I often tell people “I left evangelicalism a couple years ago” and when you think about it, it’s a pretty weird thing to say. Evangelicalism is not a place one can leave, but a cultural identity, a worldview, a state of mind… and honestly, I couldn’t leave it if I tried.
Believe me, I tried.
It was in March of 2014 when I made the divorce official right here on this blog. World Vision had happened and I was insane with anger. I had said: I’m done. These aren’t my people. This place is terrible. Then I started my migration out into “wilderness”, that metaphorical place where I was told my God would come and find me.
I was allergic to the images, the language, the music, and in the end, the people of evangelicalism. When my friends confided in me that they were being led towards something by God, I had to catch the loud objection rising in my throat. When the Praise and Worship band came on before services, I had to leave to go to the bathroom and stay there, because those were the songs of before. Those were the songs not written for me. In my mind, I recorded a mental shit-list of evangelical leaders and their endorsement on the back cover ofany book I happened upon immediately had me putting it down. I set firm boundaries. I set a steel grid. When I left, I really left.
I had no idea where I was going.
A year and a half later I sit across from a therapist, saying words like “anchorless” and “untethered” and “free-floating.” Words that seem to touch on the nameless thing we’re trying to uncover. These several months of inner unrest and overall paralysis. It’s not depression or anxiety, the usual suspects. But something has been off since January and now it’s July, so I decided to surrender to the couch once again.
At one point in our third session, she said: Tell me about who You are… And I just stared at the wall above her head for a long time, waiting for the right words to bubble up in my brain. Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
In the silence, I felt the pierce of epiphany.
I have spent the last year or so unlearning. Or at least what I called unlearning. Mostly it was criticizing, pushing back against, claiming that so-and-so’s version of God was cruel and so-and-so’s interpretation of scripture was stupid, without once considering what my view of God is, how I experience him daily. I spent so much time erasing everything I didn’t believe to be true anymore about God, that one day I came back to the page and found him gone completely.
And it was this erasing that I called reforming. It was the letting go of the hold without grabbing onto the new that led me to drifting away, far out to nowhere.
You don’t reach this place until you reach it, until you hit the rocks and know you’re lost, and the other morning, I arrived. I woke up with a call to the quiet. A subtle call. It was easily dismissed, so I cleaned the house and watched Netflix, and then headed out to the coffee shop to work on some work things, but when I drove down the street to Dunn Brothers coffee, I suddenly swerved down an old familiar street. The one that leads to the lake.
I parked and walked out to the picnic table near the water and tall reeds, in the shade of a large oak tree and I asked myself: What are you even doing here? And I answered myself: I’m here to be “led.” And I cringed at the sound of that word.
Then I thought of the young girl, Lila, from Marilynne Robinson’s latest novel. In one scene, she’s unsure of what she thinks about God and Christianity, all of it looks dubious and dangerous, and yet, intriguing. When the Reverend Ames asks to baptize her, she hedges for a moment and then thinks: I’ll do this now and think about it later.
So I set a timer for five minutes and shut my eyes. I stilled until I was thoughtless, brought down to the sensations of the moment: the wind and sun on my skin. The mesh plastic and metal on my fingertips. The sounds of geese landing and skidding across the water’s surface. Then I heard, faintly, subtly, maybe a voice that was wholly my own, say: Read Isaiah 46.
Now listen. I hold this moment with obvious skepticism. I have a loud mind. My mind submits thoughts to my consciousness all the time, all sorts of things, random things, strange things, true things, false things, and it’s absolutely right that if I am sitting somewhere waiting to be led, waiting to hear from God, I’m likely to start drawing scripture out of hat, willingly or not.
But also Listen. I read the words of Isaiah and something opened up above me, like a parachute, like the breaking of the sun. And it seized me and save me and found me. It felt like a fresh start. It felt holy.
“Listen to me, family of Jacob,
everyone that’s left of the family of Israel.
I’ve been carrying you on my back
from the day you were born,
And I’ll keep on carrying you when you’re old.
I’ll be there, bearing you when you’re old and gray.
I’ve done it and will keep on doing it,
carrying you on my back, saving you.
I was reminded of why people long for the presence of God. You hear (maybe) God speak and your spinning-out-of-control heart aligns to the voice. Locks onto it. Holds onto it. And for a moment, you feel that wall of separation soften into a veil. You feel like there is more and you can have it.
I was reminded that my mediocre faith in God does not change God’s deep faith in me. Even when I walk away or lose sight or lose my mind, God doesn’t go. The tether, the anchor, the lifeline that I have been slowly sawing away with my cynicism and fear, my need to break free, that has sent me free-floating out into nowhere, isn’t the whole truth of what’s happened, what’s happening.
I am being carried. I am being carried when I stop praying or forget how to. I am being carried when I skip church for several weeks in a row. I am being carried when I’m still running loose, looking for how to make faith organic and new. I am being carried when I collapse in the cold. When the days are too long. When I fear God isn’t good. When I fear life won’t turn out. When the questions lead me to asking if I could ever actually believe again, when life knocks me flat on my back, I am still being carried. I am always being carried.