For the sake of the overall point to be made, please bear with a little bit of autobiographical information.
I grew up in a solid, Bible preaching church. I was fed meat from an early age, and I will be forever grateful for that. I got Biblical meat at home, too, in times of talking with my mother, and that's an incredible blessing as well. I got a head full of the Word, and was the kid in Sunday School who always raised her hand with the right answer. I believed the stuff I said when I gave those answers, too.
But without going into gory detail, much was amiss behind the scenes. Reality didn't jive with appearances. I'm not talking about the occasional, normal failings of well-intentioned folks. I'm talking about things far worse than that, all swept under a rug of absolute, blanket denial. I learned, early and well, to believe polar opposites and not even see the dissonance. I learned that pretending was far better than reality, because reality was too painful to be borne. I grew up as something far worse than a hypocrite. I grew up as a hypocrite who was blissfully...no...willfully unaware of the truths that I so skillfully suppressed. I lied first and foremost to myself, and that's the most dangerous hypocrisy of all.
And the worst lie that I told myself was that I was a good Christian.
After all, it was easy to believe what others told me about myself, especially when I kept myself so isolated that people only interacted with me as a student or a church member. I knew how to play those roles as a "good Christian." But friends? I had few, and fewer as the years went by. I didn't want any more than I had. People hurt you, you know. I felt safer alone.
But somehow I did finally catch one man's eye at church, and I did end up married, and I did start having children. I did all of those things in the selfish belief that they (husband and kids) would all revolve around me. Finally I would have the place of centrality that I so richly deserved. Of course, I didn't say it to myself in those words. I had it all cloaked in religious trappings in my mind. But it really all boiled down to the desire to make myself safe and happy in a world that I controlled, where no one would hurt me again, and where I would get the esteem I longed for.
And I couldn't see any of the games I was playing or any of the inconsistencies between my priorities and my stated beliefs.
Blind, blind, blind. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
And then came the horrors. Life spinning so far out of control, and filled with so much emotional and situational agony that death seemed far preferable. I never for a moment considered suicide, but I prayed that God would take my life. In fact, I accused Him of sadism because He refused to take my life. I accused Him of taking pleasure in torturing me. I shudder to think of the things I said to the Holy God in that time. But I only said them because I wholeheartedly believed them.
Yesterday I said that I could think of at least two tremendous blessings that had come out of those painful years. And the first one is this:
He showed me my capacity to hate Him.
He began stripping away all religious pretensions, at least in my own eyes (though probably not yet in how I related to others). What has followed has been the slow, painful, shocking process of discovering what I really believed, and what I didn't. Not just what I believed about certain dusty doctrines, but what I believed about the Living God.
Yes, I love doctrine, and I don't mean to discount its importance. But we all know that doctrine in the head without relationship in the heart is dead. Or at least, we all should know that. No one is as orthodox as Satan. He knows the facts about God far better than we ever will on this earth. And he is LOST!
Remember, I had (and to some extent doubtless still have) an incredible capacity to whole-heartedly believe contradictions, and that included believing that God is love and God is a sadist. When you can do both of those things without blinking an eye at the dissonance, you need radical surgery.
God is a radical surgeon. He is Truth with a capital T. Did you ever notice all of the sharp points in a capital T? They cut. Truth (in the inner person) is what has been transforming those once dusty doctrines into living cornerstones of faith. But I couldn't learn to truly believe until I realized (the hard way) how dead my "belief" was.
It troubles me to see how modern Western Christianity often deals with people who are in such a stripping-down process. So often we want to rush to people and reassure them that they love God (when they don't). We want to tell them that they're too hard on themselves when they speak of the failure of their faith. We want to patch up their facades and restore the veneer that Christ has been sanding away. Or, on the opposite extreme, we fear them because they are open about the doubts we also have, but which we prefer not to face. So we distance ourselves and preach at them about what our own heads believe, preferring not to look at what's really in our own hearts.
Folks, we need to see our sin. Until we see it, we can't repent of it. And I don't mean each of our individual sins. We could never remember all of those. But I do mean the core Sin, which is animosity toward God and the desire to usurp His place of authority and esteem. Until we repent of that and begin to see Him as supremely beautiful and worthy of our trust and praise, what kind of faith will we have? (Some are graced with that kind of faith without having to go through such struggles. If that's you, praise God!)
I'm still very much in the early stages of learning what it means to believe in my heart, not just my head. I still struggle with the idea that reality has to be faced, even if it hurts. I've got a long way to go.
But I would far rather be here than in the situation I wanted to create for myself 20 years ago, the one where I reigned supreme over my own private little world.
His reign is far better.
Next: The second great blessing which came from that time.
Because God, in His inscrutable wisdom, has chosen to put treasure in clay pots.
I can't be a superstar, but I can be a pot.
Remember the story of Gideon, and how he and his rag-tag army took on the Midianites? Their lights were hidden in clay pots until the right moment, and then they smashed the pots to let the light shine. God then miraculously routed the enemy before them.
God has given me plenty of good hard whacks in my life, and at times I've felt like he's completely smashed me for good. Maybe one of His purposes for doing that is to let some light out.
I don't have any light of my own, but He is the light, and it's my hope that He'll shine through just a bit on these pages, "that the excellence of the power may be of God, and not of us."