I have always believed in God. What I believe about God has changed over the years. As I talked about my experiences growing up in a Roman Catholic household and the way church I attended created the distance and the black book mentality, I looked across the room at little Mia Crossley. Did I envy her just a little bit? She is growing up with parents and an extended family of aunties, uncles and grandparents that have really vibrant relationships with God. She will never pick up the idea that there is a black book, that God doesn’t like children and that, yes, although she can never measure up to God’s standards, someone will tell her that Jesus is there to bridge the gap.
Eric Von Daniken might have been an interesting rabbit hole for a while but he never scuppered my belief in God. It is all too easy to avoid the Erics in life. As Christians we need to know not just what we believe, but also why we don’t believe the other stuff. If we don’t know the flaws in other philosophies and ways of believing, because we have never looked for them, we deprive ourselves of ammunition to fight the enemy.
I talked about coming to Jesus when I was eighteen at a house party in Wales. It was one of the hottest summers on record, still spoken about by weather people, 1976. We talk about making decisions to follow Jesus but I think it’s Jesus that does all the deciding to claim us as His. Something that important shouldn’t really be left to us. There was no hallelujah chorus, no sense of planets aligning, peace flooding in – I felt no different, but, you know what, it didn’t matter. I knew, without all of that, that something had happened. God is a God of His word – if I cry to Him, He responds. Maybe it was those memory verses from Sunday School spilling truth inside.
I wasn’t birthed into or nurtured by a church. I fell into the Plymouth Brethren, but they didn’t know what to do with an eighteen year old, new born, spiritual baby. They presumed a church history and experience that wasn’t there. It’s a long time ago now. Maybe they did things and I can’t remember. Not being mothered or fathered made me very independent and self-sufficient. I grew up solving my own problems and not needing people which was never God’s plan. And that has been one of my biggest struggles – to allow other people to come alongside and help. I don’t trust the knowledge that someone else might have, that I haven’t found out all by myself. I do rejoice when I hear testimonies about people spoken to, healing that happen and people coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus, but I go into worry mode. Wil they be like I was – new spiritual babies left without the planting in a church that needs to be there? Will they become self-sufficient and think they can go it alone?
When I was introduced to things like singing in the Spirit and the obviously supernatural side of faith, it wasn’t common stuff at the time – not in my church. The Toronto Blessing was a long way off. It was at the very edge of mainstream churches, perhaps it still is. People talk about the fear of God and swapping words around and calling it respect. What I felt that night at Spring Harvest, in that marquee with thousands of Spirit-singing people, was fear – scary fear. It was Isaiah chapter 6 encounter-with-God fear. It was trembling, pushed-down-to-my-knees fear. It was nothing diluted down to respect. There were other things that I was running away from at the time when I headed to Cyprus – but running from such a tangible experience of God was at the top of the list. I was also running to something. The school offered me an opportunity to teach in a primary school – which it never delivered!
Mum’s letter, or rather her church pastor’s letter following hot on its heels, was a life turner. The Brethren church in Limassol has been bitten badly by the charismatic movement and left with scars. They were deeply suspicious of any movement by the Spirit – which didn’t stop the Spirit moving, just made it that much harder. I was living on a battlefield of what the Spirit seemed to be saying and what was allowed. I was stamping on sparks, trying to toe the party line, but the fire of the Spirit wouldn’t let up.
When I finally left the church, and the job, seeing as I couldn’t have one without the other, it broke my heart. Leaving is not part of my DNA. I have purposely left two churches to date and neither decision to leave was an easy one. It was never down to personality clashes, arguments that I would not resolve or perhaps even doctrinal differences. There were no bitter divorces, just a recognition that our paths were going in different directions. There was a letting go on both sides with a blessing. There was never a gap between one church left and another one entered. I didn’t “church-hunt” and I didn’t take a break from church. I just happened on the next church family and joined in.
There’s no truth whatsoever in the notion that you can be a Christian and not be planted in a church. God chooses not to make Himself enough in that situation. As much as there is a God shaped hole, there’s a people shaped one too. The body of Christ is so called for a purpose. Maybe the reason why I have not fallen by the spiritual wayside is because of the church families I have been a part of over the years. I don’t claim that they are easy people to live with. No one is easy to live with.
Do I really want to add to anything I said about infertility and barrenness? As a church we don’t do childlessness at all. We fling prayers at it, and prophecies and pictures of mothers and prams, and expectation, and accusations of a lack of faith, and a heavy sense of failure, and compassion, and helplessness, and embarrassment in the end – but very rarely acceptance and a good path forward. Yes, it still hurts but I have found my peace in it all. God is not some heavenly vending machine where we push His buttons and the right stuff comes to us. Sometimes the wrong stuff comes – the rain that falls on the righteous and the wicked alike. How can we come alongside a suffering world and speak to their afflictions if we have been shielded from it all? God wants real life in His people, not the Disney endings we think we are entitled to.
I don’t know how to thank God enough for leading me into the writing world. I confess that I don’t write enough and perhaps I only focus on the Disney endings when I do write. There is a writing journey that I have yet to take.
I love my walk with God. Maybe the road hasn’t always been to my liking. Sometimes the company stinks. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a road I don’t want to leave, don’t want to be lured away from, because it heads to the one place I want to go – to the embrace of my Father.