Shifting faith and understanding grace

faithshiftI’ve never blogged through a book before, but I’m considering doing that with Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar. I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a long time, but as a devout bookworm with OCD, I not only couldn’t set aside the book(s) I was currently reading to start this one, I had to read all my new books in exactly the order I bought them (otherwise I’d just hurt their feelings).

FINALLY, the time has come for me to read this, and I can tell it’s going to be good because I’m only twenty pages in and had to set it down as my brain started swimming with blog ideas.

If you couldn’t guess by the title, Faith Shift is a book for people going through transition. It’s not a Christian-y ‘self help’ book or 200-page sermon disguised as a devotional. Escobar wastes no time by asking on page 4: “Do you feel tired and frustrated when you go to church or read your bible? Have you experienced a significant shift in your theology and lost some relationships because of it?” That’s just the beginning; by page 5 I itched to start writing, but forced myself to at least finish the chapter first.

By the end of the chapter I realized something important: while there’s some merit in going through the motions of religion even if your heart isn’t in it, it’s just not healthy to do that for an extended period of time. “Keep calm and faith on” only works so much, and I’ve reached a point where my empty expressions of faith aren’t fooling God. It almost feels disrespectful to keep acting as if I am.

So I put down my Bible. Closed my prayer journal. It’s been months since I’ve cracked open either one. This is not permanent (at least I hope it’s not) but all my pages of complaining made me feel more stressed and anxious, not less. If that’s what “laying your problems at the foot of the cross” is supposed to look like, I guess I wasn’t doing it right.

In addition, I hid the Facebook updates of acquaintances who praised God for cheap cars and lowered gas prices. I withdrew from closer friends whose strong faith I once admired, but now discouraged and disillusioned me; at times even threatened me.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this started, but I’m going to say it was somewhere during my “gap year” between college and grad school, and I had this crazy idea that enrolling in seminary would help strengthen my faith. One year and $30,000 later, I dropped out, and that’s sort of where Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter leaves off.

At the time of publication, I wasn’t in a place to begin sorting through the confusion and frustration of being in small groups with Bible Belt-ers who spoke as if they had never interacted with anyone outside their faith before; people who sincerely believed depression was an excuse to sin. I also wasn’t in a place to deal with the harassment from another student who didn’t know how to take “no” for an answer (which is enough of a trigger by itself), and later called me a heretic for expressing doubts about the meaning of a particular bible verse. In the middle of a lecture, no less.

I hesitate to call the entire seminary experience a mistake, because through it I did make a few genuine, solid friendships. But whatever it was, it was awfully expensive, and something I probably wouldn’t have tried if I had the foresight of how it would end. But that’s how life often works; what can you do?

From there, if you’ve kept up with this blog for the last few months, you know my father died of cancer. Within a month, my childhood pet was gone, too. Two months later I got married. Roller coaster much? Definitely. Through all that muck there were friends who reminded me how much they loved me, and I’m so grateful for them. But there were also people who revealed a side I had never seen before that caused a break of trust: people who didn’t seem to care much about my emotional well-being, but only wanted to know if my father was “saved.” I turned away from those people, even if their intentions came from a good place. It just seemed to me that hell wasn’t reserved for after death – it was happening right in my living room. I couldn’t stand to be reminded of it anymore.

If you’ve read Confessions, you know that redemption – God making new and beautiful things out of broken pieces – was a big part of what attracted me to Christianity in the first place. It’s a different kind of philosophy than “everything happens for a reason.”

I’m also enchanted by the notion that one need not be Christian, or even religious, to be used by God. One of Dad’s last requests was to use some of his life insurance money to help my brother and I pay off our student loans. The biblical parallel is not lost on me: with Dad’s literal death he gave us (financial) freedom. Christians are familiar with this idea of grace from reading Scripture, but not many experience it directly. I don’t want to sound self-righteous when I say this, but it makes me wonder if God is still trying to get my attention. If he’s still trying to tell me Hey, I’m still here. Your father’s death was devastating, but I won’t let it go to waste.

Of course, I question the type of God who allows these awful things to happen in the first place. But that’s another subject for another post: one that I hope Escobar will address in a later chapter.

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