I was in a lukewarm state most of my life. I knew that I needed to get out of that state and grow closer to Jesus but was under the impression that I had to “do more.” There were times when I went to the altar (very reluctantly) to try to draw closer to Jesus. However, I really didn’t have my heart into it and I felt very much like no matter what I did, I couldn’t draw near to him. The way I was taught all my life was to uphold church doctrines and participate more and that would draw me near. I believed this from my earliest memories up until about 1.5 years ago.
I went into the army when I was 17.5 and oddly felt a huge relief to get away from religious life. The pressure and guilt to conform were always lingering over me and somehow it was easier to conform to the military standard than it was to the Christian one. Becoming a real Christian felt like a huge burden and I knew it was going to take a life-long concerted effort to get it right and stay on coarse–at least this is the way it always came across to me. I always thought that sometime in the future I would dedicate myself to a strict Christian walk, but I was afraid that if I stumbled, I would be judged by those around me. Therefore, I would have to look perfect, at least externally, to truly fit in. Again, this is how the many messages I’ve been presented came across. There was much truth mixed in as well as loving people who had a heart for Jesus but these very people (looking back now) seemed severely repressed within our system.
From the time I entered the army until I was 29, I stayed outside of the religious institutions. I began to hear from God little by little. There were many times I wondered just what I needed to do to draw close but never got any direct answers then. As I looked back though (and as I’ve written about previously), I saw God had been working all throughout my life and especially whenever I left the institution. When I was 29, God led me to go back to church, but I was very hesitant remembering how hard it was to live up to the Christian standard. Eventually, his prompting won out and I started attending again. For four years I learned and participated but something major was still missing. The “do more” approach was leaving me just as empty as I was when I was just lukewarm and sitting in a pew. I began really struggling and questioning and even brought these questions up to others. Though I tried to be open and establish some type of deeper relationship with those around me, the tables were turned and the blame was placed back on me. I was told that I needed to do even more and be even more dedicated when I was already teetering on burn-out. One friend did recommend a “sabbatical” of sorts but this seemed to be mentioned as I was already drifting away.
As I gave up on religion then, I started to feel an amazing freedom and I felt Jesus more in my everyday life. The scriptures began to make more sense when read as a story revealing Jesus instead of a law book to be parsed into doctrinal law and mandated on others. As I experienced more of that freedom in Jesus, I noticed many religious people didn’t like it. They became almost afraid of me it seems and held me at arms length. Some of the more open and honest even asked if I was being tricked by the devil, but this came across more to me as a threat to stay and be more conformed then an honest concern.
Since all of this has transpired, I’ve started to understand just a smidgen more of the society Jesus was in. He was constantly rejected, called demon possessed, lied about, and eventually murdered as well as many of his followers. Likewise, he said anyone following after him would experience the same. Ironically, I would rather live that type of life than an exhibit of “do more” and external conformance while being empty inside and exhausted.
I haven’t got it all right yet and probably never will. I fail and fall flat on my face a lot. However, being free to question, learn, and fail have all brought me closer to Jesus. I feel less afraid everyday to boast in my weaknesses because Jesus is my righteousness, not my own workings. When I do fail and am humbled, he picks me up and helps me to continue to limp along.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t say all of this to try to convince someone how they should or shouldn’t walk their walk with Christ. I only state this as this is how his story with me has unfolded and maybe others can see tidbits that can be helpful to them in some way. At times, I desire to be part of a congregation again and in some ways I am, just not in the way many insist I should be. A traditional congregation for me is a horribly draining experience because I either have to be silent and amiable or participatory and in opposition to Jesus within. Many can participate in these congregations but as for my walk, I have a hard time doing so. Likewise, everyone has their walk to grow in Jesus and many times that walk takes us to unexpected places.