My good friend is a pastor, and a writer, and when working on his latest blog entry, he solicited contributions, in the form of “letters to your younger self”. His topic concerned a particular, not to mention news-worthy and controversial, revival that took place in our area when we were in our late teens. (You can read it here , and should read his other stuff too!)
I answered the call, but broadened the scope, and quite honestly, this has been rattling around in me for quite a while, so the kick in the pants was appreciated.
Dear Sarah in her late teens:
You are trying to navigate an uncertain time in your life. You are becoming you. And, it turns out, this takes a while. You’re desperate for certainty… for security… for identity… for belonging… for purpose… for acceptance… for peace… You want these things in all aspects of your life, and your faith is no exception. In fact, you are turning to your faith and your understanding of God to give you all these things. Like it or not, science tells us just where your brain is developmentally. Your need for these things is so vast, that you crave black and white answers… You want RIGHT NOW something that actually unfolds gradually… But you want something definitive, something compelling, something that will tell you 1. Who you are, and 2. That you’re okay.
There’s nothing wrong with spiritual fervor. Zeal is great. Finding a group of believers to navigate these times is wonderful. However… You can be blinded by what is offered. Your needs can cloud your judgement… And you can find yourself trying to fit into a system that seemed to offer you what you needed, only to find, that as things unfold, you are left hollow. The system that gave you black and white answers, failed you when you began to doubt it… It failed you when things began to unfold, and there were inconsistencies. And it left you feeling betrayed at best, at worst… damned.
You want it all to be true… the things that your tribe believes… You want to feel the hand of God… You literally, want to fall down by his spirit, and LITERALLY tremble in his presence. But you don’t… And my dear… that’s okay. I urge you, to slow down, and to hear the one truth that is at the core of this faith tradition… 1. You are okay, because 2. The divine dwells within you.
You didn’t have to ask for it. You didn’t have to turn from your evil ways. You didn’t have to invite God in. You didn’t have to study sound theology. You didn’t have to walk the straight and narrow. You just had to breathe… and acknowledge the truth that you sensed inside of you for as long as you have memory… That life is sacred, and the giver of life abides within you… and that makes you okay. The rest is details.
It’ll take a 15 year long “dark night of the soul”… but youwill have a moment, where you lay outstretched beneath the trees, filled with all that you once desired… and you will whisper under your breath, “I knew it all along”.
It took both resistance and surrender. You weren’t sure what to resist and what to surrender, and it took you a long time to figure it out. Years of tension, a lot of anxiety, a lot of guesswork. You were so afraid to throw the towel in on God… but everything in you told you to. And you were so afraid of what that would mean… What it would mean if you were wrong, and even worse… what it would mean if you were right. You landed in a vague agnostic (practically atheist) land that allowed you a little respite. And you needed that respite… because life was going to hand you some serious struggle. Struggles that went far beyond existential fear… Real life pain. Real life loss. And the journey through this pain, stripped and broken, is where you finally learned what to resist, and what to surrender.
You didn’t throw the towel in on the concept of God…. You threw the towel in on your context of God. God was never the problem. Your understanding of God was the problem. Your understanding of yourself in relation to God was the problem.
The instincts that you first remember… being moved by music, feeling connected to nature, love, wander, the urge to create, the longing for justice, even the deep-rooted sense of something sacred coursing within you… It was always there… and it was always true. You just had to surrender the context that caused you to deviate from what you knew all along.
So relax, and keep hope…. and keep wrestling. There is light. There is peace. You will be wounded along the way, but you will find it. And you are going to chuckle when you find out it was in you all along. So much of your peace will come from the realization that you don’t have to solve the mysteries of God and existence… of life and death… And there will be peace in understanding that it isn’t black and white… it isn’t either or. The not knowing is not an enemy. Uncertainty is not the antithesis of Faith… Rather.. it is the birth place of faith.