“Can I ask you a question?”
I could tell from the tone in her voice that it was going to be a good one. I replied an easy “Sure” and tried to figure out the direction she was going to take with it.
“Why are you still a Christian?”
It was definitely a good one.
But it wasn’t a new one.
I have asked it of myself many many times since my husband died and I found myself a 27-year-old widow with another baby on the way.
If anyone had the right to abandon their faith it was me. But somehow, through the worst experience I could ever imagine happening, I managed to stand on my faith.
I thought about it for a minute. Had she asked me 2 years ago or even 9 months ago, I’m not sure I’d have an answer. In the early days of widowhood I was completely numb and it wasn’t until I was well past my 1-year mark that I began to deal with the boiling anger I had towards God.
How did I stay? Even when all of my world was on fire around me?
Why did I stay? Even when everything in me was screaming to go?
The answer has two parts.
The first part is this: My experience with God before Jon died outweighed the pain and anger I experienced when I lost him.
I’m not talking about religious knowledge. I’m not talking about church attendance or Bible studies. If my faith was simply a check list of things I believe and things I don’t, coupled with a list of things I should and shouldn’t do… I would have abandoned my faith without a second thought.
The equation Agree to this theology + Follow these rules = Happy easy life is not real. It’s not biblical. That faulty mindset needs to be cleaned out of the Christian culture. Too many people walk away from their God in hard times because their faith was in that equation rather than the deep, personal connection to the God who loves them.
I don’t have a religion. I actually hate being called “religious” because of the connotation that goes with it and because it doesn’t feel like the right word for what I have. I have a history with God and that is the rock that I stood upon in the greatest storm of my life.
Even when I wanted to leap off of that rock. I couldn’t make myself do it. I had too many experiences in my past to deny His existence. I remember taking many long solitary walks in the woods over the years where I could feel His presence surrounding me, filling me with peace and love. I remember when I was in college I had a series of terrifying demonic nightmares and the only thing that made it stop was crying out the name of Jesus mid dream. I remember time after time that the impossible happened after spending time in prayer.
Too many stories. Too many encounters. Too many “coincidences”. Too many miracles.
Which brings me to the second part of the answer: The only way I could leave was to hold on to anger and that was too high a price to pay.
I couldn’t logic my way out of faith. I couldn’t talk myself out of all of the experiences that I had with God. The only way I could leave my faith was to willfully turn my back on the God that I knew existed. The God I could feel reaching out to me, even when I didn’t want Him to. The God who’s comfort I was actively trying to reject.
Anger was the only vehicle with which I could leave. And if I ever let go of that anger I knew I would come right back to God. So if I was going to leave, I knew I would have had to carry anger and hatred towards God for the rest of my life.
Anger feels good. It feels powerful. It gives you the illusion of control. But it requires constant energy and the price for holding on to it is your very heart and soul. The children of Anger are Hatred and Bitterness and they are indiscriminate in the targets of their assaults. If I were to hold on to anger, hatred and bitterness towards God, I would begin to feel those things towards the people around me. I’ve seen people who have chosen that road and that is not the person that I wanted to be.
I wanted to be free and I knew that freedom required releasing God from what I felt that He owed me. And eventually, over time and in small baby steps I began to release my anger and learn to trust Him with my life once more. And the more I was able to do that, the more I have been able to feel His presence once again. My relationship with Him feels new. Like the soft, tender pink skin that is revealed after a scab is lifted. It feels tender and vulnerable. But it’s no longer bleeding with pain, no longer hardened and protected by anger. A heart of flesh in place of the heart of stone.
I cannot deny Him and I chose not to stay angry at Him.
I am still a Christian because I know God and am known by Him.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.