After my recent significant birthday, a friend who had come to my surprise party contacted me to ask about faith. She had been brought up as a Christian but fallen away, and was surprised to meet my wonderful church family at the party. The last time we had met it is fair to say that God did not feature in my life. She was keen to understand why i now did the whole faith thing. Here was my response...
“I guess there's 2 parts to the answer, firstly why did I go (to church), and secondly, why did I stay.
I can answer the first relatively easily, the second is more complex and evolving, so I’ll probably just start with the first…..
In the background I’ve always had a sense of Jesus being a good guy, a role model, someone to emulate. I wanted to live the life of, “Loving my neighbour as myself” and, “Turning the other cheek” because that seemed right. In that, then, I suppose there must have been a sense of Jesus as having a special significance…..possibly being linked to some sort of God in some sort of way, but the details of that didn't seem important. I felt like I could decide to live by these morals/teachings and do it well by trying harder.
Alongside that feeling, when I was in sixth form at school I got to know a Christian family who were different from other people I knew; They were generous……opening their home to complete strangers, welcoming, genuinely interested in people, forgiving and tolerant. They felt different, their home felt different. Again, it seemed that they had something I would like to emulate, and I thought I could do it by trying hard.
So I set off to “be a good person”; for me that meant a doctor, mother, wife, friend, moral, socialist kind of a person.
Except what happened is that I couldn't. In my mid thirties, 3 kids, life looked good from the outside...I had a great job, a marriage, a home, friends, a life that would be judged a success by most onlookers...but the reality was that I felt disillusioned and exhausted at work, our marriage was struggling, I found myself reacting increasingly cynically to the world, unable to open up in honest relationships with friends and living a life that often didn't seem generous, open, forgiving. I found myself utterly unable to forgive a nasty betrayal despite genuinely wanting to and not able to understand why I couldn't... Because I'm good at things, because I try hard, because I've always been able to succeed by trying it challenged me that it wasn't enough. I couldn’t shake the horrible anger and began to see its effects on my relationships and family.
Then my neighbor's husband died suddenly. She was pregnant with their third child. I wrote her a card, saying I was praying for her...and stopped and asked myself.. To who? And why? This Jesus who seemed to offer words that made sense but were impossible to follow?? I found a copy of the bible and opened it randomly...1 Samuel...genocide and war...
It seemed obvious that I was missing something.
So I thought maybe I should try going to church. This is daunting if you don't know what to expect, and what will be expected of you. I asked around, I hung around on Sunday mornings, hovering on the high street with my pram in the rain..not quite daring to commit..until eventually I made it into a service at Cornerstone...heart racing, nursing a fractious baby at the back, and out the door so fast at the end, but back again a fortnight later.
It might have been the second service or third when the pastor said during a sermon..” if you are having trouble forgiving it may be that you haven't been forgiven yourself". I remember my feelings hearing that...huge desire to avoid confronting the fact that I might have some culpability..because I'm a good person, I try hard, I do the right thing...and the betrayal was not my fault, and my anger is justified, and my forgiveness, or attempts at are another mark of my own goodness and effort...annoyance that I am being asked to stop looking at the betrayer from a position of judgement, but to look at myself through Gods eyes...and look at my life through his perfect lens...and fear...because if someone who didn't know me could speak so clearly into my life and my situation..then maybe..just maybe...there was someone/some thing/ some power speaking to me whether I wanted to hear it or not.
Maybe God exists whether I chose to hear him or not.
Maybe I am far from him whether I am a good person who tries hard or not.
Maybe it is in sorting out my relationship with him that I become free to become more who I want to be, and able to live in a small way, more like Jesus...more like the family who feel different to be with...more able to forgive, and to be open, and to love.”
And that was the beginning….