Simple Sabbath: Why I Believe

I don’t remember a time when my parents didn’t take us to church of one kind or another. I distinctly recall when I was 11 years old and we started going to a non-denominational church in Newcastle. They were a charismatic community. They were “on fire for the Lord,” people raised their hands, spoke in tongues, and shouted a lot of “Yes, Jesus!” exclamations throughout the congregation. I thought it was a little weird at first. It was totally unlike anything I had ever experienced before. That soon became our church home and we were there nearly every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I even started volunteering in the children’s church because I loved working with kids.

Growing up in the Christian faith, I believed in God, quite frankly, because I always had. That’s the way I was raised. I’m thankful that my parents raised me in church. I was baptized, was involved with the youth group and never questioned anything I had learned. As I got older and started working, I went to church a lot less but I never stopped believing in God. I was raised in the Bible Belt, after all. I didn’t know anyone that didn’t believe in the same God I did.

In college at Oklahoma City University, I took a fantastic class called the History of Religion. We studied Christianity. But we also studied Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. You could definitely say that my naïve little bubble was cracked open when I realized that Christianity wasn’t the only religion in the world. Millions of people believe something else. As I studied the other religions, I heard similar parables such as the Prodigal Son that I had bean taught in church except these were from the Buddhist faith, not just Christian. I was surprised to learn that even though many of the details are different, many of the major religions have a lot in common.

As I grew older and made new friends from all walks of life, I learned that there are plenty of people in my world that don’t follow the same faith I did. I have friends who are Buddhist, Muslim, Deist, Wiccan, and Atheist. They are some really wonderful, moral, kind, loving people. When I started to explore the world I realized that there are millions of children who grew up, just like I did, being taught religious beliefs from their parents, fostering a deep faith and belief system for their life that isn’t Christianity. Does that mean that I have the responsibility to proclaim that everything they have been raised to believe is wrong and that they should believe the way I do? I am not comfortable with that. How would I feel if they did that to me? I have an unwavering belief that others have a right to their opinion and beliefs even if they are different than mine. I’m not going to push my beliefs on anyone to bring them over to the “right” side. To me, faith is a private decision. I’m happy to share mine if people ask but you won’t find me on any street corner screaming bible verses.

As I learned more about the great big world and gained information, I started to look at my Christian faith and examine the things I had been taught, beginning all the way back when I was coloring Noah’s Ark on construction paper in bible school. Do I really believe all of that stuff? Was it true or was it just some story that some old dudes concocted way back in the day to keep me in line? Was God really watching me or did they just tell me that so I’d try to be good when no humans were watching? Did I really have to be good all of my life in order to get into heaven or was that just some way to keep me from breaking the law?  Do people really think that God cares about the outcome of a football game? Did God really create everything? If so, what is the purpose of mosquitoes?

Many of my brilliant friends have very strong opinions about all things religion. I know that many of you are reading this, virtual hand raised, saying “Oooooh, ooooh, me, me!” wanting to give me all of these answers. If so, put your hand down because you are about to miss my point. It doesn’t really matter which corresponding bible story paper I may have colored in children’s church. Sorry but it doesn’t even matter what you think, even if you have done years of research, watched every documentary ever made, and for your $25 donation have been sent a prayer cross blessed by Pat Robertson himself. It doesn’t matter which conspiracy theorist you believe. It makes no difference if you think everyone who believes in God is a foolish sheep, merely regurgitating messages that have been crammed down their throats with no capacity for independent thought.

When it comes to believing in God and practicing a religion, it is my decision alone. On the flip side, I also think that it is your decision alone to decide how you want to live, as long as it doesn’t negatively impact me. I won’t push my beliefs on you unless you ask me to share them. Don’t criticize or belittle what I think either, thank you. I’m no sheep. Sure, I could blindly follow God because that’s what I was told to do when I was little. But for me to really embrace something to the point that I use it as the compass for my life, deep down in my heart, I need to look at all of the evidence, examine all that I know, review everything that I think is true and make my own decision. I don’t want to follow God because someone told me to.

After all of my questions, I have come to the conclusion that I really do believe in God. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. I am still learning and growing as a thoughtful, inquisitive Christian. I left the charismatic style of church and was drawn to the Methodist church instead. I am not going to debate that many parts of the Bible are meant to be metaphors and aren’t meant to be taken literally. I’m not going to defend all of the people over the centuries that have been killed in the name of religion. The simple fact is that I am not personally responsible for the acts of every purported Christian over the history of the world just because I believe in God. I don’t have to defend the likelihood that Noah picked up the tails of every tiger, lion, and bear to make sure he had two of each kind before he loaded them in his ark. I don’t think that because I am divorced, I am going to hell. I also don’t think that my gay friends are condemned either. To be honest, I haven’t reconciled everything that humans have taught me about God, Christianity or even everything that is in the Bible.  It will probably be a long time before I do.

The good news is that I don’t think I have to understand everything about the Bible in order to have a relationship with God. My relationship with God is between Him and me. Much of the time, humans just get it wrong. Sometimes they mean well and other times they use the Bible as a weapon to validate their own agenda. Many people have been hurt in the name of religion but I don’t think we have to shun it because of those misguided, fallible, people. Humans have free will and many times we make poor choices that lead to tragic circumstances. Sometimes, bad things just happen to good people but I don’t think God causes them to happen.

As I have gone through my inner quest to decide if I really did believe in God, I have watched other people in my life who I know are Christians. One man in particular, Ray, is a retired minister. I can count on one hand the number of discussions we have had about God. I even asked him once why he didn’t talk about it more because I knew he had a strong faith. He just answered that it’s a private thing to him. I know plenty of Christians who loudly talk about God, their faith, and post daily Bible verses on Facebook.  That’s fine because it’s their choice and the way they want to live. However, the Christians that helped me confirm that I wanted to be one were the quieter ones like Ray. They are truly good people, have an inner serenity about them, and help others without proclaiming their good deeds. Instead of judging, they love others even if they don’t agree 100% with the life they may be living. Instead of telling everyone how to be a good Christian and chastising them when they are not, they quietly do it every day and lead by example.

Thank God, I don’t have to know everything. But, here are a few things I do know. It helps me immensely to believe that everything happens for a reason. It has given me great peace in turbulent times. When something doesn’t turn out the way I want, I stay strong because I believe there is a bigger plan for my life. It just takes a moment to look at the miracle of the systems of the human body, the balance of nature, or watch my children laugh to feel in my heart that there is something greater than myself out there. If my belief in God makes me strive to be a better person, do the right thing, and help others, how can there be anything wrong with that?

I hope that you will search your heart and find your own peace, whatever that means for you.

[jenni]

Note:  Jennifer Wallis is our “Cents and Sensibility” author.  She penned this essay and we’re running it today in our regular Simple Sabbath section to provide her perspective on her choices and beliefs.  Dallas will return next week. Thanks. ~ The Editor

Comments

comments

18 thoughts on “Simple Sabbath: Why I Believe”

  1. Oh, Brian! This is why you are the chaplain and I am not! Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. You are an incredible writer and I never fail to learn something by reading your thoughts. Because you are a fellow writer, I think you will understand this when I say that for me, writing is a way to process my thoughts but I still end up processing them for many days after. That is exactly true with this blog.

    I think that even though I do try to lead by example of being a good Christian, I am not comfortable going up to a non-believer or someone of another faith and trying to convert them. This is because I don’t really feel qualified, I guess. If you want me to sit on a panel in front of a large group of people, allowed to ask me any question they want to fire at me regarding money management, bring it. I feel confident that over the past 13 years I have become somewhat of an expert on that topic. However, if a non believer started firing questions at me asking me to justify a certain Bible teaching, I’m not sure I would do a stellar job. I will leave that to you! I am more comfortable sharing my faith at this point with people who know more than me so I can learn. I don’t yet feel qualified to teach other than trying to lead by example, as Christ did.

    As far as the “everything happens for a reason” I don’t believe God is an evil puppet master. I just believe that there is something we can learn from every challenge and trial that we go through.

    I’m not saying that I can’t learn from people and I am happy to discuss faith with whoever wants to. But, I still believe that I have to make the decision in my heart to believe and not just do it because someone told me to do so. If I am open to listening to them, it does matter what others think but it may or may not change what I believe. I have never been one to do something just just because someone told me to and I’m probably not going to start now. I am happy to follow the teachings of others but still form my own conclusions. I guess that’s the rebel in me.

    You know me and I am not one to not speak my mind in fear of hurting someone’s feelings. I just want to get some more knowledge under my belt first. 🙂 Thanks again for your thoughts!

  2. Jennifer,

    Hello! I really appreciate your willingness to write about your faith and the honesty and sincerity you share while discussing it. I’m also very thankful that you are attending a United Methodist Church, because that is God’s favorite denomination! 🙂

    I wanted to respond to a couple of things in your article. First of all I’m thankful that you are making your faith your own. I view faith as a journey and it involves a life-long process of searching, seeking, and discovering. To do that, we have to go through the painful process of unpacking our past as we make sense of all that we learned. Sometimes that means we need to unlearn some things. But, we also step into the future knowing that the Holy Spirit is our guide as we discern the “bigger plan” God has for us. I am thankful we are both on that journey.

    There are some things you said that concern me. Basically, your position is a reflection of the current post-modern, relative, individualistic thought that exists today concerning faith. It’s interesting you are critical of those on street corners, yet here you are sharing your faith position in a blog; which I am thankful you are doing, because it leads to discussion and goes against the “private” claims you make. Faith was never meant to be a “private” thing and here’s why. One of the basic premises of Christianity is that all of us are broken, flawed, sinful, and in need of a Savior. Part of the human condition is an uncanny ability to justify actions, behaviors, and thoughts no matter how evil they may be. We are all masters of justification. So, if faith remains a private thing sans community you miss out on the accountability, the discussion, the different points of view, and the wisdom of others. This is one of the many reasons a place of worship is so important! I definitely agree that you should not blindly accept what you are taught, but there is still value in being taught, entering the discussion, and sharing views.

    Your last quote, to me, is the scariest. “I hope that you will search your heart and find your own peace, whatever that means for you.” Whatever that means for you, really? This is almost a license to create your own truth! You even say it doesn’t matter what others think as you claim that it is your decision alone! This is not what Jesus intended and is a dangerous course of action. This kind of relativistic, individual expression of faith usually leads to a fear of saying anything dogmatic because one might offend somebody, so one ends up saying nothing at all. Or one might say the ever popular quote, “I’m spiritual, but not religous,” which is basically a meaningless statement because faith must seek understanding. At it’s core, religion is humanity’s best attempt to explain faith. It is never perfect, never captures the complete truth, but that doesn’t mean one still cannot make truth claims based on one’s relationship with God and one’s understanding. It is SO important that one does this within a community to find accountability, balance, and debate. This is one reason I love the United Methodist Church’s slogan…”Open doors, open hearts, open minds!” The conversation you and I are having is an example…assuming you will reply! 🙂

    You even make an “absolute truth” claim within this blog when you state that “Everything happens for a reason!” There are many out there that would completely disagree with you and interpret that as a “street corner” thing to say. I personally have issues with that statement because it is wrought with negative theological implications, but I know what you mean by it. As a chaplain who has dealt with multiple deaths on the battlefield, miscarriages, and unbelievable pain, I would never say to somebody that everything happens for a reason, because that makes God seem like some evil puppeteer orchestrating events. But, I would say that one can find meaning in everything that happens and that God is in the business of redemption, restoration, and resurrection! And Lord knows that we ALL need his grace!

    Once again, thanks for the article and thanks for making me think! This is the value of religious dialogue and exhibits the importance of never allowing it to be an individualistic, relative matter because you, me, and everybody else is too good at twisting, rationalizing, and justifying his or her thoughts, actions, and beliefs. We need God and we need each other to hold one another accountable and to lift one another up!

    Brian

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Rob. I definitely agree that if we try to live as Jesus did, we will lead many more people to Him than through condemnation and hatred. I guess I just have a hard time reconciling that these people I know and love who have been raised to be a different religion won’t be seeing me in the great hereafter. I am still a work in progress. I always shake my head on the way back into OKC from Dallas at the billboard that says, “Going to hell? Contact your local church”. I’m pretty sure NO ONE sees that and feels inspired to follow Christ.

  4. Hey Jen, I really enjoyed reading this and as a Christian I do believe its natural to have some doubts and to question my faith from time to time. I may be more strongly convicted than you, but I do believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. Because I believe that, I believe there is only one way to heaven and that is through the belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection. While I don’t think I need to be forcing my faith on other people, I am called by Christ to be an example, to give an answer, and to be a witness for Him in this world. The problem is that many Christians go about this in a very judgmental, intolerant way when we’d be better served to show non-believers that there is mercy, love, forgiveness, and compassion that can only be found in Christ. Let’s put it this way, I believe in heaven and hell, but I don’t think anyone gets to heaven just by being told they’re going to hell!

  5. Thanks, Kristi. I am fortunate to have an amazing husband who is figuring it out along with me, too. God bless you and your family.

  6. Jen ~
    First of all congrats on being bold enough as a believer to admit you dont have all the answers. I appreciate the insight and I know personally I share alot of your feelings. Being raised with parents who were believers but only stepped into church on holidays or when grandparents visited, I found myself very confused as a young adult. I was afraid of what people would think about me not “knowing enough” about being a christian that it was just easier in my mind to hide from it and not go. Looking back I now know that I would’ve been welcomed and allowed the room to grown and learn. Thankfully I have a husband who loves God and together we are learning and growing in our faith too! Kudos to you for not being afraid of your vulnerability. I pray that you will continue to grow in your relationships with God and nonbelievers. God bless!

  7. Fantastic article, and beautifully written too.
    I’m just a kid, but your words have stuck a deep chord in me. Thanks.

    – Reddit sent me here –

  8. So beautifully written, Jennifer. It’s like you snuck inside my own mind and put it into words.

  9. It seems to me that you have taken the god from the Christian bible and decided to only believe what you want to believe.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Alex. I have learned from the church that as long as I believe in Jesus, accept him as my Savior, and ask forgiveness for my sins, I am saved. As far as reconciling everything in the Bible with my beliefs, it is a work in progress. I am growing, seeking truth and realize that I have a lot to learn. However, I have the basics down and believe that God has patience with me as I grow as a Christian and learn more about what that means. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out. I wrote on this topic because I thought there may be others out there like me, questioning and seeking the truth. I wanted them to know that they are not alone.

  10. Jennifer – I appreciate you taking the time and thought to write out your thoughts about your core spiritual beliefs. I concur with a great deal of what you said for my own perspective. I also like what Dallas write about “relationship before rules” being the key to sharing a faith. A relationship would mean that you would get to know a person well enough they might ask questions. “Go ye therefore and preach the gospel” may be the Great Commission. However, achieving the Great Goal in our world takes a strong understanding and good grasp of many perspectives; even of those w/o a faith they call their own. It’s clear to see by our Facebook page that others appreciate what you wrote as well. See ya, KR

  11. It is good to question your faith, because an honest reply will strengthen your faith. I agree it is not for a Christian to judge those of other faiith, but to lead by example. Unfortunately, many forget this. My favorite quote regarding this is from Gandhi: ” I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

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