Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Coexist XXVI - With God

I spent most of my teenage years sharing my Christian faith with others. I grew up in a Methodist church at a time when contemporary music was rare and daring. The associate pastor and his wife were wonderful musicians and they had a heart for teens. I fell into a life of singing,performing and sharing my faith quite naturally.

My high school years were filled with rehearsing and traveling in Christian musicals. Some for teens and then for whole families. I co-directed a musical with the next group of teens, and that unique era in our lives lasted well into my twenties.

As a young wife and mother I continued to be involved in every aspect of the church. My then-husband and I became youth leaders in an attempt to keep that part of our lives with us a little longer. My little children went everywhere with us, including weekend retreats and camps.

Prayer chains and Bible studies were a constant, as well as the many songs I shared as solos in church. I had a one-woman Lenten concert that encapsulated all my beliefs in songs and commentary. Soon after that my entire life fell apart and nothing in my head or heart was familiar anymore. I learned that serving on committees, teaching Sunday school and abstaining from drinking and swearing were not what being a Christian was all about. I discovered that only one thing remained in times of overwhelming pain - and that was God.

The church failed me, friends failed me, my husband most certainly failed me and I fell complettely apart. I learned through counseling that I was a human being with all the same temptations and weaknesses everyone else had. I found out that putting forth an image of being good and spotless did not make you that way. I experienced rage and terror and despair. Many people in my church stopped speaking to me. I was tired of being perfect, tired of being a good example, tired of being a Christian.

I became a single mother and looked for love in all the wrong places. I wore my friends out with my anxiety and I discovered that none of them had any idea what I was going through. I screamed "why me!" over and over at night and I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. And God held me in His arms when no one else would.

Eventually I healed and became a new, more real person. I related to Pinocchio wanting to be a real boy. I stopped being a wooden replica of a woman and actually became one, and realized that maybe that was God's plan all along.

I fell deeply in love for the first time and began a new life, but our not-the-Brady-Bunch blended family was a disaster. How could God let this happen to me again? Wait. Stop. God didn't make it happen. I chose it. Now I needed Him again.

Then to top it off my beloved church left me. Literally. Picked up and moved to another community, dividing the church family and obliterating everything it had once been in my life. I was beyond heartbroken. So,even people who love you let you down, and the fallible human-led church let's you down, and what do you have? Just God.

My son and I sat in the parking lot of the church - the one we'd both grown up in, the one he'd been baptized in by that same pastor I grew up with (and he's named after), the church I'd hoped my children would be married in, just as I was, - and I said: "This has nothing to do with God. He didn't do this. People did this. " But, of course, teenagers love a good excuse to hate church and my church-raised children were no exception. Shit.

I continued my new life with a new husband and a new church, but somehow all the trappings of my very Christian life seemed irrelevant now. Don't get me wrong - my faith stayed strong. God is still in my heart and soul. But that's just my point. Although I see nothing wrong with churches and bible studies and prayer chains - they won't save you. Only God will save you. Only God will love you when no one else does.

In the '70's I was strumming my guitar and singing Christian camp songs and listening to John Denver and James Taylor on the side. I have to admit I deeply regret missing a lot of amazing music that was surfacing at the time. In the '80's I was listening to Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. There was one simple Amy Grant song, written in 1986, that has always stuck with me, and I've always thought it says it all.

In a little while we'll be with the Father, can't you see Him smile.
In a little while we'll be home forever, in a while.
We're just here to learn to love Him and we'll be home, in a little while.

(From the album "Age to Age". Song by Grant, Chapman, Bannister, Keister)

We're just here to learn to love Him.
To me that line puts all of life in perspective. If you've met God and let Him into your life, then you love Him and you can rest in the knowledge of a loving eternity. This world will shortly be left behind. Earthly life is the time He gives us to choose, to know Him, to use what He's given us. This is your chance. Right now.

I made a stupendous effort to not be a part of the worldly world in my youth, and I succeeded, but at a cost. I believe that my life crisis was used by God to wake me up to the world I really live in. A beautiful world, full of experiences and joy and heartache. It's brief. It's amazing. It's the human experience.


Rob-bear said...

This is a very gutsy post. I'm glad, for you, that you could write it.

As a pastor (with a Methodist orientation) I see and understand the issues you raise. We spend a lot of time "majoring in the minors," so to speak, within the church.

I'm glad you have a healthier perspective on who you are as a human being, and a Christian.

Moohaa said...

A beautiful post. And one I can relate to, at least as far as being hurt by the church. I am learning and growing now, in some ways I never wanted to.

You bring up the most important issue, though. God is the most important, not a church, not a man, not a doctrine. Just Him.

Daniel Bell said...

For myself, I would amend your comment about being here to learn to love Him.

I have no god but what is. I believe in no life after this. It is a fairy tale for frightened children. If we are here for anything at all, it is to learn to love. Period. Love someone. Love doing. Love being. All else is speculation born of fear and loneliness.

I love to write. I love to build. I love to teach. And I love my writers group. Even when I'm kind of a dick.

Amy said...

It is brief and amazing, Diane. I appreciate that every day as I watch my girls grow up! In reading Dan's post I'm reminded of a quote I like. I don't know who first said it, but it goes like this: "Pity the poor atheist who feels grateful and has no one to thank." I strayed from my faith in my 20's when I was in college. But being a Labor & Delivery nurse brought me back, as did having my own children.

Thankfully, our Christian faith guides us when faced with "d*#k" like behavior from certain people. ;o)

74WIXYgrad said...

Diane, I really like this post. Me, I didn't really grow up in church. I got involved in it when I started going with Kathy.

I am fortunate in the fact that as I was going through an early fanatical period, I studied the Bible largely on my own and that helped me deal with many of the people who probably felt that arrogance was a spiritual gift.

And I loved that you very much stressed throughout this post that it wasn't God's fault, but the imperfect people who comprise the church.

Thank you so much for sharing.

Lena said...

Thank you for sharing such a personal and heartfelt post. You have been on quite a journey.

It reminds me of a quote a good friend of mine uses, "Trouble is the reward for growth."

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

This is really quite a vulnerable and amazing post, Diane. It is so hard when all that we've trusted falls away. Like you, I believe that God is our only constant. Now if I could only learn to reemember that each day!