For me, Jesus is vibrantly alive; I hear his voice, I can see how he is orchestrating my life, and my soul is comforted by the presence of his spirit. In many ways it is the most intimate relationship possible; communication is occurring on a spiritual level. As much as I love my husband, my daughter, and those I am closest to; our spirits don’t communicate with each other in that way.
Of course, everyone’s relationship with Jesus is different but most of the time, if I’m not told differently, I assume people who tell me they are a Christian have a similar relationship with God. But lately, it seems that is true less and less. Many of the people that I grew up with are turning away from their faith. Those kids I sat next to in Sunday school for years are now denying the existence of God. To me, it is confusing and heartbreaking. I’m filled with a churning grief that is almost a physical ache. And often I don’t know how to respond.
I do not hate these people; I do not want to slam a door in their face or even erect a barrier between us. In fact, I am afraid of being judged and found wanting. As my father-in-law says, “Most of the time I feel as spiritual as a plunger.” I worry perhaps a friend saw my sin, my depression, or my bad parenting and they knew I wasn’t being Christ-like. Did this help them turn away from those teachings we grew up with? I realize this sounds self-centered, but as Christians we are taught to do everything unto the glory of God and that His presence in us will draw others to him. Then when I see the exact opposite happening in my own life, it is devastating. I feel disappointed in myself and my lack of spiritual fortitude.
Well, this is awkward.
Another huge issue for me is my own unbelief. All Christians struggle with unbelief or doubt at times. I have gone through seasons of my life -sometimes even years- when I feel disconnected from the Lord and full of doubt. When I have a friend who outs herself as an atheist, a big part of me wonders if she is going through a similar season. And, to be very honest, sometimes you feel like your friendly atheist has made some excellent points and all your doubts coming flooding back to the surface.
When I found out a friend was no longer a Christian I was full of questions and worries. I grew up with Jane* and I love her. She’s the same person she always was but now she doesn’t believe in God anymore? How can this be? She sat beside me in church hearing the same teaching I did, we spent our teenage years praying for each other in youth group, we pledged that “true love waits” together, we cried together, and worshiped together. Or at least I thought we did. Was she lying to me? When did this start? Was she doubting her faith when she was praying for me when I was struggling last year? Was she just acting or bowing to societal pressure this whole time?
So much of my identity is wrapped up in my relationship with the Lord. When I found out that Jane had rejected Him, it is shocking because I feel like she is rejecting part of me, and in some cases, her upbringing. I grieve because the person I knew has changed. I still love her and want to have a relationship with her, but there is awkwardness to overcome. I want to say, “Jane, do you remember that when I went forward and received prayer at church? It was terrible and wonderful at the same time. I felt so embarrassed when I cried and my nose ran and I was shaking as you and the others were praying for me. I hated for anyone to see me that way. I hated to make myself so vulnerable, but I knew you understood. Do you still understand or do you look back on that time and pity me and revile my weakness?”
One close friend told me that his realized his unbelief was a bigger deal for me than it was for him. It sounds funny, but it’s true. I still believe that those who haven’t accepted Christ will not enter heaven, but he doesn’t. I’m worried about his soul and the lack of spiritual guidance he is giving his children, but he isn’t. Since he is in control of his own life and is responsible for his children, he can do what he wants. I will still love him, enjoy his company, and let our kids play together. And I will pray for him, grieve for his loss of belief, and will try to show him the evidence of my faith in my daily life. He is a wonderful father, a loving husband, and a truly supportive friend. He gives great advice and has a quirky sense of humor that I love. I don’t want to offend him or make him feel shunned. I don’t want to make him uncomfortable or judge him, but I do want him to question his unbelief enough so that he turns back to the Lord. It’s a difficult to find that delicate balance and I often feel woefully under-equipped. In fact, I know that I cannot make him change his mind. Only the Lord can.
I can understand why, but how?
As a mom and a wife I am unable to do things in my own strength, no matter how hard I try. And believe me- I do try! Many days I only survive because the Holy Spirit guides me. I am comforted to know that this Earth is not my final home. No matter how bad I screw things up, no matter what my failings as a parent, wife, or friend, I know that heavenly resolution is waiting. Sometimes the only way I can get my depressed and anxious self out of bed is to remember that my focus needs to be on the eternal. Things will never be perfect on Earth, but the Lord has placed me here for a reason.
Following this train of thought, I wonder about my friends who don’t have the Lord in their lives. How do they make it through the day? How do they have the strength to be the mom their children need? How do they stay married? I doubt they would say they have everything figured out or that they are better than me. They are taking it one day at time as well, but I cannot comprehend how they are still functioning. This raises all kinds of confusion within me. I am less a capable woman than them? I am just trained to be dependent on the Holy Spirit because of my upbringing and beliefs? Are they failing miserably and not telling anyone? Am I a horrible person with unfathomable depths of depravity that I need help overcoming while they are just normal functioning people?
I don’t have a great closing paragraph to put here and the post feels unfinished. But in these real life situations that I’ve mentioned, there is no perfect ending either. The truth is that I don’t know what to do. I’d rather err on the side of being too accepting and accommodating. After all, I don’t want to be one of THOSE Christians.**
*not her real name, ovbiously
**a light hearted joke, even more obviously
If you would like to read what someone on “the other side” has to say. Check out my friend Lori’s*** post.