My personal faith is something I don’t talk about a lot, though I allude to it here now and then. I struggled with faith for a long time. For many reasons.
I grew up in a Christian household. We went to church a lot. We wore our Sunday best and sat still for hours in church on Sundays. I didn’t like the music that sounded to me like funeral dirges, and I can’t remember a single thing I learned from a sermon. I felt the God I met as a child was a god who only loved me when I was stiff and formal and wearing clothes I hated while singing songs I didn’t like. I dreaded Sundays, but loved Saturdays when I could climb trees in my blue jeans. When I was a kid, weekends had a good day, Saturday, and a bad day, Sunday. I dreaded heaven as I heard it was a place where we would worship God forever…..an eternity of Sundays.
My father was a good man, but like many fathers of my generation, he was the rulemaker and disciplinarian, not someone I had a personal or close relationship with, not someone I shared my troubles with or confided in. So the idea of a personal relationship with my heavenly father was a difficult one for me to accept. It was easier for me to accept a God who’s relationship with us was to set rules and to disipline us when we broke them.
My eldest sister left for college when I was 13, and when she did I was crushed to lose one of my best friends, she’d been my hero until then. I was confused, though, when she came back…she had been “saved” and had become an Christian who quoted Bible verses often and talked of redemption. She made me read The Late Great Planet Earth so that when the end of the world came I wouldn’t go to hell. I’d only been contemplating high school until then. I hurriedly said the sinner’s prayer and bought a cross necklace just in case she and Hal Lindsey were right and the anti-Christ was in the world heralding the final Armageddon and the end of us all. My heart wasn’t in it though. I didn’t want to display and live the religious fervor she did, it just wasn’t me. It made me uncomfortable.
Then my grandmother died of cancer. She and I had been very close; I even helped care for her when she was in the final and painful stages of the disease. She and I read many books together, books I loved…Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet” were two. She only left me one thing, though, when she died. A personally inscribed Bible. Just before she died she solemnly told me it was her final gift to me . She had never been particularly religious. She’d even told me once she’d rather spend an afternoon with a good book than a bunch of church ladies, though she attended church. I was intrigued at her final gift to me. So I decided to give her Bible a try. I don’t know why, but I only read the gospels after her memorial service.
I was surprised by what I read. I really liked Jesus a lot. I’d never met him in my church. This Jesus even loved, accepted and spent time with people who sinned sexually and cheated other people. He loved everyone. He had the most contempt for the upright judgmental religious people and let them know that regularly. He didn’t even own a change of clothes (so much for proper Sunday dress) and preached outside in the grass sometimes while providing a picnic lunch to his listeners. He attended parties and drank wine. He chose as one of his first missionaries a woman who’d been married multiple times and was living in sin. He loved and accepted everyone.
And when he died and came back, he showed everyone that you receive a physical body after death, one that can be touched and hugged. He could still eat food in his new body; one of the first things he did when he returned in his new body was to have breakfast with his friends. But his new body could also overcome the laws of physics and pass through time and space and locked doors. Wow. And when he left he didn’t even leave us with a lot of rules, just asked us to love him and to love each other, even when loving wasn’t easy. And if we failed at even that, he would still forgive and accept us.
I followed that Jesus until I’d been in an abusive marriage for 7 years and decided I couldn’t keep turning the other cheek, I couldn’t love my enemies. I left Jesus when I left the marriage in my early 20s. I still believed, I just didn’t think I had what it took to be a follower.
And I stayed away. Until 2001. Until cancer. Until I met an enemy I was totally powerless against, until I needed help bigger than I could find in this world. But it was still a long and difficult road back. Full of questions and challenges and even anger.
I now have a great faith and a great trust in God. I am sure of His presence in my life. I am not a religious fanatic, I’m actually not very “religious” at all. I attend an organized church, though kind of sporadically. I wear blue jeans to church and my church has a band with drums and the minister preaches in khakis. My best church, though, where I really connect with my God, is in the wilderness among trees and birds. Where the Monarchs butterflies are, where spring wild flowers bloom, where acorns become great oak trees. I also feel that connection when I play music.
I am sorry for the way Christianity is often portrayed by Christians today. I am reading a book “Unchristian”, I truly love it. I think every Christian should read it. It talks about what the Christian faith as portrayed in America looks like to many outsiders…..our image is not a good one. It talks about people like myself, who are afraid we’ll alienate others when we identify our faith. My church now hesitates to use the word “Christian” to describe us as the word has come to portray such a negative image to so many. My church is trying instead to use the term “Christ followers” to refer to us. And to remind us just what a Christ follower does….just loves other people, all people, first and foremost, to the best of our ability. It is what motivated me to construct my web site and to start this blog and to try to help others with cancer.