In the comments section of my last post, To A Gay Anti-Christian Who Suddenly Converted, something beautiful happened. It started when long-time reader (and always awesome commenter) Jill wrote this:
I am trying to understand this in my life, where Christianity isn’t always the most compelling belief system for me, and I don’t know how much more genuine wrestling I can do with it to make it be a true fit for me. … I wish I held a fraction of the clarity that you [John] and others here seem to have, perhaps naturally. I truly respect it, and admit some envy of it. .. I’m attending a church, taking a bible study class… it’s supposed to feel right at some point, right? … At this point, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.
Our dear friend Matt responded to this touching honest inquiry with:
Jill, I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. But if it helps, “Christian” is something that you are, not something that you do. And to be something, you don’t really have to do anything else other than declare it, even if just to yourself.
Maybe this angle will help, since you know me so well: I’m not a transgender male because I wear certain clothes or act or sound a certain way. I’m male because I say so. I have declared it to be so. And before I told another soul on the planet, I told myself. That was the first step. I did some reading, studying, and reflecting afterwards, of course. But nothing would have happened if I hadn’t taken a leap and actually embraced this thing. I continued because every step along the way felt more natural than the last, always knowing that I could absolutely go back if this was not it.
The motivation always came from inside. And so the same is with Christianity. You already have everything you need, right now.
I next chimed in with:
This is really wise counsel, Matt. I’m not sure I’m capable of adding anything to it. Except maybe this: Jill: It is, I suppose, at some point supposed to feel right. But it’s never going to feel perfectly, wonderfully, enlighteningly right. It’s never going to utterly fulfill you. It’s not that big of a deal, basically. Becoming a Christian doesn’t give you all the answers. It barely gives you any of them. It doesn’t make you feel In Tune or wise or balanced or centered or wonderful or uplifted or anything. It makes you feel–when you put in the effort to feel like it, when you want to feel like it, when you close your eyes and breath deeply and help yourself to feel like it–that God is a real, actual force in the universe, that he/she is on your side and desires what’s best for you, and that once, a long time ago, he/she manifested him/her self as the figure now known to history as Jesus Christ.
That’s it. God once came to earth, and the Bible is the whole of that story. Believing that’s true is all that being a Christian is.
All really being a Christian is is associating the truth we all have inside of us with God–with, more specifically in the case of the Christian experience, with the Holy Spirit. Believe that that inner voice you have–the same one that’s telling you, for instance, not to be duped by any bullshit religion–is GOD talking to you–and boom: You’re a Christian.
That’s God. That’s the holy spirit. That’s the very living essence of Jesus, still hanging out, still talking to you, still … with you.
That’s it. That’s all it is. Believing that the unerring truth within you–the light within you, the voice of impeachable reason within you, the moral compass within you, the thing inside you which has made you survive–is the holy spirit/God, is Christianity.
It’s a great context for understanding/experiencing your life. That’s all. But, you know–and especially when life flips and then body slams you to the floor—that can be everything.
The unflaggingly thoughtful David then wrote this:
I’m a Christian. Full stop. I believe that Christ was God incarnate. I believe that Christ died on the cross to reconcile a sinful world with a holy God.
I’m also married to a Jewish man who pursues God in his own way. I’m good with that. Our understanding of creation/eternity is completely incomplete. Anyone who pretends to have God figured out is either a liar or a fool.
IMHO, (presuming you believe in God), whether or not you pursue Christianity is secondary to whether or not you continue to seek God. There is a universal truth. I think we all know that on an essential level – even atheists.
You are putting yourself in spaces where people support you in your faith life. That’s good. That has tremendous value. My advice: stop feeling like there is a single way God reveals Himself to humanity. Have faith in the way that God has revealed (and continues to reveal) Himself to you; find your peace and your wholeness in that revelation. That’s the water. That’s life-giving.
My prayer is that we can be a cup to one another. I know you’re that to me. I hope to be that to you too.
Lyn, always beneficial to read, then shared this:
I will say, as a longtime Christian that I still have this niggling doubt sometimes because I don’t seem to feel Christianity the way others talk about. It’s not that I’ve never been overtaken with a sense of awe, or a sense of God’s presence, or what have you, but it’s rare. But I think just as we each have our own learning style and tastes, so God speaks to us in different ways.
If God spoke to me only through emotion, I’d find the experience very suspect. It’s taken me a while to accept that the logical/intellectual relationship I have with God is just as valid as the pew jumpers and the mascara runners.
If you’re in an environment where a lot of folks’ experience of the divine has been something you’ve not had, it’s easy to think you’re not doing it right and there’s some ritual or prayer or thing you’ve left undone. We want to complicate it, layer on requirements for being a “real” Christian.
But, really, it’s just a matter of saying “I believe. I do not have absolute proof, but the evidence I have is compelling, so I accept.” And then live your life exploring and carrying out the implications of what that means.
If you need something to make you feel like you’ve made a commitment, find something. Write your commitment down, speak your commitment to God, announce it at your church, be baptized. It’s much like a marriage. Some folks are happy with a common-law commitment, others need the big church wedding with all the trimmings. Do what you need to do to confirm to yourself your new path on your journey.
The redoubtable Lymis next wrote:
At the risk of going entirely too meta, something to consider about the question of “at some point it’s supposed to feel right, right?” idea is that there is the process, and there is the answer. There is the journey and there is the destination.
Many of us never particularly feel that we’ve reached – or even really know – the final destination, and “don’t feel right” about all the details of where we find ourself in the moment, but at the same time are entirely certain that wherever it is leading us, we are most definitely on the right path, and that our process of proceeding along it actually is something that “feels entirely right.” Even during those times when we can’t quite articulate why.
Be open to the possibility that where you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to be doing right now is seeking.
Sometimes, confused, uncertain, vulnerable, and malleable is where we most need to be in order to be who we are becoming.
Finally, our friend Allie had this to say:
Jill, go with what helps you and discard the rest. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that you need a doctorate in theology to get into heaven. Most of the time what we’re supposed to DO is pretty clear—love each other—and that’s what’s important.
Speaking for myself, I’m a Christian rather than just a Theist because I know God, through personal revelation, and when I read the words of Jesus in the Bible I feel like I recognize that voice, just as I can recognize the style of writing of a friend of mine before I read who wrote it. Jesus always surprises me, he is never what I would have imagined on my own, but always perfect. But that’s where I’m coming from, coming out of my experiences, and you may be in a different place. Doesn’t it say knock, and it shall be opened unto you? You are knocking, you’ve already done your part.
Save this post for the next seeker you come across who is asking what Jill asked us. Or for the next time someone complains that Christians are, in the main, insensitive, selfish, unthinking conformists.