I think I finally got my mind around what I wanted to say about church last night. It just took a whole day, chicken fingers, Diet Mt Dew, and getting socked in the basket by an enthusiastic toddler to make realize what was going on in my very large bald head. I believe that at the crux of it was that Zeb touched on why I believe, and in order to get at that, I had to go back to a time I did not want to think about.
Allow me to explain.
Zeb talked about a great many things during his sermon, but at the heart of it was more or less not caring for the statement people often make to believers when something bad or tragic happens: well, you know. God never gives a person more than they can handle. This is often postscripted with, “It’s in the bible.”
It isn’t, actually.
That statement was taken from an oft-misquoted scripture, 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says this:
13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Another thing Zeb mentioned was that, sure, sometimes we can’t handle things. At least, not on our own. The other annoying thing people say to Christians when something bad happens in some stupid crap about whatever the tragedy was being part of God’s plan. Part of his context was 9/11/01.
That doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with me, or what was dug up in my heart last night, but maybe in a sense it does. Things will come up in our lives that are much more than we can handle. I know they did in mine. And that was where I went last night.
I have not had anything particularly serious or that tragic happen in my life in many years, and probably not since the 1980’s, which featured several very dark years near the end of my teens. Those of you who have read much of what I have to say or have heard my testimony know what I’m talking about, but for those who do not, from the time I was 16 until I was 18, three people close to me died, pretty much one each year. My dad from a heart attack when I was a sophomore in high school, a good friend took his own life when I was 17, and my mother finally succumbed to cancer when I was 18.
At the time, no one said anything to me about God not giving me more than I could handle. I would not have listened if they had, because at that time God was an abstract concept, not a real “person” to me. At best, he was like the president: I knew he probably existed, but he was never going to really be a part of my life.
And the truth was, all of that stuff was more than I could handle. A lot more. I didn’t give any of it to God at the time, and wouldn’t for many years. What I did do was try to handle things myself, and while I was able to hang on well enough while I was in high school, afterward I became a walking cautionary tale about how not to deal with things like depression, loneliness, guilt, and abject sorrow. I indulged. I self-medicated. I binged. I did all kinds of horrible things to try and fill the ragged hole down the middle of me.
Nothing worked, and I ended up unfulfilled in nearly every way, and wondering if this was what life was always going to be like.
What does that have to do with why I believe? Glad you asked.
When I came to belief, and as CS Lewis said, “admitted that God was God and kneeled and prayed,” God spoke to my needs at the time, and gave me to understand what I needed to know about him, and myself, and spoke truth to the lies I had always believed about him and about myself. The cavern of emptiness within me was filled, as an adult.
I believed, but something was still lacking. I believed in God, but I did not know Jesus. It took years of seeking, years of prayer, and some very clear signals from the man himself. I was made to understand that the person I was now was forgiven, and the things I was unable to handle before I could handle now–or at least better handle–because God now resided withing me.
What really made me believe–and not just in actually having a relationship with Jesus, but in being restored by him–was the truth that while I was young, and felt alone, and couldn’t handle things, Jesus was there at my side. Angels were at my side. Handling what I could not handle, and fighting the fights I was unequipped for. The truth that was spoken to me back in San Diego shortly before I met Jen and again last night in the Upper Room was that his heart broke for me then, and breaks for me now, when I willfully choose other than his perfect will for my life. Not that my parents illnesses were some sort of punishment from God, or that they somehow chose them. No.
What I felt last night was the sense of being loved through all the horrible things that happened in my teens. I was able to feel the able and strong hands of the carpenter on my hands, guiding them. I was able to feel them holding the broken parts of my heart in his hands and binding them together. It really is something when you feel that.
Then the worship team played King of Glory, and it was all I could do to keep from getting verklempt.
I guess my point with all of this is that sometimes we misunderstand God like we misunderstand scripture. I certainly did. I forgot about what to me is the most important part of the verse:
But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
The way out God provided me (without me giving him any part of my life), was school, in the form of acting and singing, and discovering that I would never be alone in a drama class. There was a plethora of fellow geeks available, probably 24/7. I threw myself into drama for the last two years of high school, and began to sing as well when I joined the men’s chorus. I listened to music, and retreated to the warm solace it provided when I would have been lost without it.
It’s different now. Bad things still happen. Sometimes I doubt, or feel sad or alone in some way. Yet it isn’t long before Jesus sends someone into my life to speak truth. Such has been the case over the past year, what with becoming good friends with Sam and Zeb.
Left to my own devices, I would probably still be wandering and lost.