Beginning at the end [Why I am so screwed up – part 1 of 10]

Will this really be a ten part series? Doubtful.

Will this really be about why I am so screwed up? I’m not sure.

But this post will definitely be about beginning at the end. Or at least beginning at the present.

When I say I’m screwed up, I primarily mean that I am uncertain about many things regarding God, faith, church, etc. Inherent in this statement is the idea that I used to have things figured out. Or at least I thought I did. In fact, there have been at least a few different times I thought I had things figured out, only to find that I didn’t. Maybe I should take the hint and just stop trying to figure things out… Anyways, all of this is what has me screwed up.

In beginning at the end, I’m going to discuss what I have been pondering lately – I’ve been thinking about friends and family who have left Christianity. I think for the most part they all left because it just stopped working (in some ways that has been my experience as well). In the past I just attributed this kind of “falling away” to sin of some kind.

For example: “So and so left church because he is pursuing things apart from God – money, career, ambition (to name a few).”

Or: “So and so left Christianity because she is not willing to give up her pride and just submit to God.”

I think these explanations can certainly be true. However, more and more I am thinking that people (I am thinking of specific friends and family) leave church and/or Christianity because they find that it no longer works for them. At one point going to church and believing things about Christianity genuinely helped them in some way. But for whatever reason, now it doesn’t. Some of them try and try and try to make it work. But eventually they give up and leave.

What are we to make of this?

I don’t feel comfortable writing these people off so easily. I don’t believe I can simply attribute their rejection of church/Christianity to sin. These are genuinely good and kind people. People with good intentions. People who really wanted/want it to work. But for whatever reason, it didn’t. Some of these people go on to good productive lives – caring for others, loving their neighbors and working to bring about justice. Others make a more thorough defection. Their lives may even fall apart in many ways. In either case, I struggle with why it didn’t work. At one point these people really tried to make it work – following Jesus and being part of church/Christianity. Can we really blame them for leaving because it wasn’t working? Maybe this sounds very selfish to you – and maybe it is. But can we really tell people to keep doing something that is not working – not bringing about any good, any redemption in the person’s life? These individuals may even feel they are being harmed by the continued attempts and failures to make it all work. Some leave feeling there was no other option. And on top of all this, after leaving some of them feel that leaving is the very thing that saved them.

Ok, I’ve said a lot. Does this make sense? Please don’t get me wrong. I am not throwing out sin or personal responsibility here. At least I’m not meaning to. What I’m really struggling with are people who genuinely try/seek/want to make it work but end up leaving church/Christianity.

So that’s what I am screwed up about right now.

Any thoughts? I’m really interested in what you think. Has anyone else thought about this? Or perhaps experienced this at all? What do we do with this kind of thing?


20 Responses

  1. your friends are lucky to have you. sometimes people who doubt or put christianity on hold or even leave it altogether end up being left by their church-going “friends.” and this is no good. certainly Jesus loves us whether we follow him or not, amen??

  2. Its ok to be messed up. It’s a sign you are beginning to ask the right questions.

    People aren’t really leaving God, they are leaving the limitations the corporate church offers. I think people want to see and experience the power of the real Jesus everyday vs the Church Jesus who only visits on Sunday.

    Most of yesterdays and todays churches limit our ability to really explore God in a raw life environment so we rarely ever see real breakthroughs. Most ministry leaders learned how to live the life of a Christian in a sanitized church environment and teach others to do the same vs living the life of Jesus with no protections or guarantees. Life with God in the real world is an amazing adventure because we get to see who we really are and have to decide if we really are going to follow Jesus.

    Who will teach people what it really means to follow Jesus “Live” if we remain behind the Church walls.

    Christianity is simple. Love God with everything you have and love your neighbor,(friend and enemy), Do that and people they will join you in what you are doing.

    So keep asking the questions.

  3. What I hear you saying is that sometimes people try really hard to find God, and walk away unsatisfied.

    I think this is true. I’ve seen it. I’ve even experienced it at times. And it terrifies me to think about the implications.

    This is one thing (of many things) that contributed to a change in my beliefs about the “eternal salvation” and “who gets to go to heaven” and “how do they get there” questions.

    It seems to me like Jesus pursues and pursues and pursues these ones that want him and can’t find him for all the mess we (me included) make of “Christianity”. I know it is heresy to some, but I don’t see death stopping the pursuit.

    I hope this isn’t a tangent. It really is the thing I think about when I consider the issues you are raising with this post. This life just can’t be our only chance to find God. It just makes no sense to me how that can be. In other words, those who seek WILL find, but perhaps not in this life.

  4. I agree that it is very scary to admit that you are “unsatisfied” with Christ. I lived that way for a long time, and (realized this after the fact) turned to many other things seeking satisfaction. Of course none of these other things fully satisfied me, so that left me right back where I started. Feeling empty. It wasn’t until a recent Bible study I started to realize and understand that I have believed so many of Satan’s lies over the years, especially regarding finding satisfaction in Christ. I have believed his lies that Christ is boring, or that “well, I’ve tried God and it still doesn’t do it for me.” I believed lies that “you’ll just never be that kind of Christian, so why bother trying?” Lies like, “Life will never change; you’ll always feel this way.” Awful lies, such as, “Well now, God must not be who you thought He was.” Or, “You’ll never love God the way you should. Shame on you!” And these are just the beginning of the lies I’m beginning to recognize in my life.

    I’m just saying that this has opened my mind and spirit so very deeply, understanding for the first time, really, how long I have lived under deceit. How long he convinced me to stay in my captivity to fear, to strongholds of doubt and confusion and pride and shame.

    And can I just testify that in recognizing these lies that have plastered the walls of my mind for most of my life, and in tearing them down and replacing them with God’s truth–filling my mind and heart with His Scriptures, His truths about himself and about me–that I am finally, finally, finally experiencing satisfaction in Christ? That I am finally yearning for MORE of Him, even as I draw closer to Him? That I am finally understanding, if even a little bit, what it means to love Him?

    I don’t know. I certainly don’t have all the answers, so can only share from personal experience. I don’t think it’s wrong to have doubts, or to explore those doubts. And I can’t judge another person’s heart or intentions on leaving any type of church, corporate or not. I just know in my experience, and from other testimonies of those in my Bible study, that dissatisfaction with Christ was about not allowing Him full access to my heart. That sounds too simple, perhaps, but I assure you it is NOT a simple or easy thing to surrender the authority and control of your heart to God fully, and to ask Him to fill you completely. It’s HARD to let go of so many things that reside deep in our hearts–desires for certain things or circumstances, hurts, offenses and unforgiveness, addictions, coping mechanisms that we are bound to, etc.

    So what a journey it has been for me. And I know I’m not done. But what excites me about not being done is that if it means that I will become even MORE satisfied with Christ? Well, that is worth a lifetime of surrendering all authority to God, or at least pursuing Him unabashedly.

    Just some of my thoughts.

    I appreciate your thoughts, Adam; I appreciate this place that encourages deeper thinking, sharing and discussion, especially about such important things. Thank you.

  5. Adam, great discussion, great post I think putting one’s self in the position of vulnerability is very powerful. I constantly find myself in a position of instability and doubt, but am beginning to wonder if this is not only normal, but good!

    A couple of thoughts…

    I wonder if Stradivarius was satisfied with his work? Or did he spend his whole life striving for something better? My point is that we (being brought up in the empire of Western Consumerism) think of ourselves as the ‘consumer’ of faith. It becomes about us gaining self-actualisation or satisfaction from it. (I find myself here all the time.) But maybe a deeper satisfaction comes from the denial of this. We have accented the ‘product’ of faith as being something useful to us – forgiveness, joy, peace etc. – and not the ‘discipline’ of faith. What if God is the consumer?

    The other idea is that I find myself going through ebbs and flows of doubt and certainty. What if this is normal. I’m not sure (Annika) about the ‘lies of Satan’, this sounds like telling yourself it’s all working when it isn’t? Though the longing and not getting there – oh yes.

    Totally agree with you (Steven) about Church etc. I think we need to envision a new way of doing Church…

  6. A new way of doing Church will not satisfy someone who’s not satisfied with God. We can package him any way we want, but sometimes he’s just NOT going to make sense, or we’re not going to like what he’s doing, or we’re not going to want him, and our doubts and fears, etc. will be more real than him. I don’t think there’s a way around this. And I think sometimes that’s okay. But if we really “hunger and thirst after righteousness”–if our hearts are really wanting truth–we will be filled. I don’t know about in this life or the next (that could absolutely be another whole tangent), but if God is real, then he’s also big enough to handle our dissatisfaction with him.

    I think one of the problems with a question like this is that we try to figure out what we can do to solve the problem. I don’t think there’s always a solution. It depends on the person who’s done the leaving, and the circumstances involved, and who “we” is. And I guess a question I have is, is it just as important to be honest about our certainties about God as it is to be honest about our doubts? Or are we supposed to speak of doubts with the “doubters” and certainties with those who have no doubts? It seems that, in some circles, sometimes it is just as taboo to speak of trust in this crazy God as it is to speak of doubt in him in other circles.

  7. I’m sorry–I just have a minute because my kids are waking up, but just wanted to say that I’m not sure I understand your question, David, about “…this sounds like telling yourself it’s all working when it isn’t?” What do you mean by “it’s all working?” Sorry, I didn’t want to respond when I didn’t understand where you were coming from.

    Also, I wanted to add that when I say that I am finding “satisfaction” in Christ, what I mean by that is that I am finding, as I pursue Jesus and His truth in the Word, I find that it so outweighs any joy, or any “satisfaction,” or any comfort, or any understanding or knowledge I might find elsewhere in the world. It’s not always like that–not every single day…but can I be totally honest here? I do NOT get on my knees every single morning. I do NOT seek God’s Word every morning before I head into the world. I do NOT seek His guidance every single time I get out of bed. So I can’t say honestly that I am “satisfied” all the time, but is it any wonder? WHat I CAN HONESTLY say that the days when I DO seek Him, when I do get into the Word, when I DO pray to Him, I am almost always find myself more at peace, more filled to the brim with what I only know to call contentedness, or satisfaction, no matter what I am facing in life at that moment.

    One last thing–in my life I have been hurt and betrayed by people who were supposed to love me the most. And through these experiences, these times of having all trust and hope crushed and going through the betrayals over and over, I realized how very much my happiness, my sense of security, my strength, and my anxiety levels had become dependent on whether or not these people let me down, whether or not they were able to get their own act together and love me perfectly. I finally realized that the only person that would never let me down, or so He promises, is Jesus. He promises unfailing love, He promises to seal me with His covenant, He promises to always offer grace, to always love me unconditionally, to offer me strength when I am weak, joy when I am not sure I can ever find joy again. So it was at this turning point in my life that I decided to “try” Jesus for real. And THAT, I guess, is what I’m trying to say when I talk about being “satisfied”–that when I look only to Jesus for comfort, for security in who I am, for filling all the empty places in me, when I wait on Him…I am not disappointed.

    I’m not sure about the idea of being consumers of faith–I think God would be terribly disappointed if we did not seek to find our hearts content in Him. In “religion” or “church activities” or “Christian things” perhaps–if that is where we are seeking satisfaction, well then I agree that it wouldn’t be long before that wasn’t “doing it” for us anymore, either. But as far as finding “self actualization” and “satisfaction” in Christ? Well, what would be the alternative to being consumers of faith? How would someone who has not been brought up in the empire of Western consumerism approach faith? I’m curious here.

    Well, I’m sure my two-year-old has gotten his 9-month-old sister out of her crib by now and they’re probably chewing on electrical cords or something…I can hear them laughing. That’s never a good sign!

    Looking forward to reading more here…

  8. I think Amy’s comment came up the same time I was writing mine…so I have to add that I agree with everything Amy wrote…everything.

  9. So many great comments – great conversation.

    Here are a few of my thoughts on your thoughts.

    First, I think what Mark wrote really is related (not just to what I wrote, but also to what many of you said). So many of my concerns I expressed in my original post are because of heaven/hell saved/unsaved issues from my past. If my perspective is that there are two categories of people, saved/unsaved, and that after death the saved go to heaven and the unsaved to hell, then there is definitely reason to struggle with what I wrote in my post. However, what if we abolish the saved/unsaved distinction (or at least stopped talking about it). And what if heaven/hell is no longer the point (I really mean this – what if it no longer was an issue). If this happens, then everything changes. What if instead we are all in this together? There aren’t some who have it figured out and some who don’t. We’re all children of God, loved by God, and we’re all part of this grand redemption God is always working for. And what if death isn’t the great dividing line? Then we no longer have to worry about it all. We can trust that it is truly in God’s hands. He is truly working for redemption of the entire creation. It’s a difficult process (like many of you have noted) and we do have a part to play in it for sure (and we can choose to work for this redemption in us and the world, or to work against it). But when we stop being concerned with people crossing over into the saved camp, then it changes everything. What do you think? I see this as relating not only to what Mark wrote, but also to what Annika and Amy wrote (and really all of you).

    Second, Amy, I agree, there is a place for truth and even some kind of certainty. I just think this area has narrowed for me considerably. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I believe God is at work redeeming the world. I believe he is Love and therefore will stop at nothing. I believe as we are brought into this redemption we become partners with God in restoring relationships with God, with people, and with all creation. I want to be proclaiming these things I believe. Even as I consider how they work, what they really mean, etc. I may not have it all just right but the kernel of these statements is something I really believe, trust in, faith in.

    Third, the whole consumerism issue is important I think. I think what I have already written relates here too. It’s not about getting in or getting out. It’s about God redeeming the world. And it’s for everyone – saved/unsaved – those who are leaving church/Christianity and those who embrace it all. We’re all a part of what God is doing. This is so hard to change in my mind.

  10. Annika: maybe I have misunderstood you but I will try to explain where I’m coming from. To take one of your examples; for sure Christ isn’t boring, but following him will be sometimes – I often get really bored praying. I don’t follow Christ because he is interesting but because he is Christ. So maybe addressing the interestingness of following Christ is the wrong tack? We need to be prepared to be more disciplined about continuing through the times that are boring.

    You are right though about when we do manage to be disciplined in the praxis of our faith we often find satisfaction. Part of what I am saying about consumerism is that we (I) am so affected (infected) by it that we don’t see things as needing disciplined dedication over a lifetime – like Stradivarius – but want today to feel that something is worth it.

    To come back to the Church’s role here: instead of discipling people we (the Church) tell them things like ‘Don’t listen to the lies of the enemy that Christ is boring – how can he be?’ This cuts across what we know to be true in our experience – that some of the things we feel are right practicing our faith are really boring. Maybe what we (the Church) should be teaching is that we need to achieve a rhythm of life that will enable us to cope with the boring bits (and not feel guilty about them) but they are really important and it’s worth doing in the end?

    I hope you are not feeling picked on. I just picked up on something you said. I really struggle personally with this area – being disciplined that is. I’m sure we hear lies all the time about God and the culture we live in affects us so much…

    Also, you manage to write SO much when you only have a minute – I can’t keep up! My four (all under 7) are in bed and I am going that way too. Still thinking… about truth consumerism and doubt – great conversation.

  11. Thanks so much for clarifying, David. What you wrote makes a lot of sense to me. To clarify what I was attempting to say…I felt like the lie that “Christ is boring” is what KEPT me from seeking Him (as well as lies that Christ wouldn’t satisfy my soul). I would believe that lie, somehow, and it would convince me that I didn’t need Him, that it wouldn’t change anything in my life to seek Him, that it would be boring and not worth it. So recognizing these as lies to keep me from Christ, and deciding to go ahead and seek Him was a big turning point in my life, as what I found in my seeking was a wealth of satisfaction, peace, security, and comfort that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else.

    But I totally agree that there are “ebbs and flows” in life as you mentioned, and that there are days that journey following Christ isn’t “exciting” or doesn’t bring any new light-bulb moments of new understanding or growth in relationship…there are days that I, too, feel bored praying and wonder why I’m praying at all (which I’m sure could be a whole new topic of conversation!). I like the way you said it, that Christ is not boring but the journey can be. I also think, though, that the journey can be even more exciting than we could ever imagine…

    Also, I agree with and appreciate your expression about disciplined dedication over a lifetime, vs. wanting to feel something that is “worth it” overnight. The way you explained consumerism makes more sense to me now; quite a selfish, all-about-me approach to God and religion…What will this do for ME? But I do think that when we are honestly approaching God with our hurts, our emptiness, our scars from the past, our mistakes…and saying to Him, “I need to know this is worth it!”–I think He takes great delight in proving Himself to us. Now again, not that He’s going to prove Himself in a miraculous, exciting, humanly impossible ways every single day, but when He DOES reveal Himself, I don’t know about you but those are moments in my life that keep me going during the down times of that “ebb and flow.” Does that make sense?

    Well I better stop before I think of anything else. I know…I really did only have a minute but it turned into ten, I think…I’m around kids all day and it’s not often I get into God-centered adult conversation so I love this. Thank you for answering my questions so kindly.

  12. The last 5+ years I’ve had a hard time believing in the “unbelievers will perish” version of Christianity. I have a hard time believing God would condemn anyone to an eternity of flame. So now that we know you’re struggling with this issue…. we want to know your thoughts on it.

  13. Amy wrote: “It seems that, in some circles, sometimes it is just as taboo to speak of trust in this crazy God as it is to speak of doubt in him in other circles.”

    Oh gosh, how true, how true! In fact the only people who lately have treated me with contempt for my agnostic stance are the athiests. (This may be in part because atheists are more educated in the difference between atheism and agnosticism.) But they are generally the preachiest bunch of judgemental freaks I’ve ever met- sorry to any atheists out there, but its true!

    Back to the subject at hand though. I laughed a bit when you said how “So and so left the church because they have become Satan’s tools!” (follow this with a “dum-dum-dummm”.) I used to believe that too, so when I left Christianity, I kind of waited for the proverbial smack-down that was coming from God, and then when it didn’t come, I waited for the proverbial wealth from Satan that would use to further corrupt my now black soul, and lead me into a pit of despair so deep that only God could get me out of. I actually kind of hoped for it, so it would “prove” Christianity to me. Only that didn’t happen, and at what point do you stop waiting for this? Because no preacher ever said “Well, it will happen within five years, ten years at most.” I’ve had some hard times, and I’ve bounced back from them. That’s life, and that’s part of what makes it so beautiful. Both my sister and I think back lovingly to the time I showed up homeless and completely lost on her doorstep, while she sat in the doorway lonely and completely lost.

    The long and the short of it is this: I have no answers, only questions right now. I can only tell you what I went through to get where I am. I can only tell you that you are not alone in your doubts, and I think it’s ok. And that’s all any of us can do. And if anyone tries to tell you you’re wrong for doubting, ask yourself if they feel that way out of love, and if the answer seems like no- then they aren’t to be trusted. I find it’s usually fear that drives them. Either a fear of leaving them behind, or a fear of asking them to face their own doubts.

  14. Thanks for the honest comment Angela. I appreciate your thoughts here.

    Thanks everyone for the excellent conversation.

    GK – I’m gonna work on a post related to your question. I think it’s an important question.

  15. Quoted from James Walters in a Christianity Today article, “Leader’s Insight: Never Hurry Again?” I thought this related well to the idea about our consumeristic approach to faith.

    “Appropriately, about the time of my retreat, I began working through a set of spiritual exercises specifically designed to help me learn to linger in God’s presence. The introduction to these meditations states, ‘Enjoy your time, even if it is seemingly unproductive or quiet.’

    It may not surprise you that this was a real stretch for me at first. After all, I had become quite comfortable with the goal-oriented approach of ‘quiet times’ patterned after the inductive Bible study method. I approached each devotional period with questions to be answered and important life applications to be drawn from the passage.

    My spiritual director says that most of us take a consumeristic approach to our devotional life. We tend to treat it as a religious transaction that we can ‘get something’ from. But a better analogy, he says, is like being at the mall and seeing a mother and daughter walking together, arm-in-arm. The point is the ‘being with’ not the ‘getting from.’

    I am growing to love these meditations, to give up the right to see results from my devotions, to learn to imitate Jesus in his lifestyle of holy lingering. Ironically, I am learning that I can linger even when I am quite busy, as I often am now as the father of three small children.”

  16. I am a leaver. I have left the church and likely will never return; however I continue to pursue Christ. As Annika noted above, I have found that HE is the only one that is always there for me, does not judge me, condem me and will always be there for me. I have not and will not give up on God-however I simply cannot take the organized church any longer.

    I think Steven said it best: People aren’t really leaving God, they are leaving the limitations the corporate church offers. I think people want to see and experience the power of the real Jesus everyday vs the Church Jesus who only visits on Sunday.

  17. Elizabeth, me too. But then can you leave the church? We are it, we just don’t want to do it that way.

  18. David that is so true! WE are the church so we can’t leave ourself! I just can’t do it the traditional way, I need to do it differently!

  19. Right on!

  20. […] In my “Beginning at the end” post, GK expressed some uneasiness with the concept of hell and challenged me to share my own […]

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