Just for clarification as you read this, I will be referring to fear and works based living as religion, or more specifically the spirit of religion. I know that the word religion may have more than one definition to you, but for context I am referring to the definition of “man-made effort to try to please God through a set system of living”.
One thing that has become very obvious to me is that we can spend our entire lives learning all about Jesus without truly KNOWING Him. In this blog post I will be jumping back to a time when I was considering another religion because knowing about Jesus was just not healing the incredible ache inside of me. In an attempt to keep this short and straight to the point I will need to crop out large portions of what all transpired in my life to bring me to the point where I was considering another religion and what changed my life. I have not included many details about my early childhood, but I experienced trauma very early in life and suffered abuse under professing Christians. This obviously also shaped a lot of my young perspectives. Even with cropping out large parts, this will be rather lengthy and far more a personal account of what my life was like living under religion.
Have you ever read Bible stories of how people met Jesus and were totally changed? Well, I believe that those stories are still happening today. I am about to share part of the story of my life, but my story would not be worth sharing unless Jesus entered it. This is part of my Jesus story.
I did have a real and personal encounter with God, and was born again in my teens, but soon after that the doubts crept in. I became suicidal and questioned whether there even was a God. One night I decided to do it. So I cried out into the darkness and told God that IF He existed, prove it. I saw a glimpse of God that night, and that is what kept me from attempting suicide.
I would read my Bible and then close it completely confused because I had so many questions and was afraid to ask anyone. If I did ask or even if I didn’t I would often hear “That’s not relevant for today. Don’t even question it. The way it is now was good enough for other people.” I was so afraid that I would be mislead by reading the wrong things that I relied on the examples and beliefs of other people who seemed to know what was relevant for today and what wasn’t. But after a time that just wasn’t working for me. I just wasn’t able to understand what was for today and what wasn’t on my own and so this whole Christianity “thing” had me all mixed up. If Jesus truly was enough than why did we have all this chaos? I wondered what kind of a God would leave us stuck with a book that we, in the twentieth century, now had to determine what was for our time and what wasn’t. It made no sense to me. I bitterly concluded that asking questions was a sign that I was stubborn and rebellious. I wanted to be a “good girl” and well approved of so I tried really hard to just fit in.
I was laid up for quite a time with an incurable genetic disease. During that time I would lay on my bed and plead with God to just let me die. I had no desire to live the rest of my life like this. At some point in time my focus shifted from the incredible pain and my physical limitations to finding God. Although I was still angry at Him for making me with deformities and allowing all these bad things happen to me, I also wanted to know more about Who He is. I read a book that really put things into perspective for me, and I began to find a level of healing, but when I spoke about it, I found that it was not appreciated or accepted by some people so I went into somewhat of a relapse.
I turned to a host of things to try to soothe the pain, but it didn’t last and only brought me more pain. Some of them became an addiction, and others I soon dropped because I was so performance oriented that I wanted to keep my job and look good on the outside. Those days of misery are not a time I enjoy thinking about. On the outside, I appeared like a good person, but I knew I was a hypocrite. I just figured everyone else was too.
I wondered if life really just consisted of a bunch of wretched people walking around in their little good looking bubbles talking small talk and trying to sound righteous.
With time, I began quietly studying different religions and concluded that who you worship is not so important- it’s about what helps you be a good person, and that you do worship something. I thought “Must be the religion I have is not working, and so I’ll just need to find what does work for me.” So I began experimenting with different things to find the thing that works for me… I believed that there were multiple ways to God and I just had to find the right one for me. I perused the self-help books and tried to become a better person through my own efforts in the hope that I could please God.
Nothing was working. I would crank up the Zen music when I was angry or depressed. I’d listen to motivational speakers. But while it distracted my mind from the pain, I’d just pick it all back up again afterward. I was desperate for answers. I decided to take 3 weeks of Bible school, and see what happens. I remember one night I was so completely fed up with everything. In frustration, I left my dorm and went to sleep in another room by myself so I could think without anyone around. That night, in total desperation, I cried out to God once more and said “God, I don’t know WHAT to do, send me your Spirit, or someone to show me the way!” I fell asleep only to half wake to a room filled with a bright white light and the most beautiful singing I have ever heard. I then lapsed into a refreshing sleep and woke the next morning feeling like I had slept 8 hours instead of 4. From that moment on something in my life had changed. I was still frustrated, tired and depressed. I still didn’t know which way was up, but somehow I had this thing within me that was guiding me… It showed me things about loving people for who they were. I knew without question there was a God. I just wasn’t sure yet how that was going to affect my life and how to gain His approval. I wrote about that night in my journal. Looking at it now, I can see that even in my journal entry there was incredible disbelief about what all this meant. I did not really believe God would answer that prayer, but He did. It was as though my eyes were so darkened with unbelief that I could not see God for who He was even when He personally revealed Himself to me multiple times.
One night one of the teacher’s wives spoke to the girls. I don’t know exactly what she said, but something in her gentle manner hit a chord in me and I started to cry. I was approached later by a concerned staff member who saw my tough exterior and then saw it crack and asked me if I was okay. I totally broke down again. She told me where this lady was staying and suggested I go visit her. I almost lost my nerve, but I did it. I walked over that doorstep and formed a friendship that pointed me straight to God. That too, was an answer to my prayer that night. At the time all I knew was that someone cared so much about me that they would actually let me come live with them while I sort out this messy life. At the same time I was terrified, what if she knew everything about me? Would she still love me?
When I returned I was fighting confusion and distractions of all sorts, and was sure that this encounter with God was wrong! I didn’t believe that God spoke to people like that today. I figured people would think I was crazy if I told them. I began reading my Bible again with a deeper desire to understand. One day I was reaching toward God and the next day I was screaming at Him for the incredible pain and void I was feeling, and wondering WHY if He was a God of love would He allow so many bad things to happen to me as a child.
Those were dark days where I literally had worked so hard and was living the life I thought I wanted, and yet I would often sit and cry when no one was looking and wonder why I’m still here. I would get into my car after a long day at work and just drive. Sometimes I would speed. A few times I nearly lost control of the car and that shook me up. I didn’t want to hurt someone else. Besides I was now thoroughly convinced that there was a God, but I wasn’t sure if I was on good terms with Him. I didn’t welcome the thought of meeting Him without having that settled in my mind. I don’t even know where all I went. I just drove. Sometimes I wished that the earth was flat so I could drive off the edge of it. Sometimes I contemplated running away. Some days I was sure I was losing my mind. Other days I functioned like an average person.
Finally as a compromise with my parents who were very concerned about my well being, I went for counseling. I figured I could go and just not talk. My parents would be happy because at least I tried. I went through the first session and every time anything was said that triggered that painful feeling I would stop talking and try to change the subject. By the grace of God working in the lives of these people, I began to soften even more. I remember after the first session, I went through the motions of eating, trying to make conversation with people that evening, and then going to my hotel room where I closed the door and slid to the floor and began crying. I remember sitting there with my back to the wall and hands over my head sobbing “I’m not okay, I’m not okay.” But I didn’t know how to tell anyone how not okay I was. It was as though a dark cloud had just fallen in over me and I was suffocating.
I tossed and turned all night. I considered the prescription medication I had along. I considered running away. I considered all kinds of things. But the one thing that kept me hanging on to hope was two friends from Bible school one of whom had offered me a fresh start by taking me into their home.
Finally, morning came and feeling completely sick of it all I decided why not? Why not tell them everything I can think of that is weighing on my mind? Why not just unload all the weight of pain and sin and just see what happens? I didn’t even think I could trust myself to talk. Depending where a conversation went I would clam up and could not even find words to talk. I was so afraid of being judged or misunderstood again. So I wrote everything I could think of that I was scared to talk about in the time I had left before the next session. I did not even bother re-reading it for fear I would lose all nerve and throw it away. If they rejected this, lectured me, tried to excuse the people who had wronged me, or judged me- that was it for me. If they saw no hope, I didn’t know what I would do. I didn’t know if I could trust them, or anyone. But I figured I was so far gone at this point that I had nothing to lose by trying. There was something incredibly intriguing in the fact that they had that same softness, and that kind gentle look in their eyes as I saw in my friend at Bible school. I was so tired of trying to be the tough person. Tired of holding up to all the pressure. Tired of performing for love that didn’t satisfy the deep ache in my heart. So incredibly tired of everything. Obviously all of them had something worth living for. But the real question that burned in my mind: “Was what they had enough for me?”
So I went and we barely had the “hello’s” out of our mouths before I shoved them that stack of papers, then sat tensed and prepared to bolt from the room. To my complete amazement there was no judgment. No long prescription list of do’s and don’ts. Only incredible kindness, love and hope. From there on I began a process of healing. I began to see who God is as I cried out to Him and allowed Him to heal my heart. I remember one night I had a vivid flashback of me as a little girl in Sunday school singing “Jesus Loves Me” and wondering if He really did because of how dirty I felt. I felt like I was somehow outside the doors exempt from His love and how desperately I wanted to know it was true. And right there in my hotel room I sang “Jesus Loves Me” as healing tears washed my face.
I also struggled to believe that physical healing was for today. It just didn’t line up with what I had been taught. But I had a dream that God wanted to heal me. I woke up thinking, “Yeah right!” I opened my Bible with eagerness to begin reading more about Jesus and wouldn’t you know it, I was just ready for John 9 where Jesus healed a man born blind. The word BORN jumped off the page at me. I was born with an incurable deformity and my right arm had limited use. I always blamed God for making me this way. A few hours later as we gathered and prayed, my arm came alive. From that moment on, I began to read my Bible as though every part of it was for today. If I didn’t understand something, I would make it a point to pray about it and study it instead of avoiding it.
In my life, doors began opening and closing. And freedom and healing were happening. I began to see that all these years I had the wrong picture of God. The wrong picture of who He is. I knew the story of the Bible. My outward life looked good and successful. I did the “right” things, wore the “right” clothes, went to church almost every Sunday of my life, I tithed, and volunteered, and tried hard to be pleasing to God and to people. I hoped that somehow all the good I did would outweigh the bad. I thought that knowing about God was what mattered, yet I didn’t really KNOW Him. And all the while under that mask my life was a broken down wreck of pain and sin that I could not find answers for.
Sadly, what I shared is only one of countless stories. Religion miserably failed to save me or provide answers for my deep wounds and hang-ups. Because one religion didn’t work I looked to another religion, but another religion would again focus on the outward instead of the root problem. I turned to all the wrong sources for answers. I believed a whole mess of lies.
I don’t hold what I went through against anyone because I realize that every person must choose for themselves what they believe. One day each of us will answer for ourselves. No one else can answer for me or for you. I was holding people to a standard too high for them to fill.
The truth is that no matter how pretty our bubble looks, if we don’t have Jesus on the inside we are all just full of dead bones. If religion has failed you, please hold on and do what you need to do to break past it into the arms of a Father who loves you far more than you could ever imagine.
To those who have been hurt deeply by religion and believe they are beyond love. I am sorry that you were not cared for with love. I am sorry that you have been judged, abused and deceived by this spirit of religion. If you, like me, find that religion has failed you, please give Love a chance. Perfect Love is God. When Jesus enters the picture there is no story that is beyond His Grace.
There is Hope, and it is there for you!
To be continued… Part 3 will be the summary.