Odd: strange or unusual : different from what is normal or expected
There is no certainty; there is only adventure. Roberto Assagioli
My friend Adele describes fundamentalism as holding so tightly to your beliefs that your fingernails leave imprints on the palm of your hand… I think she’s right. I was a fundamentalist not because of the beliefs I held but because of how I held them: with a death grip. It would take God himself to finally pry them out of my hands. (p.17-18) Rachel Held Evans, “Evolving in Monkey Town”
So, today we’re going to talk about our faith. The Bible says it’s impossible to please God without it, but what does faith look like? More accurately, what type of faith is most pleasing to God?
I ended yesterday’s post with this thought on contractual VS covenatal (relationships founded on a covenant between both parties) relationships:
I believe the type of relationship Jesus wants with us, is one that releases our need to “get it right” or be “biblical”, so that we can to get swept up in the adventure that is doing life with Lover of our Soul. As we learned yesterday, getting our sense of worth from anything but Jesus is idol worship so today and tomorrow we’re going to rethink what does it mean to be a tribe of women who put our faith in Jesus. Does it mean having the right beliefs and Christian-ese answers, or does it mean being a woman committed to the journey of knowing him, even if our assumptions are questioned and our expectations are left unmet?
The summer of 2001 Jesus did not meet my expectations. My faith was tested. I began facing my doubts, and my life-source slowly shifted from the rightness of my beliefs to Jesus. I gave up my need for certainty so that I could fully lean into the adventure of faith needed to be an unwed mother surrounded by a school of urban ministers.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
It all started romantic relationships. The first was with a man I gave virginity to as a misguided Missionary-dater. The other was with a boy who loved Jesus and loved me, but still broke my heart.
The autumn before I met my husband and began wrestling with my doubts, I was recovering from a toxic relationship with an older man who I tried to “win to the Lord” by giving him my virginity (yes, I was that delusional in my effort to be the BEST CHRISTIAN EVER). After that failed mission, I swore off dating and told Jesus in a teary journal entry that I was his girl from now on. “Lord, I’m not dating anyone else until you give me the ok. I’m all yours. Here’s my heart. ” I think I even sang “Draw Me Close To You” for added umph!
A month later, I met my husband in New Orleans during Mardi Gras on a short-term missions trip. After a meet-cute that Kirk Cameron would totally put in one of his cheesy Christian movies, we returned to our respective homes (Him, Illinois. Me, Texas). A couple of weeks into our budding long-distance romance, we broached, “courting”— the trendy “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” fad for young “on fire” evangelicals.
“Look, I don’t date so unless we’re heading towards marriage, we should probably end things now—you know before we get too attached”, my then boyfriend, now husband, said late one Wednesday night.
I’m such a girl; I actually swooned on the other end of the line. How Godly…
“Me too! I’m dating Jesus! That is until he brings me the right man, of course.” I exclaimed, because you know that type of piety is a ten on the Christian girl hotness meter.
“Well, what should we do?” he asked.
After praying together on the phone, we decided to take Friday through Sunday off from talking or emailing; we’d fast, pray, and seek the counsel of our mentors. On Sunday we’d share our “impressions from the Lord” and make a decision then.
I wanted to honor Jesus and of course, we have this contract where he wouldn’t let me fall for someone who wasn’t “the one” so, I “Jesus-girled” that discernment process up. I prayed the proper verses on asking, seeking, knocking. I tried to delight myself in the Lord with Hillsongs and Daryll Evans. I didn’t touch a single cup of coffee or Hershey’s chocolate bar all weekend—BRUTAL for a college student with papers due the following week. Then, I called my friends and mentors to ask for feedback or prayers.
“Of course y’all should do it!” they said.
“He’s going to be an urban minister and you’re so gifted. Y’all will be an anointed couple!”
“Yes! Date him, marry him, make little super-spiritual babies with him!” they cheered.
I went into that DTR, with all the chastity and righteousness of a side-hug, with my certainty that I checked off every item on the Christian to-do list to get my way, and “with a peace in my heart” about the whole thing— courting, ministry together, marriage, super-spiritual babies and all.
My husband had a similar conclusion from his “Man of God” checklist, so that April evening we made our intentions to get engaged and marry within the year (preferable before we “burn” ) .
In July he broke up with me—over the phone.
And hell hath no fury like a scorned saint.
When “the one” broke up with me— I flipped out! I was confident God gave me a false “peace” only to cut the ground from underneath my feet.
For days, I prayed, “how can I trust you, Lord?”
I was no longer certain of my faith or my God.
Do you see how I got my life from my beliefs? Faith in Jesus meant being certain of what I believed, doing the right things, and pleasing a false picture of God. But Jesus wanted a covenant with me, so he kept in my face. He kept waking me up at night with Scriptures and songs about his goodness and great love for me. The words “covenant” and “relationships not religion” were in all the sermons or late-night cry fests with Christian friends.
The following months Jesus would give me space and opportunity to doubt his very existence, his goodness, and his teachings. Those were hard months. I regularly threw my bible across the room because nothing made sense anymore! He didn’t look good, or like a very present help in time of need, or even that he was working my heartbreak out for his good.
My Christian friends’ began to irritate me with their naivete and optimism. There was no one safe to ask the hard questions.
So, I ran to men to ease my holy discomfort. I sought out the grubby physical touch of beer smelly frat boys to try to ignore Jesus’ divine prodding. He was saying, “come on, you gave me your heart…let’s process this together.” And I was saying, “Hells no, Lord. You caused me to question the goodness of your plan for my life. You are now unsafe!”
Jesus and I did this dance of doubt until I found myself leaning up against my bathroom door staring at a positive pregnancy test with MTV blaring in the background. Only, then did I let Jesus in with his unmistakable love, his teachings on gathering me up like a mother hen or in this world I’ll have trouble but take heart for he has overcome the world. Those sentimental songs he’d been serenading me with for months filled that space and then he blew my mind by revealing the true source of my pain… I had a skewed picture of God. It wasn’t the disappointments or the lack of rigid expectations but, the fear of being in covenant with a capricious evil God that kept me running. The kind of God that gives a girl recovering for sexual abuse and a sleazy virginity sacrifice, a “peace” about dating a really decent Christian guy and then lets that guy break up with her.
But, that picture of God doesn’t look like Jesus. And that’s another story and an another adventure.
Which I’ll save for tomorrow’s Campfire Conversation, “Friend, what is your picture of God?”
But, I wonder how many of us view our faith in terms of certainty like I did when I was “on fire” for the Lord? Do you feel your faith in Jesus is only as strong as you are feel certain about your beliefs? When I let myself doubt Jesus on that bathroom floor, things got really real between Jesus and me. There’s so much benefit to doubting and destroying our idols of certainty—it give us space to get salty, wild, angry, and real with our Lord.
I think it’s a bit strange and unusual to force a living, dynamic relationship into a set of doctrinal rules and regulations? Isn’t it odd to get our lives from the certainty of our beliefs? It would seem to me that Jesus enjoys a good theological conversation. He welcomes an honest push-back. He doesn’t want us to check our brains in at the door! Look at his ministry! Some of his best teachings came when someone with tough questions stood up and said something like, “teacher what do you make of this seeming inconsistency?” or “How does this work in light of that”.
My favorite invitation from the Lord is found in Isaiah when God beautifully calls us to process our doubts within the context of covenant with him:
“Come now, let us reason[a] together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
Ladies, do you see this? He wants our minds. We serve a God who isn’t put off by our intellect, he’s thrilled when we activate it to know him better.
But most of all, he wants our hearts and hearts are bloody! They’re messy and they’re vulnerable. So, our faith is GOING TO BE MESSY!
Girlfriends, come and ask the hard questions
This tribe of women we’re forming here—we’re wrestlers. We’re willing to fight through the hard. We’re not afraid to doubt. We hold tightly to Jesus and let go of our beliefs. We do this because we love Jesus more than we love knowledge. We do this because we know healthy relationships allow for doubt and push back. Jesus is safe y’all. He’s not shocked off his throne by our questions!
He didn’t always feel safe to me, though. I was pretty afraid of him when I found out I pregnant, unwed and a former “best Christian ever”. I was afraid he would abandon me because I failed, I went back to the sin I repented of in that tear-stained journal, but tomorrow I’ll share with you the beautiful Jesus-looking picture of God that completely renewed my thinking.
Until then ladies, I wish you incredible courage to ask Jesus one hard question. I wish you incredible patience to listen even if it’s uncomfortable and I wish strength to keep challenging our Jesus—he can take it, in fact, he welcomes it.