Zinger on Easter
Last month, my husband and I attended our church’s Easter service, like we always do. But the sermon this year hit me hard. Maybe I’ve heard all of this before, I can’t be sure, but I heard it loud and clear that day. Our pastor was speaking to me and I couldn’t ignore it. He had my number and I saw the truth of how I lived most of my life, and all the lies I allowed myself to believe.
For years, part of my story I told was that I was agnostic for a time — that I wasn’t sure WHAT was truth and if God was real. I didn’t just decide that’s what happened to me, it came from doing some introspection and I truly believed that I had become agnostic. Thankfully this year my pastor took that excuse away from me. During that dark time in my life, I wasn’t agnostic. No, I just wanted to be my own god. Ouch.
I was raised Christian; went to a large church most Sundays, was baptized as a baby, got my Bible presented to me in front of the church in 3rd grade, did confirmation throughout 7th grade. I went on middle/high school mission trips and attended youth group many Sunday nights. I enjoyed it, learned a lot about the bible and the history of Christianity. But that’s as far as it went for me — a personal relationship with God was just not something I experienced.
But in middle school, I found myself drawn to a group of girls who seemed different from what I was used to. Now, I can see I was drawn to their relationships with the God and how that played out in their every day lives. This lead to me spending more time in church chasing what I saw that they had. Some days or even weeks, I’d be all in while other times, other things would take priority.
There were times I felt as though I was making progress, but looking back, I can see I struggled with wanting to keep God in a box. I wasn’t ready to let Him have all of me. So even though my heart desired Him, I wasn’t all in yet.
Eventually, the “Christian Life” didn’t exactly match with how I wanted to live my life. I’d rather party the night away, sleep in on Sundays, and really just do whatever I wanted without feeling guilty. So I slowly started to wipe the “God Idea” out of my head. Alcohol played a huge part here because turning off that deep desire within me wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. But, with each choice I made, life got more difficult and complicated, and the easier it became to shut the “God Idea” out and just relay on myself.
Agnostic or Selfish?
When I tell my story and talk about this dark time, I say that I was agnostic. The first time I heard this word and it’s definition, I thought it made sense for my situation since I wasn’t sure what I believed. I was just a confused little girl struggling in the world and really, I didn’t know if God was there or not.
All of that is a lie. I always knew and believed in God. Especially when things got bad — you better believe I was one of those who did the 911 prayers. So when our Pastor told a story about Cain and Abel, I felt he was speaking directly to me. I am Cain.
Here is an excerpt from the sermon:
Cain and Abel. Abel loved God. He worshipped God. He bowed before God. He desired to surrender to God as God. Cain, not so much. Cain was not an atheist. He was not an agnostic. He was not a skeptic. As a matter of fact, he was absolutely convinced that God is real. But he wanted God on his terms. In essence, he wanted a god he could control and manipulate. Tell me the requirements. What are the rituals? What is the checklist? What are the hoops I have to jump through? He wanted God in a box, where he could still run his own life, and God was there if he needed Him. What Cain wanted was not to sacrifice, not to give God his best, not to surrender his life to God. What Cain wanted was $5 worth of God, please.
For the full sermon, please visit our church’s website.
Putting God in a Box
Whoa. Is that not the exact description I used for myself? Hearing this made me ashamed. I saw myself take the easy way out — saying I was agnostic sounded better than the truth. And that truth is that I want to live life my way, but God, don’t let it get too bad. Because if it does, well I’ll come running to You for help.
I wanted to be better than that, but I realized my actions then, and many times now don’t show that. Most of my life I desired to “be good”, but what does that even mean? Now, I see it meant I wanted a checklist — show me what I need to do, what hoops I have to jump through to win favor. My heart wasn’t truly in it to give my best to God. But I sure wanted God to give His best to me. I say this in past tense, but I can still be guilty of it today.
Having heard this, it’s so clear that’s what I’ve done most of my life. Give me enough God to make it through [insert next big life thing] and I’ll be ok. Tell me what I need to do for salvation and I’ll do those things perfectly. And if I can’t, well, than maybe this isn’t for me. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that’s truly how I thought and how I lived my life for so long.
But I tell my story because maybe you struggle too… maybe you tell God what you want and pray for only those things to happen. Maybe you see trials and setbacks as God letting you down. I know I have. And it’s a sad and frustrating way to live. Thinking He’s against us. That’s just a lie.
Coming Out of the Darkness
I walked away from the sermon, reminded that we don’t have to live in darkness. We don’t have to, but many times we choose to. Because we can hide in the darkness. But how much better is being in the light?! I felt encouraged that God wants me to come be in the light, that He wants me to continually pursue Him and stop worrying about the religious boxes that I used to need to check.
So often I put God in that box because I think I know. I believe the things I want for myself must be the best things and what God wants for me too — and I forget to invite Him in. And, like Pastor Clark says, I will continue on a sad, frustrating journey if I only go after what I want. And I’ll be blind to what God has in store for me. I’ll see gifts as setbacks and change as trials, when really, He is trying to pull me deeper into His love.