Friday, April 18, 2014

The Joys of Being a Bad Christian

There was a time when I read my Bible every day. When I kept a notebook of prayers and answers, praying over my friends daily. When I wrote notes listening to sermons and took away something new every time.

Nowadays, I'm lucky if I remember to read my one-page-a-day devotional book. I pray over people when they come to mind, because I won't remember later. I'm lucky if I pay attention to half the sermon. I certainly don't take notes.

I used to read my Bible for an hour every morning. Every other year I read through the Bible. I gathered lots of study tools through my years leading biblestudies. I took some ancient Greek to read the new testament in the original. I accumulated Bible knowledge. I know cultural nuances many people miss. I love digging deep into the Bible, setting the scene, understanding every word in its totality.

You know what I lost in all that studying? The touch of the Divine. When I read my Bible, I had a sense of God, but not a connection to God. The Word of Life was dead to me.

It frustrated me so much. This is God's Word! Why can't I hear his voice in it? I studied more, read more, and tried to be oh so faithful...

I've posted before about how important reading and memorizing the Bible are. I still believe that. But I also believe I can be so intent on knowledge and research that I miss my own humanity. I wasn't letting what I read affect my internal heart-thoughts; it was just a topic of study, a body on the dissecting table.

My ritual of daily prayer was the same. As I got used to praying each morning, I got used to praying the same way each morning. I got used to asking and worrying, and not listening or basking.

Good habits keep you faithfully doing the right thing when you don't feel like it. But bad habits form just as easily as good ones. I kept faithful to these Christian-y actions, but my heart didn't stay faithful to the reasons why I was there. I used to read my Bible and pray because I wanted more of Jesus. But I forgot about him and got stuck doing things because "I should."

I got in the habit of going to the Bible looking for words, not for God. I got in the habit of saying words, not really praying. I got in the habit of attending church, but not attending to the message.

I felt so guilty, and guilt made me work harder. Reading my Bible wasn't doing anything for me; but if I stopped reading my Bible, things would surely get even worse. I kept reading, frantically... And kept failing to get better. Feeling more guilty. Trying harder. Trying to hide how bad a Christian I was.

Then I whacked myself about the head. In Jesus' family, there's not supposed to be guilt. He bore that on the cross; that's what we're celebrating on Easter in 2 days. The end of guilt, and failure, and having to do, do, do. The beginning of rest.

So I stepped out of my failed attempts at being a good Christian and relaxed. I became a bad Christian.

I stopped reading my Bible. As if God was listening (because he was), he sent me a different book to dive into: Jesus Calling. Just a paragraph every day, written in the first-person from Jesus. It says very simple things like, "I love you," things that are so simple I forgot them. I don't read my Bible. Every time I crack it open, I slip into research mode and miss the words Jesus is speaking to me.

I don't think this hiatus will last forever--just however long it takes for me to reset. But if it does last forever, I'm not fussed about it. Jesus doesn't judge me based on my Bible knowledge or amount of reading. I'm learning that now. I don't have to have the Bible to have Christ.

I didn't just stop reading my Bible; I'm breaking down all the Christian habits I formed over the years. I let prayer happen whenever it happens. I'm okay with only half-hearing the sermon and not remembering the message 30 minutes later; instead I listen to Jesus.* I use words my mother doesn't like. I'm challenging the traditional views on sexuality and international aid that I was raised with.

I'm finding freedom.

You have to overturn a lot of rocks to find the habits that were bad and root them out. It takes a lot of work. I keep coming up with fear and guilt and shame and having to work through it. Sometimes I go down a path and find no answers, only wrong answers, and have to start over again. But Jesus has more for me than the drudgery and prison of my self-expectations. I know that. Jesus came to free me from myself, so I can have life to the fullest.

I don't do the things good Christians do, but I'm more passionate about Christ. I'm more a Christian than I ever was.

Because Christ sets me free.

Word count: 872.

* For instance, the time where I zoned out of the sermon completely and was talking about my art with Jesus, and he told me to start painting again. I didn't feel very inspired; I felt alone and muse-less. But if he said to do it, something was going to happen; it was going to work. So I tried doing the messiest version of painting I know: a combination of finger-painting, flicking watered-down paint off a paint brush, and whacking my canvas with a paint-besogged string. No skill required. The result was absolutely beautiful and I'm one step closer to understanding myself and Jesus' relationship with me. All because I zoned out during the sermon......