I was going to post this several months ago, but for some reason never did. It was just sitting on my hard drive taking up a few kilobytes. However, last night I had an experience that echoed the following words, an experience that was equal parts relief and conviction, and I felt compelled to post it. It’s a bit uneven and rambling, but then again, you should expect that sort of thing from me by now…
After 6 months of brooding, self-criticism, anxiety, long sleepless nights full of wide-eyed panic attacks, and ceaseless black moods, I’ve decided to take drastic steps with my life.
I’ve decided to switch gods.
What brought on such a profound change? Believe it or not, all it took was a single movie. Earlier in the week, I caught Spellbound, a delightful documentary about several junior high students preparing for the National Spelling Bee. As I was watching the movie, I found myself enthralled by the humanity splashed across the big screen. I found myself admiring and sympathizing with these 8 awkward, bookish junior high students and their families and communities.
It was a brush with human nature at its finest, full of humor and pathos, nobility and struggle, and the experience left me humbled and deeply moved. There were several times throughout the movie where I almost wept, and I found myself tearing up even after I’d left the theatre. And yet, as I dwelled on the film after that night, I also found myself troubled.
Christianity proclaims that we are all made in the image of God. Usually, we try to think of how that concept reflects on us and what it says about our nature (e.g., that we’re spiritual creatures, that we have the ability to discern right from wrong). But what about the reverse of that? What does that concept have to say about God, in Whose image we’re made, and His behavior?
If we’re stirred by scenes of beauty, inspired by tales of victory, incensed by injustice and evil, and long for love and intimacy, than, if we’re reflections of God, wouldn’t those same qualities be true of Him, albeit in a purer form? And therein was my problem.
The God I’d been following was not that sort of God. In my mind, God had become a bitter old man Whose voice was always tinged with accusation, and Who never stopped pointing out the shit I was in. I could never shake the nagging thought that I was always this close to royally pissing Him off, and that He would sure as hell remind me of His discontent as soon I stopped to catch my breath.
As I reflected on Spellbound, however, I was no longer able to reconcile the emotions that were dredged up, the least of which was a newfound compassion for humanity, with the “faith” that I’d been trying to sustain for so long. The God I’d been trying to obey, only to fail again and again, could not be reconciled with the deep feelings I had. “Deep” was the last word I would use to describe myself. Rather, words like “diminished,” “pale,” and “thin” felt far more accurate.
I compare all of that to the life I catch glimpses of in the works of Phillip Yancey, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Anne Lamott, Madeleine L’Engle, Jeffrey Overstreet, Daniel Lanois, Sufjan Stevens, Ester Drang, Unwed Sailor, and countless others. The God they hint at does not restrain or cripple, nor does He cause one to collapse in on themselves. Rather, He sustains and enlightens, encourages and guides, and perhaps most importantly of all, glorifies and exalts.
I was listening to Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan, specifically the song “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti.” The song’s refrain simply repeats “I did everything for you,” and when combined with the song’s overall pleading tone, I’d always assumed those words were from the viewpoint of a man addressing God. I constantly find myself saying that phrase to Him — sometimes plaintively, sometimes desperately, and usually out of a deep-seated sense of bitterness and betrayal.
But while listening to the song again, the perspective of those words seemed to shift. Suddenly, it was now God saying them to me, and saying them in a pleading, breaking voice. It was a perception that almost made me break down right there at my desk at work.
Lying in my bed and meditating on all of this, from Sufjan Stevens to Spellbound, I began to feel burdens easing and pressures lessening. I felt the scabs of doubt, anxiety, dejection, and disappointment peel away, revealing newly-healed skin beneath, fresh and intact. The concerns I had regarding Opus, relationships, a long-standing lack of intimacy, fears of rejection — they all eased, if only for a time.
It felt so fresh I was almost afraid it wasn’t real. It was a glimpse of the way I want faith to be; not a tool of oppression and conviction, but one of liberty and wholeness. It almost felt downright heretical in light of the beliefs I had cultivated since the beginning of the year, and even longer, because it was so opposed to them. But as Chesterton once wrote: “I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches on it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.”