility expenses and even fewer give money to care for widows and orphans around the planet. I wondered why so many people come late to worship, yet say they believe Jesus is among us. If we really believed he was among us wouldn't we be on time or even early to meet with him? I wondered what it was about american christians that the muslim and liberal american cultures hated so much. I wondered about what Jesus meant by "love your neighbor" and why radio personalities claiming to be christians were so vicious to those who had differing opinions. I wondered why the culture of my kid's private christian school was rampant with underage drinking and premarital sex and yet no one wanted to see it or have a conversation about the pain these kids must be feeling. I wondered why my buddhist sister was nicer than many christians I know. I wondered why so many christians seem sad and angry. I wondered why churches spend millions of dollars a year building bigger, nicer and newer facilities when 30,000 children die every day around the world from hunger. Hunger. An entirely preventable death.

And without realizing it I began to abandon christianity to find Christ. Never in a million years did I think I would contemplate ending my status as a christian. I've been a christian since I was 13. Not a very good one, mind you. I got pretty lost there for a while in my teens and drank too much, took a few drugs, smoked a little pot, slept around and had two abortions. But I pulled it together when I was 21 and started over. I was never going to be as good as my friend, Michelle. She'd grown up in a christian home and assured me her sins weren't as bad as mine. But I'd take second or even third-class christianity over being out there in the world, lost and alone. God's taken me to so many places since then and being a christian has meant following Christ. But lately, not so much. The strength of the christian culture in american is flowing swiftly to God-knows-where when the world is heading to hell, which might mean it's time to change rivers.

So 18 months ago I asked God: "Take everything away from me that's not Jesus. Everything that's man-made, american cultural christianity and not Jesus. I need to know who Jesus really is and what He really meant, because this church thing isn't working for me anymore and it sure doesn't seem to be helping the world. amen."

Sometimes God hears my prayers and then he answers and I'm not so sure I'm glad he was listening at that particular moment and that he took me seriously. The first year after that prayer was great. All the stuff he was stripping off of me I was completely glad to be rid of. We were in total agreement about what was wrong with american flag-flying christianity and I loved the freedom I was beginning to experience. I loved reading authors from the 'left' and feeling a little afraid of the adventure, but not too afraid. It was just exciting enough to be dangerously fun. I started asking more questions and reading the blogs of people who were asking the same questions and weren't freaked out by my wonderings.

That's when he got to the bone. He pulled off things I'd lived with all my life and that I had my identity wrapped around. Without those things, who was I? It got harder to go to church with my identity wavering and my life-long struggle with mild depression getting deeper. My ability to fake it was no longer functioning. I didn't fit anymore. I had more questions every week. But the church was uncomfortable with my questions, my doubts and my wonderings. I had no one to talk to. There was no one else in my circle of friends who was thinking these thoughts or asking these questions. There were plenty of blogs about this stuff and entire churches out there that were on board with realigning their lives to match Jesus' and not the culture's. But no one near me except my 17-year old daughter was there. We were no help to each other and her doubts fed mine and my questions gave birth to more for her. We were together in a desert alone, by ourselves. And for the first time, without God.

I've had a long and fruitful life with God since re-giving him my life 26 years ago. We've been close and we've pretty much agreed on most of the stuff he's done in my life. But not this time. This time I've grown very, very afraid of him and scared to death of what he's going to take away from me next. I have a feeling it will be everything because I told him more times than I can count that he could have it all, but I guess I didn't know what I was talking about.

Nine years ago, my sweet Mom was diagnosed with a metastasized cancer from 23 years prior. She died within 3 months despite my desperate prayers and the prayers of my church. My estranged dad, who I had not seen for 10 years, died 11 days after my Mom. Nine weeks later, on my Mom's birthday, her mother died. That wasn't a desert. That was a cave. A dark, scary, smelly cave. But God was very near. Worshipping him in the midst of that pain was the hardest thing I've ever done. But, I loved him like I had never loved him before. I was also very mad at him. To pray so hard, to believe so desperately, and to have all my moorings cut out from under me and to be set adrift changed me in ways I still can't get a hold of.

This feels worse than that. My expectation is that soon my life will parallel Job's and God will take my husband next. Then my three children, the dog, the two cats and finally the house will burn down. But only after we finish the remodeling. My oldest son will fail his sophomore year of college. My daughter's eating disorder and depression will worsen. My youngest son will start drinking like his christian classmates. These are my fears as I sit in this desert that doesn't seem so much like an experience as I've lost my salvation. But God has my life and can spend it on bubblegum if he so chooses. I'm truly afraid he will.

This is the same God that I've known as loving. I mean really loving. He's loving and he's good. He's really good. But he's also King of the universe, creator of everything including nebula and amoeba. He has the power to wipe me off the planet without so much as a "how do ya do" or "have an apple'. He knows my every weakness, every flaw and every sin. If I was him, I might consider wiping me off the planet, too. He knows that my prophetic gift, the one He gave me, has been used to hurt, maim and deeply wound countless people, including the ones I love the most. He knows that I wear my insecurity like a shield of arrogance and wield my fear like a sword, cutting the heart of my husband more often than not. Why in heaven's name would he want me here?

But somewhere He said he loved me, then He died for me and then He was raised from the dead. Not just so He'd be good as new, but better than new. Shinier, more powerful and able to leap tall galaxies in a single bound. And He's touched me, talked to me, healed me and been there. Until now.

And I've never felt more lost. The christian culture hasn't skipped a beat in my absence and they're still worshipping, serving in children's church and moving along like clockwork. They say He shows up on Sunday and that He's healed a few people. Somewhere in California He's healing hundreds of people. Maybe He'll heal my friend Isaac, who has an incredible wife, four young kids and terminal cancer. Maybe.

But in this place that I've wandered into while looking for Him? He's not here. At least not that I can see. I've wondered daily if I took a massively wrong turn and need to head back to the fork in the road so I can eat crow. Am I crazy? I went to the doctor for this deep depression I have been unable to crawl out from under like all the other times in my life. She's got me on drugs. Medication to combat the decrease in my hormones because I'm at 'an age.' I thought we were all at an age, but I guess I was wrong. I'm at 'an age' that no longer makes my brain happy, so a prescription has been written to make my brain happy again. This is the desert.

I can't believe I'm leaving a culture I've lived in for 26 years. I can't believe I'm taking anti-depressants. I can't believe I don't want to read my bible, go to church or pray. This is one very weird and hard place and I hope that whatever the lessons are that I'm supposed to be learning, I'm learning them really well so I don't ever have to come back here.

I have a friend who went through a life changing desert experience when he was 30. It lasted 3 years. It changed him. He looks back now and practically glows when reminiscing about those years in the desert. He knows the lessons he learned there and the value of the desert. He assures me that it will change me in ways I can't imagine and that I'll be forever grateful to God for this experience. I think my friend has had his brains baked in the Afghan sun. He lives in Afghanistan. It's a desert. He told me to enjoy the desert and that there was nothing I had to do except wait.

So, I wait, baking under the shade of a very small tree, leaning against a large boulder. I watch the lizards scurry across the hot sand, listen to the wind blow, admire the freedom of the eagles riding the upper drafts. And I wait to see what wonders God has in store for me. I think he may be crazy, too.

1 comment:

Curt has onemoreplace2go said...

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! Truly enjoyed hearing your heart. And that guy from Afghanistan IS crazy; I know him well. :-)

In the desert God strips us so bare that we see our own essence and in that is revealed our talents and gifts more clearly than ever. I think your creativity has been released from the chains of the Christian culture. Why is it that Christians are so under-represented in the arts? Shouldn't we who know the Creator be intensely creative?

Keep the post coming; there are plenty of people who will resonate with your heart in this.