Who are you? What or who do you represent? What are you fighting for exactly? And what defines God for you? Do you ever ask yourself this? Is it a church, leader, or other people? Doctrinal stance or theological poise? Is it a movement, denomination, or your own opinions and ideologies?
These are the questions I have asked myself over the last 10-15 years. In asking these questions, it’s like God said - okay, let’s go. Let’s figure it out. And, like that, things have unraveled.
As a result, the unraveling like a spool of thread, sometimes slowly - often quickly - leaves a tension with the depths of my soul.
Life used to be fairly black and white. God used to be black and white, and faith easy to define and grab ahold of. Somewhere along the way that changed.
In fact, I can pinpoint moments in history where a thread here and there begin to spin and I simply couldn’t catch it.
Being a small child and feeling like if I moved or spoke in just the wrong way, I would disappoint not just my parents, but the church who seemed as big as God Himself.
Pre-adolescence and watching family members in pain because leaders mishandled and abused positions of control.
A teenager who begged God for forgiveness even when I couldn’t pinpoint a sin of some kind simply because I was scared of utterly failing and disappointing a God who was always watching.
Sixteen and experiencing “charismatic movement” - strange “manifestations” of a God that I thought I understood but now looked more like an emotional outburst of someone desperate to gain attention or gain control of the tenderness of the Spirit within the life of a believer.
Eighteen and being devastated by the news that a mentor, Pastor, and employer had a secret life no one else knew about.
College and young adult years of leaders and more leaders abusing authority, living divided lives, harming the flock in their care. The unraveling grew faster and quicker when I watched the “righteous” condemn and demoralize people who were already broken and trying to navigate the sorrow with the grace. The church somehow forgot how to help them.
Swinging from intimacy with a God who understood me to silence from a God I thought was angry with me. Searching and seeking, desperate to navigate the roller coaster ride of faith and a relationship with God. Almost like a game of cat and mouse, even though something deep within cried something is missing.
That fateful day my dad died. The day when my world truly shattered for the first time and God became not only silent, but became my most hated enemy. And nothing, nothing at all made sense.
Take tragic loss and combine it with countless years of divided leaders, bigotry, condemnation, elitism, favoritism, misogyny...all harm done within the four walls of churches that were successful and changing lives for Jesus.
Please understand, even in the midst of all of the negative was great and wonderful good - fruitfulness - and often even beautiful life-changing community. I will forever be grateful for the faith expressed by my parents - faith that left a great legacy.
Yet, the bad made its impact and truly nothing made sense.
Once my dad died, the unraveling began spinning out of control at that point. Threads were unraveling every which way, and I was helpless to catch it. I was resigned to simply watch, hand over mouth wondering what I was supposed to do now with a faith that was so central to who I was.
Despite the moments along the way that didn’t seem to add up, I had been taught to push those aside and accept things as they are. I had been taught questions were not allowed, grey areas were dangerous, and uncertainty (I.e. doubt) was heresy.
That didn’t work anymore. And that was the day it forever stopped. That kind of faith, faith of my childhood, it simply didn’t work.
Faith has stayed central to the essence of who I am. That faith, however, is no longer shaped or guided by the “church”, doctrine, or what history and experience says. I made a decision to lean into Jesus, search the Scriptures, and allow God room to unravel and speak.
Wrestling with the darkness, living in the tension, and embracing the mystery...this is what faith has become. Things are no longer always black and white, and yet I’m learning to be at peace with the mysteries of God and the tension of faith in the current climate of our world. I’m not sure that some of my fellow Christ followers are comfortable with this or with me. I acknowledge that as a leader and Pastor, I have to be careful. Nonetheless, I refuse to pretend I have it all figured out. I refuse to act as though I am okay with everything I see happening within the church, specifically evangelicalism. And, so I wrestle on with that awareness.
I just simply know this unraveling is not done and I’m fully convinced that it is at the hand of my Savior. That, rather than absent, God is in fact at the center. Like a the little plastic cylinder in the middle of the spook of thread - I will find Him at the center.
Layers and layers of thread that represent family, religion, pastors/teachers/leaders, doctrine, and life experiences - He is unraveling it thread by thread. I think so I can see Him more clearly. And, I believe, so I can see others the way He sees them. So, that I can love more wholeheartedly and fully.
Sometimes it feels too much. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes the church and its leaders feel like the enemy and sometimes I become the enemy. It’s not purposefully. I am not on a vendetta to disprove. I don’t seek the tension for the sake of proof texting or dogmatic stances. If anything, I want to find a way to rest in the tension and love and live greatly within it.
Jesus Christ remains central in my faith. My identity and freedom is rooted in Him. That is our saving grace in the midst of an ever-changing world. I still believe and am confident that Jesus Christ is the only way, truth, and life - the complete path of freedom. Because of His insurmountable grace that was offered on the cross and in His one final act of redemption - I stand redeemed. Through the Spirit of God at work in me, I trust that as I seek Him wholeheartedly that He reveals His heart for me and in that heart of kindness I see areas that separate me from Him. Areas that may bring harm or distraction from what’s best for me. I believe in the power of the Spirit of God to redeem all of humankind.
At the center of it all is a desperation for a greater awareness of the beauty and majesty of a God that my childhood faith insisted it perfectly understood and had all figured out. And some way along the way, I realized the mystery and majesty of God is what makes Him so beautiful and true. It is what makes me emphatically believe and trust in His love for me. The journey has become less about controlling God for myself and others, and more about letting Him do what He does best as I allow Him to transform me from the inside out in away that leads to something that looks a little more like Him each day.
If you struggle with your faith - sometimes, all of the time - know that God can be found in the midst of that struggle. Not only is He great enough to handle the struggle - He desires to walk with you through it. Invite Him in and watch Him respond.