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Posts Tagged ‘journey’

Testimonies, Interviews and Casual Conversations

As I apply and interview for various Christian organizations, there is one question that is inevitable, and yet the one I dread most: Can you tell us about your faith journey? I struggle with this question every single time. I typically draw together a few strands of my life:

  • I was homeschooled and my curriculum was heavily influenced by Scripture and so Scripture and prayer were a part of my daily life as long as I can remember
  • I was baptized in a Fellowship Baptist church when I was quite young – while my theology on baptism has shifted over the years, this was an important moment in my life and I was earnest. But I smile to think of what I could have shared as my testimony – my being saved from sin and my desire to follow Jesus.
  • We switched denominations a lot so I had a very rich and varied experience of church.
  • In my teens, we went to an Anglican church which is the place and time when I really started to distinguish my own faith from my family’s faith. It was in this church that I was “confirmed” – after weeks of preparation, the bishop laid hands on me and prayed for me, confirming my faith before the congregation.
  • I discovered the daily office in my teenage years and it is one of the things that held me together. I remember fondly lighting a candle, with music by John Michael Talbot in the background, saying evening prayer or compline.
  • I discovered a love for Scripture – a fascination that God would speak through words on a page and that it didn’t matter how many times I read a passage, God would STILL speak and there was something new there.
  • A pivotal moment in my life was feeling that God was calling me to ministry – not just as a member of the body of Christ, but as vocation. Specifically, I felt called to become an Anglican priest when at the time I was wanting to become a doctor. Much of my adult life has been wrestling and figuring out what that calling looks like. I remember one particular Sunday when I was working for an Anglo-Catholic church many years later realizing I am living into who God made me the most when I am working for a church and seeking to share the gospel with those around me and in the neighbourhood.
  • Sometimes I will mention the questioning and wrestling with faith in university and beyond as I seek to understand God in the midst of the broken aspects of my life.

All these things are true.

And all these things can be shared in the expected five minutes or less or paragraph on an application.

But I’ve never been satisfied with any answer that I have given. It seems so disingenuous. Part of this is because so much of my faith journey is intertwined with my healing journey that it’s really hard to separate the two. And, I’m not convinced that all stories are appropriate for interviews or first encounters.

I’ve been dwelling on this lately. And something came to me.

This isn’t just a struggle with what is appropriate to share. It’s a struggle with two very different testimonies.

The first one – and the one that I usually share – is about what *I* have done. I decided to be baptized. I discovered Scripture. I wrestled with God. I pursued theological studies.

But as the days and years go on, I realized that my faith story is not so much what I have done, but what God has done in me. When I think about my faith development and healing, I recognize that there are things that I have done that have contributed to where I am. But healing has only come from God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. When I think about any of the moments that were significant in my faith journey – the really meaty part of my story – I could not have orchestrated those moments. Sometimes God worked through people. But the deepest, most meaningful moments that have had a lasting impact on who I am and my desire to follow God have caught me by surprise, often coming in moments when I am at the weakest for perhaps the same reasons Paul claims he cannot boast about his own life.

And so, I think the way that I have approached interview or casual questions about my faith journey are flawed. I recognize that I am where I am at only by the grace of God and yet answer as if I have achieved this on my own – or, if generous – that God saved me through the cross, but my faith is my recognition, my response and my doing.

Showing Up

Last year’s Lenten journey began with a series of difficult questions around what it meant to serve God and the loneliness that would accompany it. I was encouraged by a good friend to pray through these questions over the coming weeks and I found myself contemplating the cross quite a bit. I wrote a piece for school that is my most read piece on here based on the passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which we are instructed to take up our cross and follow Christ. I was told by the professor I hold in high esteem that it was “profound.” Nothing like having your writing guru tell you that your paper is profound. I decided that I wanted to repeat that this Lent – read and write another “profound” piece that would be frequently visited from around the world.

And then my church announced a sermon series and focus on the healing journey. Have I mentioned yet that I am sick of “the healing journey”. I’m done – I want to get on with life, never feel depressed again, never struggle with the lasting impact of traumatic events. So I skipped the first Sunday morning. Quite easy to do actually as we lost an hour sleep that night. But even if we gained an hour, I didn’t feel like hearing a sermon on healing.

then a good friend wrote me and asked if I was coming to the evening service. it was a healing service – a “safe place to lament”. Well, this service sounded interesting – perhaps another tool in my toolkit for when I am involved in church ministry again! I didn’t go because I need healing – but because others need healing and perhaps this would help me help them. I cringe at my arrogance strong capacity to avoid and resist.

The service of lament was rather powerful. we were encouraged to write our own laments. I did – and I launched my heart’s accusations against God. I was so not prepared to confront God that night – or to accuse him of being enemy, not friend. and there I was. I went for annointing and had trouble finding the words to ask for annointing. My pastor prayed for me. I don’t remember much of the actual words other than the reminder that the only way out of our pain is through… and praying that the church community would walk with me as I walk through my pain.

I got back to my pew and I couldn’t stop crying. I became aware of the pain inside in a deep way. The pain I feel is really not so much related to either of my parents – there is still pain and unhealed wounds, but what I mean is – they are mortal and sinners. In that respect I know two things are true – they are a sinners just like me, and in a sense, they also cannot escape the sinful nature that is so deeply embedded in us. The deepest wounds I face are from God Almighty – to whom I prayed for safety, and that prayer took many years to be answered. THIS is the part of my healing journey I have not wanted to face. That night the floodgates to my heart were open and I have known since then that there is no turning back. I’ve asked – no demanded – God to give me answers, answers that only He can give. My theological reading and training enables me to articulate the “right answers” – but they are no longer adequate. God is on trial – is he friend or foe? the healing of my darkest and deepest pain demands an answer.

and since that service of lament two weeks ago, I have felt a great many things. But I have not felt the intimate presence of God that I have known. I know with my head that God is here and never will leave me, and that he can handle the deep questioning that I have started. But at a heart level – I feel empty when I pray. I feel like I am talking to a ceiling, or as I put to some dear friends, I feel like I am talking into the abyss of nothingness. Mother Teresa felt a desolation her whole life of serving God. St. John of the Cross speaks of a dark night of the soul – something that pop culture has taken up but for him, I think it was not so much a state of depression but an shedding of himself as God led him to depend on God alone and not on feelings, blessings, or what-have-you. I’m not sure what it is that I am experiencing these days, but it is a lonely and challenging place to be. I am deeply angry at God. I sit in church as I hear how God is working in and through others’ deep pain – and while others seem to be praising God for how amazing he is, I find myself questioning the God who “allows” more than being moved to praise. Why do we praise the God who heals the wounds he does nothing to prevent? what if – as in the case of the blind man or Lazarus – God causes a state of suffering so that his glory may be shown. I suppose, God – God Almighty, afterall – can do this because, well, he IS God. But how is that fair? We confess sins of commission and omission. what about God and the things he has left undone? To illustrate this question further: I have first aid training. If someone collapsed in front of me, I have a duty in one sense to do something about it. Suppose I watch this suffering person and just remind them that I am there, but do nothing to help. How good is that? What if that is what God does – why is it ok for God to stand by, but not ok for me?

There may not be answers to my questions. Or I may not like the answers. Ultimately, I might come to confess and repent of the bold accusations. But for now – I can’t pretend to an omniscient God that I’m not mad at him, or that suddenly I feel he is friend again and has always been. So right now my spiritual journey has taken a lenten journey that I wasn’t anticipating and frankly, didn’t want. Getting through a day is hard enough with God. getting through without him – that’s not exactly what I wanted to face! and yet, the only way out seems to be through. this journey is hard though. I talk to God frequently in my day – now I don’t know what I want to say or even if I want to say anything at all. Going to church is hard. Praying is hard. My theological classes are hard.

There is an image that keeps coming to mind. Some close friends have had very little sleep over the past few months as their newborn has struggled with colic and insomnia. I have read/heard their frustrations. And yet, they are frequently speaking of how much they love their little boy. The continue to care for him – in the middle of the night when they are totally exhausted. The dad drives him around the block on really bad nights to get him to sleep or give mom a chance to catnap. This is love. I’m not a parent, but I’m not sure that if I was this boy’s mom that I would feel that I love this child after many weeks of chronic sleep deprivation. But love gets up and takes care of the baby whether one feels love or not.

maybe this part of my journey with God is somewhat like this. I don’t feel God’s love, and don’t particularly feel like I love God right now. It’s not that I hate God, I’ve just called everything into question and feel nothing towards him but anger and frustration. But maybe I don’t need to feel in order to be in relationship with God. Maybe my act of love can be more about showing up to meet with God in church, in the privacy of my own home. Maybe this is what it means to love God in this part of my journey.

There is solace in the idea that maybe I just need to show up.

I might not have all the answers I want, but I can still show up.

I might not have the faith that God can come through right now, but I can still show up.

I might not be able to like how God has or hasn’t worked, but I can still show up.

and maybe that’s what this lenten journey is about. not writing some spectacular piece of writing that makes it onto the first page of google searches. not about serving others. not about feeling.

but about just showing up.

Grace

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I submitted my final paper of my undergraduate years. That’s it – for real this time! I joke about this as I have returned to undergrad for various reasons at different times. And now I can pretty confidently say – never again!

Now that this term is behind me, I feel like I can share a little of the challenges and beauty that it held.

My Christmas break was not really a break. Within a few days of my final exam, I had word that my stepfather was starting his sentence in jail and for completely unrelated reasons I needed to leave my house. I started this term tired, and completely unfocused on school. The reasons for leaving my home are complex and much drama ensued the coming months, drama that to some degree is still playing out.

The youth mentorship program that we are launching this summer is exciting and definitely one of the more joyful parts of my life. But to be honest, it has been a lot of work, with deadlines for various things (including much needed funding!) spread throughout the school term. I look back over the past few months and see all that I have accomplished and shake my head wondering how on earth it all happened.

Grace.

This term has been full of grace. It does not take long to discover that I am not perfect. I mess up all the time – in big ways and in small ways. But I yearn to follow God and try. I have seen God honour and bless this yearning even when I’ve messed up big time. I have seen God provide in ways that I hadn’t expected. Financially, emotionally, spiritually, academically.

I have had professors extend grace – grace when there was legitimate reasons, and grace when really I had mismanaged my time or gotten dates wrong. I have seen consistent marks that I used to want to kill for.

I have seen God use me which is both humbling and awesome. I always find that to be an encouragement. I have experienced God’s teaching and loving correction – though very painful at times – throughout all that has happened this term.

I have been given strength when I have felt sick. Friends when I have felt alone. God’s presence and comfort when I have felt no human can understand what I am going through.

Grace has been the theme of this semester. Yes – I have put in long hours and devotion to studies, work, and the lives of those who are going through difficult times. But I never would have been able to do any of that without grace sustaining me.

I am thankful that grace is bigger than me. I am thankful that God’s plans are not thwarted by my selfishness, insecurity or mistakes. I am thankful that grace can make possible what so frequently seems impossible. I’m thankful that grace can make beauty out of anything.