He asked, "Where'd you go to school, Dave?" When I told him I went to a private Christian university, he shook his head in disbelief. "See, the way you talk about things, it's like--I always thought you started out believing then you rebelled a long time, and then finally came back to believing that much stronger."
So I said, I grew up Christian. Grew up in the church. Christian schools, the whole bit. Got saved at 6, "rededicated" myself to the faith in 8th grade. I was very sure of myself, what I believed. That assurance certainly bled over into arrogance. I probably just couldn't imagine people not believing the way I do, if they put enough thought into it. I was a "good kid," but I was also very proud of being a "good kid."
And after high school, I went to my small Christian college, and was confronted with folks who seemed to be very devout, but their actions betrayed their speech. People who went to the BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministry) church-service-type meetings on Tuesday nights, and would sing with hands raised, and after the minister gave the same old message about the rebellious people of Israel, these people would run to the front, beat their breasts, confess their grievous sins. And then would go out and get smashed and sexed up on the weekend, partying with the best of them. And then went back to BCM the next Tuesday. Rinse, repeat.
I saw this and got so disgusted with "church people" (never once looking to myself), and for a while stopped going to church. I used the excuse that I was tired of the "hypocrisy." I started hanging out with my theatre friends, mostly good-hearted kids who drank, smoked, and cussed openly. They wore these traits as badges of authenticity, proof they were "real" (though I wonder, looking back, if some of the drinking-smoking-cursing was as much a mask as the holy-roller front the others wore). I spent many nights hanging out with cynics and naysayers, flexing their intellectual muscles by deconstructing religion and wide-eyed faith.
I don't think I ever stopped believing in God, or Jesus, or salvation. But I lost sight of God-as-Father during these few semesters. Maybe I'd go to church once in a while, but it never resonated. I started reading a lot of Job, Habakuk, Lamentations. I began to think of God as Zeus, capricious and random, able to strike or smite without regard or reason.
When you live with a concept of God as an unpredictable vengeful deity, it wears on you. It wore on me. And I got so depressed and frustrated. No matter how I tried to distract myself, it never felt right. Finally, I reached a point where I had to say, "God, I don't know who You are anymore. You seem so random and distant."
And the response, inaudible but no less arresting, was something like, "You think I'm random and uncaring because you don't know me well enough. The more you study me, the more you'll understand and see my consistency. If you seek me, you will find me."
That was the beginning of my "return." But it was stalled for another year or so.
My senior year, I fell in love with a girl. We dated for over a year. During that time, my life began to revolve around her. She became the most important thing to me. I all but said as much on more than one occasion; she *was* my life. This was no fault of hers; I think I was so jazzed to be attracted to someone who actually reciprocated that I dove in head first, not thinking.
I still felt the pull of God on my heart, calling me back to Him. But when I'd turn and start following Jesus, I'd immediately feel convicted about this relationship and its place in my life. There were aspects of the relationship that I knew weren't God-honoring, and had to be "put to death" if it was to continue. I wish I could say I realized my error and broke things off then and there. But I didn't. I had a choice between following Jesus or chasing a girl. I chose the girl.
There's nothing wrong with being in love, of course. But any relationship that lasts must be built on a solid foundation of mutual obedience to Christ. My relationship was built on sandier stuff--physical attraction, emotional need, common interests. Nothing sturdy. And as time and distance took their toll, it became clear that all we had left was fleeting and broken.
God doesn't like to share the #1 spot in the life of His servants. And like those woebegone children of Jacob, God will sometimes allow tragedy to strike in order to get our attention. For me, that tragedy was losing first post-graduation "grown-up" job, and then two weeks later, "losing" my girl (no, not dead--but we broke up). Maybe calling it "tragedy" seems too heavy-handed, but when your life is wrapped up around one person, and that person leaves, your life "ends." And that's what it felt like. The rains came down, the floods came up, and the house on the sand went smash.
For nine months, I was out of work. For about five, I was battling what probably could have been diagnosed as clinical depression. Finally, at my lowest point (the Psalmist called it "the pit"), I cried out to God. I gave in. I submitted. I confessed my sin, my rebellion, my selfishness. I fasted and prayed. I pleaded for help. And He rescued me. He brought me out of the pit, out of the miry clay, and put my feet upon a rock. He showed me that He never left, that He still loved me, that He still called me His son and still had plans for me. When I looked at Jesus, I once again saw the compassion of God.
I would be in a totally different place, in all senses of the word, if God had given me what I wanted. I never would have started teaching Sunday School (LIFE group, whatever). I never would have left my teaching job, and would still be broke and miserable. If the girl and I had gotten married like we'd planned, we'd probably be miserable and/or divorced. [As it stands, she married someone else who is a good match for her, and they're happy. And I'm glad of that.] Things would have been radically different. But He was faithful, when I was not, and He never let me go.
I said, That's why I have a heart for people who maybe grew up in the church, but lost sight of God, and got discouraged or burnt out. People who wonder if it's all fake, or not worth living for anymore, and need to be reintroduced to the love and compassion of God, because...
"Because that's your story, right?"
Yeah. That's my story.