My faith journey began a lot more like a love story than a conversion. I'd say I quite literally fell in love with God as a new Christian. I felt His comfort, direction and care in a way that rivaled that of any tangible person in my life. From the day I was reborn God surrounded me with mentors, friends and family that all pushed me closer and closer to my new Divine Friend. The thrill I got from partying couldn't compare with Who I found to take it's place, so I happily dropped it. After high school I went on to attend Bible College because I knew that as a new Christian I would need an environment that would support my choice to follow God. I feared that without this support I would forget Christianity or worse, lose the new Love of my life. Neither of these fears were realized, but a crisis was waiting just outside the reach of my foresight.
I remember it so distinctly, like a switch was shut off in the heavens and the feeling of God's presence was gone. The intensity of the emptiness and sense of abandonment I felt at that time is difficult for me to describe. Let's just say I was overcome with disillusionment. I went to various church leaders for help and spiritual guidance. They all told me the same thing, "You must be in sin". Maybe they were mentored by Jobs friend Bildad in Chapter 18 ;) . I readily accepted this explanation and begged God to show me what I was doing wrong, so I could repent. Thus began the witch hunt for my mystery sin. I played the guessing game with God, like a pathetic game of charades. "Sounds like..., am I getting warmer?" This went on for about three years until I became frustrated with God. I was desperately trying to repent of whatever it was that caused Him to withdraw the sense of His presence. I began to see God as an aloof mocker of my efforts to love, honor and seek Him. I didn't realize that in trying to discover my secret sin I had committed a much worse error, I was really trying to "God" myself. I somehow thought that self-hatred, self condemnation and a merciless self examination would get me back into the Lord's good graces. With a deep sense of grief I can clearly see I was wrong. I finally came to the conclusion that the wild goose could not be caught. There was no habitual, willful sin in my life that God had clearly asked me to turn from. There were plenty of imperfections, mistakes and ways I fell short, as there still are, believe me! But I could have sworn that's what Jesus died for, willful sinning included! On this earth we will always live with shortcomings and flaws. Then the light bulb turned on. IT WASN'T MY FAULT!
Within a week of my light bulb moment I gained a deeper insight into what it was that was happening to me. I saw a picture of a tree in the winter. There was a clouded sky in the background giving only that special kind of glow that an overcast day can give. The silhouette of the dead looking tree, strangely, gave me a deep sense of hope. We all go through seasons. We cannot control the seasons, they are in the hand of God alone. The tree couldn't help that it was winter. It just was. The tree couldn't make the sun come out, or grow leaves. All it could do was wait. All I could do was wait. Anyone out there a fan of waiting? My spiritual winter had little to do with me and my performance, but everything to do with God's plan to prune and mature me. This realization helped to correct my anger and confusion at Him. I knew my emptiness had a purpose and I believe it was this sense of purpose that empowered me to wait another five years, when my long winter finally started to show signs of letting up...
There will be more to come in my story of losing my religion and for the sake of clarity, I am referring to the type of religion that is an ugly contradiction of true spirituality. That is, the religion that demands to be in control and dominate through performance, laying guilt trips on its disciples. I look forward to sharing more of this story with you. My winter season created a depth of compassion for others and loyalty to God that I am sure I wouldn't have learned without it. Phase 2 of this story will come another day. I know there is a handful of people who keep up with this blog. Love you guys.