On Parenting, Faith and Imperfection

Today we’re going to talk about faith again. And, in fact, we’re going to talk about faith at least, like, two times in the next couple weeks because then this is a SERIES. A series of at least TWO posts, because I’m a mother of five kids and school is starting any day now and that’s all I can commit to right now. But who knows? Maybe it’ll be more than two posts – like, perhaps THREE posts, which is 50% more than two. Also, maybe I’ll actually make dinner tonight! It’s a whole world of possibilities out there; anything can happen, I tell you.

And I know. I know. Believe me, I know. I know some of you (Emily) just hate it when I get all faithy, but some of you (also Emily) stick around anyway because you’re kind and you let me be me even though I’m different than you, and you trust me to let you be you even though you’re different than me. And I love our community for this! It’s one of my very favorite things about us, this freedom to be deeply, authentically who we are in this space. A mosaic of extraordinary beauty.

But I know some of you (Amy) are all YEEHAW! Finally! Talk about faith on purpose already, Beth. Because you get all wordy about Love Pursuing Us and all of us being made in the Very Image of the Divine and being Enough Right Now as we already are and blah, blah, blah, but enough for what? Like, what’s the point here? When do we get to the part about being sinful and Jesus dying for us and redemption and Heaven? And I know it’s disappointing to some of my fellow Christians that the answer to that last question is, essentially, never. That I have no desire to write for conviction or conversion. That I’ve abandoned the Christianese language to the point I no longer use phrases like covered in the Blood, or fellowship of believers, or saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. 

So what is the point, then? Of this series and of talking about faith at all and of putting this smack dab in the middle of a parenting blog?

The point is to welcome you, to see you, and to love you.

That’s it.

That’s all.

That’s the crux of everything I hope to do with this life.

And I do that, in part, by letting you see me. The real me. In this case, the real me who’s a woman of imperfect faith, trying to raise children to ask questions, to look for answers, to trust Love, and to breathe.

I wrote this essay in May 2012 for Rachel Held Evan’s blog as part of a series on Parenting and Faith. It’s republished here with permission.

……….

Ask. Seek. Knock. Breathe.

I used to prefer for God to live in a box.

Not a jewelry box. Or a moving box. Or a giant refrigerator box. Or even one of those pet store hamster boxes with breathing holes like the one I bought in 1980 with my best friend Tracy because two seven-year-olds co-owning a hamster is always a good idea.

Nope. My God-box was different.

My God-box was more like a Lunchables box. The kind that’s well-shaped with plastic compartments for neatly stacked crackers and round spheres of pressed meat and contoured for protection against breakage. 

That was, in my mind, the very best, most structured kind of a God-box, and my God deserved the best.

I liked my boxed God very much because He was neat and tidy, and also a He with a capital H. And everything in my life fit into my God-box compartments.

I think that’s normal for a kid raised in the Church, and it isn’t bad or wrong. It just turned out to be, well, a little too easy and preserved for the realities of my life as it unfolded.

I became a mama for the first time in the Fall of 1998 when a foster mom, in the dark of night in a tiny home in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam placed a nine week old baby girl into my shaking arms. It was eleven days shy of my 25th birthday, and my husband and I marveled over Abby’s fingers and toes and the fact that two whole governments were willing to entrust us with her little, perfect life.

I had everything I wanted. A husband I liked nearly all the time. A daughter I adored. A home. And a personal relationship with JesusChristMyLordandSavior.

I was wildly, deliriously happy and fulfilled.

Except when I was terribly unhappy. And except when I was oddly empty. And except when I felt like I was choking in the dark of night as I sat for hours and hours on the hardwood floors outside my baby’s room and my butt grew numb while I wondered why I lacked for peace when I had gratitude and faith.

My confusion and bewilderment felt a lot like drowning or despair which I suspect are two words for the same thing. The wild flailing of arms. The gasps of air at the surface that were too brief to provide real respite. The rather desperate panic at the idea that, perhaps, being a mother wasn’t enough and being a follower of Jesus wasn’t enough, either.

Both ideas terrified me beyond description. How could they not, raised as I was by a loving Christian community to understand that God always fills the empty spaces and that a woman’s satisfaction comes from being a wife and a mother?

Instead, I found myself as a young mom lost in a wasteland of spiritual and emotional loneliness. Adrift. Isolated. Living in the opposite country from the illusive and idyllic Village where I was sure all of my friends’ children were being raised by content mommies who were far more Godly than me.

And so it was that becoming a mother stripped me down to nothing and left me bare, exposed to my fears and my not-enoughness and my God. It was there, in that empty space, that I slowly began to unpack my Lunchables box, trying to discover whether any pieces of my God-meal matched a more significant, infinite, loving God who could sustain me… whether I could somehow mesh my easy, compartmentalized answers with my difficult, messy questions…. and whether, perhaps, I might find myself in the process.

My box was loaded with things that were striking to me in the way they didn’t fit with my understanding of a loving God. Things I was surprised I’d carried for years and in secret because I thought I would be shunned by the Church if I discarded them. Things that I thought were core to being a follower of Jesus, but which I found out… weren’t. Things like:

  • a Letter of the Law fundamentalism that’s married to mob-mentality politics,
  • “the Lord helps those who help themselves” and “love the sinner and hate the sin” and other trendy sayings that embrace a cringe-worthy sense of entitlement or judgment and, strikingly, aren’t in the Bible,
  •  and the pressure to deliver the Horror of Hell story with enough conviction to scare people toward a merciful God and into Heaven

These and a thousand thousand other things stuck in my throat and became increasingly difficult to swallow. They clogged my faith and made it hard for me to breathe. And so, with the cacophony of “but you must believe these things to raise righteous children” and a great deal of uncertainty ringing in my ears, I let them go.

I let them go for the risky pursuit of an authentic faith. A faith based on the person of Jesus in the Bible. A faith based on Christ as my present, accessible, here-with-me-now teacher. A faith that embodies my desperate longing to see all people treated equally, to follow the deeper Spirit of the Law, to welcome strangers, to reject fear, and to love people with abandon. A faith that’s far scarier and more thrilling than platitudes, easy answers and trendy sayings because it means telling my children that I don’t know everything.

Jesus said a lot of earth-shattering things, but now that I’m a mom, I think this was one of the most radical of all:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8

It seems to me that Jesus’ words are a clear directive.

Ask, Jesus says. SeekKnock.

And then, if I’ve got this right, Jesus follows up a few verses later by saying that God will actually respond. God God, the Lover of us all, will reveal divine things. To me. To you. To, oh, anyone who asks. And God will do it without discretion or conditions. Without caution or prudence. Without making a list first of who has a right to which truth or who will handle the answers the best.

The revolutionary, almost subversive, thing about asking is that it goes beyond making it OK to have secret questions and inner doubts and gives us permission to raise our hands in God’s classroom with a “Pardon me, but I don’t get it.” Or “Really, God? Can you explain further?” Or “I just can’t bring myself to believe what the rest of your class is telling me.”

I suspect – a sneaking suspicion that gets louder as I age – that we’re somehow expected to keep asking. Out loud. And to keep seeking. And to keep knocking. Which has crazy implications on parenting from a Jesus perspective because typically when we don’t know something, we pretend we do. That’s in the Parenting Manual. Or the Being a Grownup Manual. Or the Christianity Manual. Or maybe it’s just being human.

If I am a parent who follows Christ and is honest about all of my not knowings, though, about still being in process, about being an asker and a seeker and a knocker, then I have to change my Christian parenting paradigm. I have to say to my children, instead, “I know only some of God’s heart, but I’m willing to share what I have” and then humbly leave that piece sitting on the counter for them to accept or reject.

But if I do that – if I tell that truth to my children – what will happen to their faith?

The truth, it turns out, can be an extraordinarily painful thing to tell. When I’m truthful, I find myself wading through my doubts, flashing my insecurities in public, and flipping through my dog-eared and coffee-stained questions like they’re well-worn copies of my favorite books.

If I say to my kids, “I don’t know; I’m a seeker just like you,” have I fallen down on the Christian Mama job? Have I led my kids astray by failing to hand them the answers? Have I abdicated my responsibility as a spiritual leader?

I don’t think so. And I’ll tell you why.

My sister-in-law, Kim, has been wandering around our faith community lately asking hard questions about the way the Church loves and harms people through acceptance or exclusion. About our collective fears. About the ways we engage in conversations. She’s letting her questions fall out all over the place, raw and beautiful in their authenticity. And she’s making people uncomfortable – or giddy – with her inability to accept the class’s answer and her insistence on raising her hand over and over and over.

Kim said two things that struck me as inordinately true during her questioning process. The first is her belief that the way we engage our conversations may be more important than our conclusions, for if we abandon love, kindness, forbearance and gentleness in favor of fear, self-righteousness and anger, what have we gained with a mere conclusion? And the second thing she said is I wonder if we Christians trust Jesus to be enough?

I wonder if we Christians trust Jesus to be enough. 

As a mama who cares about my kids’ relationships with God, I have to ask myself… am I engaging in spiritual conversations with them with love and kindness? Or am I fearful and angry about their doubts and conclusions? Do I actually believe that God will answer my kids’ questions with true discoveries and open doors? Or am I trying to rapidly solve their theological dilemmas by assuring them that God has already gifted me with all the answers and so they needn’t bother God by asking themselves?

I had a conversation recently with my father about whether we’re obligated as Christians to be aspirational.

“Are we,” I asked, “supposed to hold ourselves up as an example of the Godly life? Because I’m afraid I lack what it takes for others – my children, my friends, my family – to want to aspire to be like me and, therefore, like God.”

You see, I have a lot of inadequacies in the aspirational areas, but the main one is I know too little, and I admit it too often. I confess to cleaning my toilets and my children with embarrassing irregularity. I make people wear shoes in my house because I’m not sure what they might step in, and I should probably make people wear shoes in my theology for the same reason. I parent less-than-perfect children in less-than-perfect ways, and I actually prefer it that way.

“This is no way to be an example to others,” I told my dad, “no way to point the way to Christ, despite the relief I feel in living this life. Some days, I don’t strive to be the best Jesus-follower I can be. Some days, it’s all I can do to breathe.”

But my dad said the most amazing thing to me in response.

My former-Marine father who likes things to be orderly; my Christian missionary father who stashed emergency-reference copies of Dr. Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child throughout my childhood home; my traditional-interpretation-of-Scripture father who wonders where I get my wild and crazy theological ideas; that father of mine said,

“What if the root word of aspiration isn’t only to aspire to? What if the root word of aspiration is also to aspirate? To expel or dislodge the things that make people choke? To tell a truth that is so wild and so free that it helps people learn to breathe? What if you’re called to be that kind of aspiration?”

And I thought, Oh! If this life is about helping people breathe, I can do that.

Ask. Seek. Knock. Breathe.

I used to prefer for God to live in a box. Neat and tidy. Quiet and nice.

Now my life is full of questions. It’s messier and louder, more disruptive and fulfilling, than I imagined.

And I?

I can finally breathe.

……….

In the next part of this faith series ( <— See? It’s a series, I tell you!)I plan to ask you some questions about faith — whatever faith or nonfaith background you claim — because one of the things I think we lack on the internet are good places to have open, loving interfaith conversations without agendas, you know? Wouldn’t that be incredibly refreshing? I know I would LOVE that. So plan on it. For now, though, I’d love your thoughts on this — this piece specifically or this series idea in general. Does this resonate with you? Or freak you out? Or what?

……….

 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
51 comments
  1. […] look; even though I’m very Jesusy and very churchy, I do not ever, ever, ever push my faith here because I believe that whole Love My Neighbor Shtick to the tips of my toes, and I especially […]

  2. If I had anything to leave my kids in explanation of my believe-it-or-be-punished attitude of their young lives, this blog would be it. Explaining that “then the door can be opened…” Thanks for expressing so eloquently what I have wanted to communicate for decades. Best to you, yours and everyone that is freed to live life fully through the release you have portrayed and the doors you have opened.

    love! laurie

  3. Beth, I admit that the title of this blog made me want to skip ahead to the next one, but I love your approach to life in general and decided to give it a go. I am so glad I did!

    It’s not that I have no faith. I have considerable faith, I just don’t feel the need to share it with everyone. I feel that it is mine and private because I do not believe the same way that others believe.

    I understand your boxed God. I understand because I feel like the people around me are always trying to put me, my faith and my children into that box with the little compartments. I am terrified that my children will just follow blindly and allow themselves to be pushed into these little boxes and be stifled; to never have the opportunity to truly be! For years now, I have avoided speaking and hearing of faith, expecting always for someone to be pressuring me to believe and live as they do.

    Thank-you for not. Thank-you for understanding and cherishing that we each must approach God in our own way and that while no one way is perfect, it is perfect for us.

  4. Beth,
    I LOVE your FAITH series blog!

    We lost our 17 1/2 year old son nine years ago. Being raised in concersative Christian homes, we *almost* lost our faith. It’s returning slowly…

    Anyway, keep on blogging. I read every word.

  5. April check out bethelsozo.com . I think it could be really life changing and special for you.

  6. Absolutely awesome Beth. Well said.

  7. Thanks for sharing this! I am starting my own journey of risking total honesty & vulnerability in my writing…I appreciate how real you are in asking the hard questions about God & your faith. Your writing inspires me to continue pursuing intimacy and honesty with myself, in my relationships, and with God. This is something I want to grow in, and I’m just taking baby steps at the moment. I don’t want to live in fear any more…fear of being hurt, fear of what others think of me, fear of failure, etc. We only have this one life, and I want to live it to the fullest, which means doing it in relationships. As I take the risk of being known by others, I find myself being more open towards God as well and receiving His love & acceptance for me in a deeper, more profound way. Looking forward to the series!!

  8. Well I love all that you have to say. I love that you seem so comfortable in your questioning, in your extravagant love and your mommying skills seem so amazing. I think where I’m at right now is hungry for truth and love and faith and grace and being a part of the whole discussion. I grew up as a church kid and have been wrestling with my faith for forever. I think I am envious of the comfort you have with the messiness. That’s the part of your mommying skills that are beautiful and amazing and sorry for being a little jealous. One of the top things I despised about my church cultured doctrine was the underlying performance mentality. The idea that somehow if I did everything just right I would finally be good enough. I would experience that elusive peace, joy and fulfillment that I was sure I was somehow not qualified for. I guess I’ve always just felt like a defective human being. Between hearing the message of needing to earn God’s love and feeling like there is a constant comparison going on in the world, the church and I think I’ve even believed God has been sizing us all up and secretly choosing whose in or out. I was also sexually abused as a kid for several years by a family member which seems like it plays a part in this mental war of mine; I just never seemed to “fit”. To this day, I still struggle with feeling like I “fit” anywhere. I struggle with feeling that I will never be enough for my kids. Now, I know and believe that I can never be enough for my kids on the God level, but part of me hopes I can be enough for my little people on some mommy/human level and be a facilitator in their lives for love and goodness and showing them God. I have 3 kids; four years old and under and it is a lot and I do my best and I still feel inferior. I feel like I should somehow be able to find the magic formula to get it “right” (read: perfect). It is brutal somedays and sends me spiraling down oftentimes (especially when the vicious hormones are at work). I just want to be free and I say all of this because it seems like you have somehow found that freedom. You have somehow found the way to be at peace in the mess, in the doubt, in the questions and other’s judgements. It’s kinda like you’re Lucia in the “You are Special” book by Max Lucado. You have somehow stopped caring what people think. I lack the confidence in my self and my God (crappy, but true) to have that freedom. But i will do my best to keep seeking. Thanks for your posts and honesty and humor again and again. So glad I found your blog.

    1. This comment is so special to me. So eerily similar to the things tucked away in my own heart and mind. Thanks for sharing. Well said. <3

  9. I love this post. Thank you. I have 8 kids (that was a lot!) Sometimes I think I wanted the kids to fit into a box, but it never worked! What worked? Living our messy lives with faith, asking, seeking, listening. more faith, study, asking, and then keeping on knowing we’ll never have all the answers or ask all the questions. Thank you again.

  10. I really loved this. Thank you! I think we’ve been on the same spiritual journey. I totally get it.

  11. I used to like the faith posts. (And I still like some of them). But now I want to avoid them most of the time.

    See, I used to be a Christian. And that is the first time I’ve typed it and been honest about that it’s a “used to be.” But it is. I was very, very Christian throughout middle school, high school, and college (I went to Biola, in fact). And then…all the doubts that I had neat answers for and all of my arrogance fell away. And I tried to stay in it as a more liberal Christian, or as someone who still believes the core of it, but I just can’t. I’ve always hated the idea of Hell. It’s always seemed terrible. If God is so forgiving, and Jesus supposedly died for everyone, then why send people to Hell? It’s not that they are stubbornly refusing to believe; you can’t FORCE yourself to believe something. When it doesn’t make sense anymore, you just can’t. I remember sobbing at summer camp over the fact that so many friends and family members were going to Hell. It never seemed right or loving to me. If I, as a regular, flawed person can forgive people, why can’t God do the same? And now that I admit I don’t believe in Hell…everything else just sort of unravels. I think the Bible is sexist (especially Paul). And homophobic. And that it’s a nice way for people who didn’t have science to explain the world around them and teach lessons to one another. And sure, context, and culture, and blah blah blah, but if it’s not all true, then how do you know ANY of it is true?

    I remember thinking I could maybe still be a Christian after I read Love Wins by Rob Bell. And I should probably read it again. I value the years I spent as a Christian. I know that it made me a better person. It protected me from a lot, and made me more loving, honest, and compassionate. And I am thankful for those things. And I miss the faith. I miss having the community, and the certainty about life and death (I almost had a melt down in the car the other day when thinking about death and having no certainty about it. I’m type A. I love certainty). But I can’t pretend to have it anymore.

    And….this is the longest, most rambly comment ever. Thanks for making a space where I feel safe saying all of this.

  12. I always find open discussions about faith (especially Christianity) very interesting.

    I grew up in the Lutheran Church. We went to church almost every night for one thing or another (Sunday service, Monday committee meeting, Tuesday choir meeting, Wed Soup Supper, Thurs Outreach meeting, Friday Sarah circle, etc).

    Around the time I entered high school, I began to question a lot of my religious beliefs. I was still equally active in church (it was more of an extended family community than faith based activism for me) but I was going through the motions and not actually feeling like it was real.

    In college, after moving far from home, I went to a local church two or three times but the community wasn’t there (what church doesn’t even greet a new person when they see them two weeks in a row. Not a single person said hi to me, but that’s another story) but was happy to not feel obligated to go every week.

    Since removing myself from the church community, I feel more free to express myself as an atheist. I don’t feel any need to prove my faith, believe in something that I can’t feel, see, or describe, and it is more comforting to me to believe there is nothing else out there. Why strive to make an invisible entity happy with my actions and faith than just being a good and happy person for the sake of being good and happy.

    I also find it crazy how many fights people have begun over faith. Each group believes their way is the only way and that everyone else is wrong. What are the chances, really, that you are right? And do you really believe that your loving god will protect you but not the poor starving children in Africa. And really, there is a big plan that we just can’t see? Its just too silly for me.

    Granted, I totally respect other’s faith, I just don’t like it pushed on me. I’m a scientist who needs evidence and without it, I’m going to go another direction. But that’s why I read this blog. I like seeing how others develop in their faith and it doesn’t bother me one bit to see someone happy with their religious system. Just respect my non belief.

  13. With the encouragement from you Beth…this post will be honest and makes me vulnerable and exposed – do I want to put my real identity out there??? Not quite as brave as you yet Beth

    To make this quick I will describe myself in a nutshell – I am a 33 year old married mother of 3, I live what society would consider a “normal middle class” life. I love my family and myself. In my heart I feel like a balanced person with respectable morals and beliefs. I try and live my life by the words – live simply, expect less, give more. No one is perfect, but I follow my heart and try my best.
    Here goes…so I was not raised in the church, I know little about it and it’s hard for me to buy into the whole idea of it – THERE I said it! … Ahhh, that feels good already.

    I have attended multiple churches of different beliefs as a child, never one particular church religiously – no pun intended. My mother and father did not attend church so my exposure was little to none. I attended with grandmother’s, step parents, friends etc. There were a few experiences that made me so uncomfortable that I never wanted to go back and thought…if this church thing is so good, why doesn’t it feel right?
    One incident I was maybe 8 years oldish and attended a church where the 2 woman bible school teachers made me feel like my mother was a horrible person and she was going to Hell since she didn’t attend church. Another incident I was around 22 and a preacher and his side kick (from a church I had attended a few times to try it out) came to my house, while I was home alone, claiming they were there to see my boyfriend, who I think they knew wasn’t home, and pretty much trapped me in my living room trying to force me to say that I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart. That just because I was a good person did not mean that I would be going to heaven. Maybe they didn’t think they were trapping and/or forcing, but I sure felt like it was. Especially after I tried to ask the hard questions to them with no real response. At one point as they were asking me to – just say it – I expressed to them how I felt this was a big deal…welcoming Jesus into my heart and all and I wanted to really feel and believe the words I was saying and I just couldn’t do it at the moment. I felt like it wasn’t honest and didn’t want to do it. The pressure continued. As you can see, it was not a good experience.

    Either way, here I am years later with that idea still in my head. I do not believe that all church experiences are bad, but nothing has made me want to go back. The majority of my friends are “church goers” and seem to be true believers. Some seem to be really happy they found Jesus and talk about it a lot. For the most part I don’t talk much about it with them or if I do my answers are vague and skirt around the whole thing. When it comes to my children, the questions are tough. My daughter has been exposed to Catholic preschool and a vacation bible school with other family, so she has had lots of questions, but I have to admit when I hear her say things like “only God is perfect” and “Jesus died for our sins” it sends chills down my spine. Judge me if you will, but it all seems so cult like. I haven’t decided exactly how I will address these issues with them yet. The answers I give as of now are “There is a booked call the bible and there are stories in there and …that is what people believe, what you think you should believe…?”

    I don’t know exactly what I “should” believe…the only thing I know is how I feel. I feel that there is a greater love within each of us – call it whatever you wish-, in our hearts, it cannot have a label or be forced upon us. We are born with it and we will survive us after death and become our spirit. We have to feel and listen to what it is telling us – sometimes it speaks to us louder than other times. “It” holds the answers and we can ask it questions or we can just listen. I also believe that when you are searching for an answer, if you get closer to nature you are more likely to hear it. Have you ever sat next to the ocean and listened, really listened, to the waves crash upon the shore over and over? If you listen long enough, the answers come. If you go deep into the woods or sit under the stars and let the sound of the animals and the elements embody you, the answers are there. I don’t see myself finding that same experience in a church. Is that wrong? Maybe it’s my own hang ups, but I feel like society makes me feel like it is.

    P.S. This is the first time I have been honest about it to others (and myself)

    1. YAY! Yay for honesty! Yay for beautiful, beautiful honesty. And thank you times infinity for trusting us with your story. It’s JUST FINE that you’re not ready to say who you are. Given your story, it makes perfect sense to protect yourself that way. Perfect, appropriate sense.

      So I have Things to Say about this. I hope you’ll bear with me.

      First, can we just go ahead and name what you experienced at age 22 as spiritual abuse? Can we just call it what it was? Which is INTIMIDATION and WRONG? There’s no way that what happened there is OK. No way at all. And I know there are people who would want to dismiss it as “they meant well,” but no. Just no.

      Second, what happened to you at age 8 was also not OK. THIS is why I’ve had to entirely discard the Fear of Hell in my faith. This is spiritual battery, to create fear in children rather than foster love. Why would we do this to children? And why would we follow a God like this? I’m sorry, but no. I can’t be party to this. I want to be a person who runs toward Love, not away from Hell.

      Third, there is a belief among Quakers and other Christian groups and I believe certain Muslim and Jewish groups, as well, that there is “that of God in everyone.” It comes out of Genesis 1:27 which says that we are all — ALL OF US — made in the very image of God. That we carry the imprint of the Divine. That this is a gift in each of us, regardless of creed. That we are BOTH/AND; both inherently good and inherently conflicted. Perfect and imperfect. And I couldn’t help but read this statement from you and think YES, YES; THIS, EXACTLY: “I don’t know exactly what I “should” believe…the only thing I know is how I feel. I feel that there is a greater love within each of us – call it whatever you wish-, in our hearts, it cannot have a label or be forced upon us.” And you don’t have to call this God — of course you don’t — but that you call it Greater Love? Oh, yes. Yes.

      John Woolman, a Christian Quaker and famous abolitionist, wrote this in 1774:
      “There is a principle, which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from anywhere the heart stands in perfect sincerity.”

      1. I love your quote from John Woolman and “that of God in everyone.” in the previous paragraph.

        It would be silly to believe I am alone in how I feel and believe, but I must say, it feel GOOOOD to have proof that I am not alone…and that it’s in writing! 🙂

    2. Dear Scared…

      Don’t worry, I feel much the same. While I’ve never had such a direct negative experience with a church group like that, I’ve heard plenty of stories.

      This country, even though it says it expresses tolerance, still does not accept non-theists or atheists very well. People are shocked if you express a non-belief attitude. Just as we have freedom of religion, we should be free to be free from religion.

      On that note, the Dalai Lama wrote a great book called Beyond Religion which talks about how religion is not needed for morality and that we can move past religion to focus on our shared humanity.

      http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Religion-Ethics-Whole-ebook/dp/B005DXOOTW

      1. Did you see this article a while back on Huffington Post about a meeting between the Dalai Lama and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu? It’s called God is Not a Christian, and I think it’s one of the best modern examples of loving interfaith discussion. Highly recommend: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/desmond-tutu/god-is-not-a-christian_b_869947.html

      2. Amy – you wrote – (not sure how to italicize and bold on here)
        This country, even though it says it expresses tolerance, still does not accept non-theists or atheists very well. People are shocked if you express a non-belief attitude. Just as we have freedom of religion, we should be free to be free from religion.

        I am glad you put this into writing. You are so right. The feeling I get is “how dare you say you don’t believe” *gasp*. It’s not as if I don’t believe is something greater, but not the religious views. Can’t I just go with my instincts? Obviously, I worry about what other people think, which I am sure I shouldn’t.

        I was thinking a lot about all of this last night and wonder if maybe I would be more confident standing behind my beliefs if I was educated in religion, if say I was raised in the church and learned what I had to learn and THEN made a decision?? As an “outsider” looking in it almost looks like – the point of all this religion is to what?…Find a purpose? Know history behind it? Feel fulfilled? Be part of community? (which community is a good thing IMO). With fear of seeming uneducated and oblivious…I don’t ask these questions. So tell me…tell me what I am missing? I am not being sarcastic…TELL ME, please.

        I am by far a perfect person, but spiritually I feel good, I feel balanced – even when life is good AND bad – I have seen my share of both. There are times when I realize it’s time to sit back and refocus…get back to nature, look within again, focus on love, appreciate all of it…but I believe everyone has those moments, right?

        (this is not all exactly toward you Amy, I got carried away slightly, but it’s me being honest and asking the questions, thank you for that opportunity Beth)

  14. I love you Beth. For your truth, the way it echoes in my soul, expresses things that I myself struggle to define within myself. Thank you, from the bottom of my everything (and the top, the sides, the gooey insides & burnt-to-a-crisp outsides).

  15. Thanks for posting this. I also grew up in the church and struggled with God being real. I became so used to God and Jesus and the message of redemption and salvation that it lost its impact. I still believed, but I wasn’t on fire. It wasn’t until I was in Seminary that I realized that years and years of hearing God’s word and repeating the liturgy of the Anglican church had made those things a part of me. Maybe I wasn’t on fire, but I was still burning, and thank God for that! After that I realized that faith isn’t just believing the supernatural and things that our world and inner doubts tell us are impossible are actually true, its about removing the lies that keep us cold and replacing them with the truth. Believing the lies is a bad habit and it takes a long time to break it. I have never felt more helpless then when I am fighting off a lie, nor have I felt so confident and joyful. I love your dad’s answer. Following Christ is like learning to run – you first have to train yourself to breathe, as you learn to breathe you can run faster and further. But it is hard, and you can never stop training, because then the lies creep back in and you have to start all over.

  16. Where to begin?

    I was not raised in church. Maternal side is Church of Christ, paternal is Church of God. Two extremes, in my grown-up opinion. Even though both grandmothers are extremely devout, my parents were indifferent at best. I had an epiphany at around 27 years old. I ended up in the hospital with multiple blood clots in all four lobes of my lungs. The doctors were baffled as to why I wasn’t dead. They all kept saying how I was a miracle, that I should have had a brain aneurysm. No one knew where the clots came from. Anyway, long story short(er), a week in ICU gives a person lots of time to think. I kept asking myself “Why? Why *was* I still here?”.

    Fast forward several months. I felt God had kept me alive for….something. So, I decided to get my life together. I gave my live-in boyfriend the ultimatum to either marry me or move out. (He was raised in church and was a “backslidden” Christian, so he was happy to.) We got married Valentine’s Day 2004. After our “honeymoon” at a local steakhouse, we came back to our apartment, I knelt beside our bed and accepted Jesus Christ. We found a wonderful church home, I got baptized and proceeded to live a facade for the next several years. We were active in church and there every time the doors were open. I taught children’s Sunday school and was AWANA secretary. We were involved in fellowships, read our Bible together at night and each had our own Bible study groups we went to with regularity. I tried so hard to fill myself up with all things Godly. I still felt….empty somehow.

    In 2007 we had our daughter. Now, I finally thought, now I’ll be fulfilled. I will be the good Christian wife and mother, bring my kid up knowing Jesus and I’ll finally be okay. Sadly, no. Oh, I still did all those “churchy” things but there was little or no enjoyment in it. It was a thing to check off my list. It got much worse when my husband was transferred and we had to move 3 hours away. I never really “got into” the new church, we couldn’t really relate to any of the people there, and I was isolated.

    I became bitter toward God. I don’t know if I recognized it as that, but that’s what it was. I had turned Him into a vengeful non-granter of wishes. If only He wouldn’t have moved us away from everything and everyone we knew. If only He would provide us with more money. If only If only If only.

    After not quite 3 years, my husband’s position was terminated. Now we were hundreds of miles away from our “real” home AND we have no income. So we packed up and moved back. That was 2 years ago. I haven’t been to church in that time. I have spiralled into a vengeful, bitter shell of the person I thought I was. My husband worries about me, which makes me feel guilty. Which, in turn, makes me hateful. My daughter wonders when she’ll get to go back to church (the hubby works out of town on weekends) and she draws pictures of Jesus all the time, which, again, *guilty*.

    When I saw the heading of this post, I was just going to skip it. After all, I’m mad at God so I don’t want to hear about Him, like, at all. But, I kept reading. And reading some more. I had you pictured at a “Beth Moore” type. Seeming perfect Christian wife/mom with her crap all together. Kinda glowing and secure. After reading this, all I can say is THANK YOU. You may have just performed a sort of spiritual Heimlich Maneuver on me. For the first time in forever, I’m starting to feel my chest lighten. I’m not breathing yet, but I truely (for the first time *ever*) believe that I will be able to.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Tabitha. I bet you’d be surprised how many people will Totally Get It. Your whole story. Experientially.

      First, I laughed and laughed at the “crap together” and “glowing and secure.” That was AWESOME. Thank you for even thinking for one second that could POSSIBLY be me. Because, um, nope. Not even a little.

      Second, I wanted you to know that I’ve taken BIG breaks from church. And I’ve had times I’ve felt guilty about it and times I’ve felt completely fine with my decision. We’ve been part of the same church for 20 years (whoa, man), and Greg has remained steadfastly committed to attending the entire time. Me? Not so much. But one of the biggest reasons I keep going back is because my church family welcomes me guilt-free every time I show up. They accept me equally when I’m very involved and when I opt out. They accept me with my questions. They accept me with my doubts. They accept me with both my cynicism and my sincerity. They accept me without conditions. That and their love of my kids and their wonky weirdness (they are seriously weird, which I adore) and their wild pursuit of Truer, Deeper Love pulls me back in. All of this is NOT to say GO BACK TO CHURCH. Nope, not at all. All of that is to say, why bother? Really. It’s a sincere question. Why bother with church? For me, when I was able to be that blunt about it and when I realized I had meaningful reasons why (and not just “I should”), I went back.

      I guess what I’d really like you to know, Tabitha, is that you’re normal. Your feelings are normal. Your disillusionment is normal. Your wish that God would be a magic wand is normal. Your questioning is normal. The only thing that made me concerned for you was when you wrote “I have spiralled into a vengeful, bitter shell of the person I thought I was.” This, then, is my wish for you… that you will find your way back to yourself and to peace.

      Love to you and yours.

      1. Well, here I am again. I cannot begin to tell you what your response means to me. It’s the first time in a very long time that, for a second, I didn’t feel the abysmal black sucking me down. Thank you thank you thank you. Also, the support on here is fantastic! Yay for you and your readers!! I kinda see the first glimmers of hope that I won’t be stuck in this pit forever. Your words did that.
        So the whole unraveling of my faith happened after our move out of state. Since his position was terminated over 2 years ago he’s had a hard time finding work. Neither he nor myself have had insurance during that time (still don’t). I was able to get my daughter on Medicaid so just in case anything happened she’d be covered. Since being out of a full-time job he’s been battling with depression. I’m the sick one. Doesn’t he know that?! I don’t know how to help him. Although I may not have to soon. He had an interview last week for almost the exact position that was terminated, but in a different location. Yeahhh…… Ummm… It’s 12 hours away. And he’s probably going to take it. Which means… we’re gonna have to pack up our crap and move 1,000 miles away. Just thinking about it gives me an anxiety attack. As much as I don’t want to, I have to admit I feel, too, that it’s the right thing for our family. Not to say I’m looking forward to it, though!

        I guess the point of this whole thing is to ask a favor. See, I’m not on really good speaking terms with Jesus just now. I was wondering if I could ask you to pray for me. Just for peace about whatever the decision is. If I have to move to the desert, I’ll happily box up my junk and go. If I have to stay here and watch him suffer every day… well… I don’t think I can do that. So, peace. Maybe wisdom. Definitely patience. And really anything else you feel led toward. I want you to know how much I appreciate you being on the other end. It’s funny how it’s so much easier to open up to a relative stranger than it is your family and friends.

        Thanks again.

  17. This resonated with me, because I can see so much of my faith here. I am an ordained minister in the Anglican Church of Australia, and there are so many things that make sense to tonme only when we ask the really hard questions. And my kids faith is just incredible. I have so much to learn.

  18. Fantastic, both the first time and the second time. I love these sorts of posts, and I love that this is a community where things like this can be said and talked about and where we can be accepted by each other. So glad to read this one again – thank you! Excited to follow the rest of the series. Zocksos xoxo

  19. I’d love to hear other people’s beliefs and ideas. I’m very confused by my non acceptance of certain key elements of my catholicism. Part of me is ok with letting some of the particular BS parts go (the parts that exclude others for example, the parts that seem socially irresponsible in today’s age for another). That part says, what the heck! They are taking ages old text that has been translated and retranslated and written by very human men long long ago. And for that matter, the pope himself changes things up on the regular so don’t hang on so tight if it doesn’t feel right. Another part of me says That’s just what the devil WANTS you to do!

    So, here is what I hang onto: I am not the judge. He is. And treat others as you would want to be treated. The rest is up for debate, discussion and confusion but I can hang my hat on those two ideals. (Some of the harder to accept but pretty important parts: virgin birth, dying for my sins, that sort of stuff, that is where faith comes in. There isn’t any debate in my mind, it just is. Or perhaps I’ve never felt comfortable challenging those.)

    1. I just want to say that I love you in Christ. I think God is knocking at your heart and I would encourage you to just read the scripture and pray. Not to anyone else but God Himself.

  20. Love this and can’t wait to read more. I’m working through some of these same questions and “accepted” church views that aren’t in the Bible and am trying to figure out how I can best serve God. Thanks!

  21. This is good stuff. I have learned more about my faith from being a mom than from all the other classroom and church room study I have done. Trust me, there was a lot of book learning. I became a mom through foster and adoption and let me tell you, that takes a whole new element of faith. I guess it never occurred to me before kids (BK in the future) that the words of the Bible that I had memorized applied to my kids as well. The idea that God knew the plans of these kids who were in my house because of abuse or neglect… plans to prosper them and not to harm them but to give them hope and a future… wow. But not just them… the other kids in foster care and orphaned and in need. It is an entirely new paradigm, and not an easy one at that. This could get way too deep way to quickly so I will leave that part where it is.

    But it has been freeing to tell my kids I don’t know the answer to that question, you need to talk to Jesus about it. And to have them, right then and there, stop what they are doing and pray… believing they will be answered right away. Maybe that is what it means when it says we are to come to God like little children. But also to say to them and show them through my completely imperfect life that God has meaning and purpose in our lives. To tell them that God loves them even more than mommy and daddy do… and to trust that they are never alone even when I am not there.

    Again, there is so much I could say… one of these days I am going to give in and get my own blog so I can write to my heart’s content. Until then I will just comment on other blogs and stop when I can. 🙂

  22. I’m interested in reading discussion as I find people’s beliefs interesting, especially when they’re not like mine.

  23. Beth,
    I think I’ve sort of come to some of the same ideas as you after being a Christian for many years, too. Only in the last two years or so have I come to trust that God actually and truly accepts me just because he loves me. It happened after leaving what I would call an “evangelical” sort of church and joining a reform church–something I NEVER thought I’d do, in fact. However, it has slowly opened my heart and eyes to the reality and depth of God’s grace–or at least I see it a little better in a way that allows me to “breathe” as you said. Our church sings a song that has a line that says something like, “It is for freedom that we are set free.” That struck me so powerfully because it told me that for God, just freeing me was all he wanted to do–for the sake of freeing me, not for anything I was ever going to do for him. Love for love’s sake. That’s deep and that’s the real deal love. I like your blog because it’s honest, and it’s the truth that makes us free, right? Keep telling the truth, that’s what I say. It’s sometimes messy and as long as we’re on this earth, it’s going to reveal out imperfections, but it’s healing and freeing and loving.

  24. What you said, that is all Christ has asked of us,to ask, seek, knock. and daily, to the best of our ability, live by example. The good thing is Christ’s attributes are so ingrained into our society that they are easy to see if we look, easy to model when we remember too.

  25. Oh my word this is the post that made me find you and know you were FABULOUS!! I’m not sure why I’m so comfortable with messy faith when I’m very uncomfortable with messy closets. I was a late comer to Jesus and wondered why his people had such an exclusive language and seemed to have all the answers that didn’t really make sense to me. When it gets broken down to the simplicity and power of love, ok, I can grasp that and be amazed and want more. And really, parenting is just the most perfect metaphor God gives us.

    I can’t wait for your SERIES and kudos for the higher level math at the beginning of the post!!

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