I saw this image on Twitter. It’s not a new saying or idea to me, I’ve heard something akin to this a million times.
A version of this is in fact a major premise of evangelical Christianity. Faith is about a “personal relationship” that is experiential. You’re supposed to feel close to Jesus, intimate even. If you don’t, you’re doing something wrong. Maybe you haven’t surrendered your whole life (how do you even know if you haven’t?). Maybe you’re engaging in sin (isn’t that the human condition?). Maybe you need to put in more work via the ever important “quiet time.”
What if you’ve done all that, and God has never really shown up?
What if you spent years religiously (no pun intended) doing your quiet time, laying your life bare, walking the revival aisles, being a good Christian girl, surrendering everything you can and…You feel nothing?
What if you’ve honestly pursued Jesus but it doesn’t seem like he wants to be your BFF?
Sure you didn’t give everything you own to the poor, but neither has anyone else around here. But they wax eloquently about Jesus’s presence in their life and lift up their hands during praise and worship and show every evidence of being saved AF.
At Christmas, they post things about Jesus being the Reason for the Season and bemoan the commercialization of this sacred time of year. When they hear about the Christmas story, it’s like it’s the first time, every time. New every Christmas morning.
What if you feel…mostly nothing.
Whose fault is that? Who’s to blame when you really really want to believe, and you’ve been trying to believe your whole life, and you’ve been doing the things required to believe, the things that are supposed to pay off with a deep and meaningful faith, but…that’s not what you have? At least not in the way they describe it.
I’m not really a Calvinist (let’s face it, I’m barely a Christian), and I hate the idea of pre-destination (or, let’s face it, hell in general), but I do like Reform theology’s emphasis on the sovereignty of God, that there is literally nothing we do to earn his love and grace, and that faith itself is a gift of God.
A gift it seems he hasn’t bestowed on everyone.
Serious Calvinists would say those folks are regrettably predestined for hell. I’m not a huge fan of that part. Probably because I’m probably headed that way by their assessment of things.
But I like the idea that faith is not something we ourselves can conjure up with a quiet time or another verse of the altar call. It is something God gives us.
That’s my experience. I’ve waited and waited for God to give me faith.
I’m still waiting.
One year I was at my very devout parents’ house for Christmas, and they invited their Japanese Buddhist/secularist neighbors over for dinner. My dad took the opportunity to tell them the Christmas story as the foundation of the Gospel. As I listened, I tried to put myself in the neighbors’ shoes, to hear it with their ears.
And, y’all, that is a weird-ass story. God impregnates a teenage girl and comes to earth to live for awhile. He’s a baby, then presumably a toddler, and yet sinless (what does a sinless toddler even look like? I don’t have that kind of imagination). There are angels and a big star and wise men with gifts. It’s a lot.
Tim Keller tweeted recently that Christianity has to be true because it’s too weird for anyone to make up. To which I would respond by asking Tim if he’s ever heard of Mormonism or Qanon or even just the X Files or that Third Body Problem book that I could not get through (no disrespect to Mormons, most of them are nice, smart people who I wouldn’t equate with Qanon supporters. Still, the Book of Mormon is pretty crazy). Human beings are perfectly capable of flights of fancy.
To be honest, it’s difficult for me to believe the Christmas story, and after so many years of hearing it, it doesn’t move me much anymore, if it ever did. But I do want to believe. I want to be moved.
I’m still waiting.
Maybe that is the point.
Advent is about the yet-to-be. The hope for something better. The anticipation of what you can’t grasp right now.
And for me, advent is a permanent state. I’m still waiting for Jesus to show up in the ways I’ve been promised he will. But maybe that won’t happen in this life. And maybe that’s OK.
To quote the prophet Bono, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
Now that is an advent hymn, can I get a big Gen X Amen?!
But also– maybe I’ve found more than I think.
Maybe Christ has shown up in unexpected ways.
Maybe there is Christ in vulnerability, in admitting your doubt, weakness, and despair.
Maybe there is Christ in the questions rather than the answers.
Maybe there is Christ in trying to follow a path of love, simply because it elevates every soul along the way and not because you have confidently adopted an entire doctrinal program of beliefs.
Maybe there is Christ in stumbling and falling and starting anew.
Maybe there is Christ in decorating Christmas cookies with your kids and watching them squeeze icing directly into their mouths.
Or just getting into bed with a glass of wine at 5 pm because you’re so exhausted by all the holiday fanfare.
Maybe there is Christ in the way the sun shines starkly through winter tree branches and how if you don’t rake up all the fall leaves the world doesn’t end and the the way I adore my little dog even though his breath smells like rotting corpses.
Maybe Christ is in the ordinary, every days of life, in the things that go perfectly and the things that go off the rails, in the beautiful paintings that hang slightly askew. In the secular and the sacred.
Maybe God is with us, but he looks nothing like we’ve been told.
Maybe I have thought I don’t have faith because others have demanded mine look like theirs.
Maybe they are too afraid of losing theirs to affirm mine.
I’ll wait to find out.
I’ll wait for God to move.
In the meantime, I’ll just be over here, resting.