I liked my church. I liked being a part of something that was exciting, somewhat controversial, and always in motion. I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to walk away from that. It happened over an extended period of time.
It started with some nagging doubts and reservations. At times, I wondered if people had really been miraculously healed or if they were just “speaking in faith.” I even wondered if some of the supposed recipients of the healings had ever been sick in the first place. I also wondered about “prophetic words” that seemed to contradict each other and even contradict the Bible. Some very specific “prophetic words” were simply forgotten or ignored without commentary when they didn’t come to pass. It made me uncomfortable, but my desire to have faith outweighed my doubts… at least for while.
Faith was supposed to be like a muscle — you had to use it in order for it to grow. My faith was weak, but I dreamt about having “faith to move mountains.” I looked to those who were further along than I was, and longed to be where they were. Certain pastors and leaders were held up as heroes in the faith. They seemed so solid, so convinced, absolutely unshakable. I attributed my lack of faith to a lack of maturity. If I could only stick with it long enough, I believed that all those questions would melt away.
My questions didn’t just melt away, but I learned how to talk as if they had. Talking correctly was just as important (or perhaps even more important) than believing correctly. The reasoning was that if you “talked the talk” long enough, you’d “walk the walk” eventually. Faith was “calling those things that be not as though they were.” I learned to speak with confidence and passion in areas where I really had zero conviction. Essentially, for the sake of “truth” I learned to be a very effective liar.
I was ready to defend my leaders even when I disagreed with what they did. Staying connected to the church was all that mattered. If staying connected meant promising to live according to the group’s rules, then that was a small price to pay. The church was my family. Services, classes or other activities took place almost every night of the week, and I was there whenever the doors were open. We genuinely cared about each other. We made sacrifices for the good of the church. We were making some pretty big life decisions — where to work, where to live — because those decisions would make it easier to commit even more time and resources to the group.
I went to “revivals” on the west coast, special services on the east coast, visited “hot spots” in the midwest and even Canada. These special meetings stretched into the small hours of the morning. You didn’t dare leave before it was over — you might miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have an encounter with God! No one wanted to be the last person who left the upper room before Pentecost happened!
The highs were tremendous, but the lows were horrible. There’s a flipside to believing that God will bless you if you live, speak, and believe correctly. If you’re not blessed, not protected, or not healthy, then the inescapable conclusion is that you must be doing something wrong. There must be some sin in your life.
When I reached that point for the first time, I was discouraged… but instead of walking away, I threw myself into my faith with even more energy and abandon than before. After all, I wasn’t perfect, so I was probably doing something bad without even realizing it. My pastors tried to diagnose my spiritual shortcomings. Maybe I needed to stop working extra hours and devote more time to the church. Maybe I wasn’t reading my Bible enough. Maybe I wasn’t listening to the right music. Maybe I wasn’t bold enough in my witness. Maybe next time I would get it right.
But I didn’t get it right next time, or the time after that, or the time after that.
I was still being taught that God loved me and wanted to bless me… but I didn’t believe it anymore. What did love have to do with rewarding people for doing something correctly? In my mind, God was now little more than some cosmic game show host saying “Sorry — that is correct — but you didn’t answer in the form of a question.”
The buzzer sounds and the bottom falls out of your life…