So Far

This entry was posted by on Thursday, 12 February, 2009 at

You say
You want
Diamonds on a ring of gold
Your story to remain untold
Your love not to grow cold
All the promises we break
From the cradle to the grave
When all
I want
Is you

It began with five words.

So, courtship. You may wonder, like I did, what the heck that means. A few months ago I was party to a conversation about courtship where it was described as “dating with purpose.” That purpose, of course, being marriage. (Isn’t that always the purpose of dating, you ask? Tragically… it most certainly is not.) Six years ago, all I knew was that “courtship” meant that I was not allowed to ask out a certain delightful young lady without first consulting her father. That conversation went about as well as you might expect.
“Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”
“Uh… no…”
That was sure over quick. But this courtship thing had me intrigued. Maybe it was because when I met this girl I had recently come out of a breakup. I did not need any convincing that the practice of dating has an enormous capacity for confusion, for deceit, and for pain. A number of my married friends have mentioned how horrible they think dating is and how relieved they are that it is over. Single people seem to just except it as a necessary means to an end. But what if you could skip all that? What if it could be over before it begins? Sign me up for THAT. How hard could this “Christian” thing be?

So I started reading the Bible. By this point, I had already accepted the existence God, because the whole situation was so ridiculous that I was convinced that there just had to be a higher power that was screwing with me. I started going to churches and was invited to join a Bible study group. I had grown up believing that Christians were simply not very bright people who just believed the nonsense that their parents had taught them. It had never once occurred to me that an intelligent person who had not been raised in a Christian environment would actually convert to Christianity. But I found that there was far more depth to it all than I ever could have imagined. And I met actual intelligent, thinking people who still believed in all this. I started a website to record my thoughts and experiences, which later became a blog. The Pastor at one of the churches that I visited gave a convincing argument about the necessity of publicly accepting Christ, and I was one of the ones who went forward. I started seeing and hearing references to baptism all around, so I did that too. I stopped playing my music, because it was ever so depressing, and I was caught up in the idea that life does not have to be so bad.

That girl was long gone now, but that was okay. I was still learning, and I figured that if this was really meant to happen, then God would bring us back together when I was ready. Wouldn’t that make for an amazing story? Besides, I knew where she had gone: Cal Poly Pomona.

If you go to church long enough, you get involved in the lifestyle, you learn all the lingo, and no one even thinks to ask if you are really a believer. Of course I did not want to advertise that I was still a “seeker”, and I certainly did not want anyone to know that I was really doing all this because of a girl. I figured that one day, I would get it all sorted out, and once I had arrived at a happy ending, I could finally tell the whole story. Then I met another girl. I was not looking to meet anyone, and certainly had no interest in dating, because I already had my plan all set. But I had to admit that she was ever so intriguing.

I transferred to Cal Poly Pomona myself. In the very first week, I saw that girl who had started it all. She was holding hands with another guy. At least, I thought that it was her. I did not get a real clear look… and I had kind of forgotten what she looked like? Even so, I died a little that day. But I also thought of it as a warning to not let that other girl get away. So we dated. It was more good than bad. I was able to be more honest with her than I had been with anyone since I started going to church. I finally was not afraid to share my struggles about God with someone. But what about courtship? What about that happy ending to my amazing story? I had set that aside, but I had not let it go. I remember one day, I fasted and prayed like they tell you to do, I went for a long walk and asked God if it was really right for me to be with this girl or if that other one, who I may or may not have seen, who had reached almost legendary status in my mind, was really still out there somewhere. Two days later my girlfriend ended the relationship.

Then my life proceeded to burn to the ground. My mother died, then my grandfather. My grandmother would later follow. I hated my school and had completely lost interest in my major. In spite of all my talk and all my time in various ministries, I still did not actually believe in the Bible. I was putting on a charade to everyone I met. All I cared about anymore was that girl, not that first one, I mean the real girl, the one that I had never appreciated and never fully committed to when I had the chance. Our relationship had unofficially rekindled for awhile, but she had long since made it clear that that could not continue. I started to get violent and destructive around my house. I spent a lot of time just lying on the floor.

Eventually, I reached a point where I absolutely could not go on any longer. Yet, somehow, it occurred to me that for all the time and effort I had spent studying Christianity and learning about Jesus, I had never tried to actually trust Jesus. When I finally reached the bitter end, I cried out to Jesus… and I kept walking. Things did change. Life did not exactly get better, in fact, for a while it became significantly more dramatic. But I had a strange peace about it. I started going to two more Bible studies. (Making it three a week.) I blogged up a storm in those days (at least compared to my usual output), finally clearing out a lot of the baggage that I had been carrying for years. For the first time, I fully confronted my feelings about that original girl, who started this whole journey. I was somewhat surprised to discover that there was not anything there. There had NEVER been anything real there. I described at the time that I felt like I had been carrying around a piece of baggage for years, only to look inside and find it completely empty. Moving on from my real love was not so easy, but I finally was able to do so. I finally was able to admit that there were other women in my life that I could see myself in a relationship with. There was one in particular that I honestly felt as though God was DARING me to ask out. So ask her out I did. She was not interested.

What the Hell, God? What the bloody Hell? Alright, so I had made the wrong choice there. But at least I was back in the game right? But no, I was not. I realized that I was still selling my dreams short. Five words: “We don’t date we court.” I have no interest in casual dating. I want an honest, permanent relationship.

It became clear to me that it was my desire to get married that interfered with my honest search for God. My father once asked me what made me “want to believe” in Christianity. I do not recall now what answer I gave him. However, “wanting” to believe was never really the issue. I simply needed it to be true in order to accomplish my goal, and therefore, the fact that deep down I did not actually believe it could never be acknowledged. I also began to feel very strongly that several passages in the New Testament actually discourage Christians from marriage, indicating that marriage and family interfere with one’s obligations to spread the Gospel.

So, in order to achieve (my understanding of) a “Godly” marriage that I had sought for so long, I first had to pursue God. In order to pursue God, I first had to give up my desire for marriage. I turned this over and around for some time before finally, in a sudden fit of maturity, I declared, “Well fine! How about if I just don’t do either then!”

And to this day, I haven’t.

The final straw came when my grandmother died. I was still in a Bible study at the time, and as with my mother and grandfather, there was always someone who asked if they knew the Lord. I always tried to dodge that question as best I could, partly because I simply did not know the answer, but mainly because deep in my heart, I honestly do not believe that it makes any difference. That being the case, and that point being the fundamental basis of Christianity, then nothing else about my church involvement means anything at all.

There has always been a great emptiness in my life. Christians sometimes refer to it as a “God-shaped hole.” At various stages in my life, I tried to fill it with alcohol, with love relationships, with music, with MORE alcohol, with education, and finally, with God. And I have to say (and I think that any long time reader of my blog would have to agree) that my search for God has left me every bit as empty and despairing as any of the others.

I’m not saying that I do not believe in God, and I am not going to go on record saying that the Bible definitely is not true, because I can not be sure of that. There certainly is a lot of truth to be found in it, but one would expect that in such an extensive body of work. I would imagine that there is also a great deal of truth to be found in the collected works of Shakespeare, but that does not mean that the stories themselves are true, even if many are based on actual historic figures. Still, there are many things that I can not explain. A great many things really. In the past, it was easy to say that bizarre circumstances were the work of God, because that is what all of the people around me would say. Maybe they really were, I do not know. All I know is that I have long since grown tired of hearing the name “Jesus,” when I have never experienced that relationship of which others speak. These Christians, they tell such wonderful stories… but ultimately, I do not believe that there are real answers to be found here. I just pretended that I did in order to get to what to I really wanted.

I began formulating this post because I was asking myself, “Why are you still here?” I do not really go to church anymore, but I still work in ministry. I still occasionally have conversations about God and I probably too readily give my interpretation of Bible passages while conveniently leaving out the fact that I do not actually consider the Bible to be authoritative. Why am I here? Going back now I realize that from those five words to the “God-shaped hole”, all of this, all of it, has been simply because I did not want to be alone.

And how has that worked out for you?

Not. So. Well.

3 Responses to “So Far”

  1. timoth


    After writing this, I was lying awake thinking through another issue that I have been dealing with, and I caught myself trying to appeal to God.
    What is the matter with you? After spending a significant part of the day explaining how and why you are finished with God, then mere hours later, after avoiding prayer for over a year, you try to come to God with this? How can you possibly think that would work?

    I also have to admit that at several points while writing this story, I imagined certain people throwing up they’re hands in frustration and asking how I could possibly NOT see God working through my life in all of this. And I have seen evidence of God working in my life, I said that. But when I watch people worshiping, I know that I have never seen or felt the joy and the love that they are expressing.

    I realized then that a large part of my frustration was that it seemed that I could neither win nor lose with God, and that after nearly six years of searching for a “Yes” or a “No”, the best that I had ever come up with was “Well, maybe.” And when I find myself now trying to choose my path for the future, after over a year of stagnation, of course I considered giving the church another try. But I have to ask myself, “What kind of fool would keep returning to a well that he has always found dry? No matter how many people insist that there is water to be had there?” I can not put myself through that again. I need another path.

  2. Anonymous

    So Jen M. just read your blog to me and I listened and could hear your voice the whole way through. So of course you know the first reaction is that we are both worried about you and you are just going to have to live with that. I am not where you are, but I have been. And last week my prayer request for the pastoral staff and elders at church was that I would understand and feel that Christ loved me, that I would really get it because I am tired of not feeling it as richly and deeply as God must be able to love me. So you are NOT alone in your doubt and frustration… at some point I faced that the deficit isn’t with God…it is in me and my wounds and fears-and the answer is all in Him…but I have had to deal with some really painful wounds that HURT to pray about and face some pretty nasty realities about my sinful stubbornness and pride…and impatience that everything hasn’t panned out in my timing…especially in the realm of emotional healing. Tim, you have been through a lot. You really love your mom and this is a cold and isolating world. But you do have people that care about you even when you tell them they are boring all the time and break their vases. You also have to do the hard work of healing, and just like the cheesy/thoughtless Christian answers and pretensions of faith don’t cut it, saying you want faith and not going through the hard work of healing and sticking it out doesn’t cut it either. He has healing and blessing for you whether you feel it or not…whether you feel it or not He is worth the battle to faith and trust. And as you work through it, we all need to be in a place where we are cared about and helped by genuine friends who we can be honest and accepted by…your wanting the loneliness thing cured is legitimate. He intended for us to learn about His love through each other. So one part of that is in this pathetically small house where we force you to watch the last 33 endings of LOTR and force feed you, but hey. You gotta take the good with the bad!

  3. timoth

    "…not going through the hard work of healing…"
    I keep coming back to this line over and over until I finally come to the conclusion that: yep… I really do not understand what you mean.

    I understand that the problem is not with God but with me. For four, five, six years I read the Bible, went to church, attended study groups and worship meetings, went on mission trips, prayed and fasted… all the while waiting for God to show up and endorse my plans. I know that doesn't work; God is not interested in my plans and my timing, I get that. I have never read Matthew 7:21-23 without thinking, "Yep… that's me." I can not do it my way, it has to be God's way… Let Go And Let God…

    But at the end of the day, I have to ask, if what I was doing does not work, then what f#$%^&ing DOES work? All these things were just to fill the time while waiting for God to show up. That did not happen, not really. There have been several times in the past when I finally decide, "That's it… I'm leaving!" It's always in those moments when I think I start to see God again… and I decide to stay for awhile longer. What kind of loving God doesn't care what I'm doing, just so long as I'm not trying to leave?

    Sure, God leaves the 99 sheep to go after the one that has gone astray. Okay, God can (and will) do whatever He wants, of course, but I don't have to like it.

    "He has healing and blessing for you whether you feel it or not…"
    That is a truly wonderful idea, and I wanted to believe it for so long… but no. I don't think so. I can not begin to describe the sickenening pain I get when I read through my old posts. I notice that the dates change, and maybe even the words change, but the ideas and the feelings behind the words do not change. Year after year after YEAR. Is this really how someone comes to Christ? To be callously dragged all through the church for SIX YEARS? I don't think so.

    So I say it's my resolution to "Start caring again", but I certainly don't want to go back THERE. How can I?

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