Monday, July 18, 2016

My faith

I've been wanting to write about my faith for a while now, but I also knew I wanted to put a lot of time and effort into the post...because, at the end of the day, it's the most important piece of who I am...


It makes me a little nervous to share all of this, only because it carries a big role. I take it very seriously. Proclaiming I'm a Christian also means that I need to act (or maybe not act...but be) the part. And I don't mean that in a fake and phony way. I just mean that when you state you're a Christian, you need to try to live your life as such too. And goodness do I mess up...daily, repeatedly, in my interactions with others...in the things I say; in the things I left unsaid; in the things I do; in the things I don't do but should. But then I thought...well that's just it, Lindsey. Christians aren't expected to be perfect. No one is. Christians do mess up. Time and time again. And that's kind of the beauty. We get to mess up, and then we try again to get it right. The messing up continues, but the Lord helps us up and continues to love us...and continues to guide us if we will let Him.
 
I am not one of those who can tell you the exact date I became a Christian. I think it was more of a process for me. I honestly feel like I always believed in God and Jesus, because of my upbringing. Raised by Christian parents, I attended Christian schools and went to church and Sunday school most Sundays. I rarely missed youth group (even if at the time it was more of a social thing); I went on trips with my youth group, and I was surrounded by friends with very similar upbringings. I was a WASP, in short. Ha!
 
But believing in and having a relationship with are two totally different things.
 
I remember having a conversation with a girlfriend (hey, Becky!!) in college. We were at City Grocery having a glass of wine, and I told her that I just didn't feel very connected to God. I knew I believed in Him, but our relationship was lacking. It was then that she told me that a relationship with God is just like a relationship with anyone else...you have to spend time together; you have to talk and open yourself up to that person. I wanted a deeper relationship with God, but I wasn't putting in the effort. It was a one-sided relationship. He was very much there for me, but I was going months on end without talking to Him. That really changed a lot for me. It just kind of clicked and made more sense. I needed to stop waiting for God to make the next move, and I needed to do my part too.
 
Shortly after, Lent came around, and I decided to give up coffee and take on daily prayer and devotion. Wow. Two big things. The coffee was the easier of the two. I lived in the sorority house at the time, and every morning I woke up earlier than normal and went to the Founders Room with my daily devotional and Bible. I read and prayed for about 30 minutes. This act of commitment grew my faith because I had an active relationship with God. Because I spent time with Him daily, I began to see, hear, and feel Him more and more.

There are several books that have really grown my faith, and I wanted to share them with you. Before I do that, I wanted to mention another thing that has really deepened my relationship with God. I keep a prayer journal, and I date it and write down specific prayers. I try to give a little detail rather than just a name of a person so I can look back later and remember the circumstances. This has made such a difference. Praying for others will change your life. It connects you to God, and it connects you to people. It softens your heart and grows your compassion for others. And it means so much to people on this Earth. If I tell someone I'm praying for them, I make a point to do it. Writing that prayer down gives me some accountability too. It's written down, so I can't forget it! Another benefit of a prayer journal is this: you can look back and see how prayers were answered. Or if they weren't answered in the way you or others had hoped, you can still look for the prayers that were answered in a difficult situation. That looking and searching has impacted me greatly.

And now, a few of my favorite books:

Traveling Mercies
Anne Lamott

This book has probably been the biggest game-changer for me. Even today, it remains one of my favorite books I've ever read. I really related to Lamott because she isn't a conventional Christian. Let me explain. For the longest time, I felt like I had to fit in this box...I had to look the part, dress the part, say the right things, participate in the right extracurricular activities, hang out with the right people. And that's just not me. I'm a little quirky. I have a weird sense of humor. I'm more liberal than I am conservative. Her book made me realize that I can be both, and that was (and still is) freeing for me. I've underlined so many lines in this book, but here is one of my favorites: "[Grace is] the force that infuses our lives and keeps letting us off the hook. It is unearned love -- the love that goes before you, that greets us on the way. It's the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there." I love her take on grace. This book is a memoir, so Lamott shares a lot of personal stories as she talks about her journey to become a Christian.

Mere Christianity
C.S. Lewis

Oh how I love this book. I read it in college for the first time, and I read it with a notebook beside me, eagerly taking down many of the words I'd read. This isn't an easy read. It takes time and a lot of thought to get through it. Lewis starts off explaining the reasons God must exist, then later on he delves into the most vital components of Christianity: forgiveness, morality, charity, faith, and hope. For people who have doubts and wonder if God really does exist, Lewis states: "Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning." Good stuff. Later in the book, Lewis writes about whether being a Christian is hard or easy. "That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind. We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system."

When Bad Things Happen to Good People
Harold S. Kushner

Trying to understand why awful, unimaginable things happen to good people day in and day out has been one of the hardest things for me to come to terms with in this life. I've heard time and time again, "Everything happens for a reason." "This was all a part of God's plan." "God needed another angel in Heaven." And so on...none of the above has ever made sense to me. None of it has brought comfort; none of it has left me satisfied.

A friend and former classmate of mine died of melanoma about nine years ago. She was newly married, and she had just given birth to a baby girl. How? Why? You want to tell me this was a part of God's plan? In trying to find answers for myself, I ran across this book by Kushner. It has changed my life in so many ways. Kushner is a rabbi, and his son was born with a degenerative disease that would cut his life short...so he was faced with these questions on a daily basis. Kushner uses the Holocaust frequently in the book to discuss why people question God's goodness. "Where was God? I have to believe He was with the victims, and not with the murderers, but that He does not control man's choosing between good and evil. I have to believe that the tears and prayers of the victims aroused God's compassion, but having given Man freedom to choose, including the freedom to choose to hurt his neighbor, there was nothing God could do to prevent it." In other words, God weeps with us...daily.

Kushner later asks, what good, then, are our prayers? He talks about a female friend whose husband died of cancer. She had prayed that he would be healed, and he wasn't. He died. Kushner asked her if her prayers, then, were answered. "But what did happen? Your friends and relatives prayed; Jews, Catholics, and Protestants prayed. At a time when you felt so desperately alone, you found out that you were not alone at all. You found out how many other people were hurting for you and with you, and that is no small thing. ... In your desperation, you opened your heart in prayer, and what happened? You didn't get a miracle to avert a tragedy. But you discovered people around you, and God beside you, and strength within you to help you survive the tragedy. I offer that as an example of prayer being answered."

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Finally, in my own life I have noticed a recurring theme. When I spend time with God, when I am aware of God, when I lean on Him, my life is so much richer. When I put other things first, when I stray from my relationship with Him, my life just seems dull and flat. I have so much more joy when I put God first. I have so much more peace. I look at the world differently, and I feel more complete. That's not to say that life is easy when I rely on God. Bad things still happen; life is still hard...but I'm better able to cope; I'm a better human being, and my life is so much more full. I pray the same for all of you.

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