“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 with 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 toward 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 checklist 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.
This 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 whose 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 toward 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 toward God, I would begin to feel those things toward 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.
I ask myself this all the time. But for me, I don’t think I can point to all these wonderful experiences you have. My faith in the God I learned about in the Evangelical church is dying a little every day. And yet, I still call myself a Christian – mostly because of the beautiful picture of Jesus presented in the Gospels.
I talk about it a little in this blog post:
I’d be honored if you took a few minutes to read it.
The vast majority of my experiences with God came after I stopped going to evangelical churches. I had to unlearn some bad theology before I began to encounter God as a personal, loving father.
What sort of churches have you been to since you left the evangelical church?
Your theology is so solid Erica. You are an inspiration. So sorry we lost Jon, he was an inspiration as well.
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I’m so sorry about your loss,Erica. May God bless you and keep you in His care!
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You explained how I feel perfectly. I am letting go of the anger, put I still am looking for his presence. I wish you well.
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So well stated!
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It’s a great verse to hold close. Your writing is beautiful.
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Erica, I am a long time follower and this is my first comment. I, like you am a widower. It has been nearly 2.5 years to the day that I lost my late wife to cancer. This article reminded me of the strength and faith that I had developed many years prior to the tragic events that took place. When I was in high school, I was fortunate that it was a private school and we had a spiritual retreat, it was put on by the “National Evangelists Team” (NET), an overnight experience in our gym at the time. From that experience, I encountered the most moving experience that eventually led me to wanting to be a priest! Looking back at it now I chuckle from the youthful mindset. However I carried that mindset for 2 years, feeling the presence of Jesus by my side daily, that was until I decided I wanted a girlfriend! I don’t want to transgress here, but lets fast forward. Years later I had learned much of the world religions, and I even began entertaining documentaries such as “Zeitgeist”, which outlines a time frame in which a savior would continuously appear over the ages, that would have 12 apostles, performed miracles, died a martyr, and rose again. I was at a loss for words but continued to live my life, thinking religion was a fantasy. As a mature adult, enduring the struggle of life with my terminal wife, the care taking, the tremendous amount of strength it took for me to regain calibration of my faith, something came over me. This is where it all came into focus. The feeling was the presence of God, like I was a teen again, and I felt ashamed that I neglected the memory and encounter I had with him for several years. Now my perspective has changed, not for the worse, but for the greater good. Not only did I stop questioning religion, my faith, the circumstances, the pain, and why me? I reverted to the feeling I had from that very night of experiencing God and his greatness at a whole new level. I apologized to God for entertaining other ideals and referenced the feeling, the emotions, the experience of the presence of Jesus next to me on a daily basis. Alas, my faith helped me through such crazy times, and I patiently worked and waited for what was to come next. Nearly 14 months after my late wife’s passing, this reborn faith allowed me to accept someone new into my life, who I am proud to say I am engaged to. She too shares a faith driven attitude towards life and we are as happy as can be! She actually introduced me to your work, and I couldn’t be happier! Erica, thank you for having the courage to write the way you do about these situations that others are afraid to touch, you have uplifted me and helped me through some challenging times, and it is clear that you are meant to share it with the masses. I truly hope your voice becomes magnified, and perhaps one day I will write the granular details of my life to inspire others as well. There is much more beneath the surface of me, and it has some steep pitfalls, but I continue to trek on. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1
My question to myself is: “why are you NO LONGER a Christian?” long story short: I went all in until one day I found that although the bible led me to the doorway of the throne room it was not enough for me to gain entrance. That, at least in my case, started me on a never ending trip to self discovery where I see no ending. . . . it all started way back in the early seventies when I began to realize that this word ‘God’ can never be contained in a holy book and only recognized from an open heart. . . . and if this is all about personal salvation, why? What for?
As a prodigal daughter, I cannot believe I ever left. I now have a deep, beautiful relationship with God, that I will never give up. I cannot seem to get enough of the Word, and even felt led to start a blog, sharing what I have been learning in my own studies. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you for sharing your testimony with us!
I’m not sure if this was your personal experience, but I get the impression that due to bad theology we often find ourselves blaming God/hating him for the bad things which happen to us in life. There are certain belief systems within Christianity for instance which suggest that it was “God’s plan” for a person to fall from a certain height and break their legs. Such teachings are of the devil [John 3:16, Psalm 145:8-9, 145:17]. Horrid things happen because we live in a world of sin where good and evil are mingled, not because God is somehow in the background scheming these things out. Another issue is I get the feeling that within Christianity many seem to overlook the reality that you can have God as a personal or best friend. I’ve had horrific things happen to me and have carried a lot of sorrow/deep emotional hurt over them. It drove me closer to God and into deep prayer, but I’m not convinced that anything bad which happened to me was “God’s plan”.