An imperfect belief

by Kristin on April 25, 2011

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Jessica Rabbit

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have three general categories that I post under here at Halfway to Normal: Belief, doubt & hope; Culture, ideas & paradigms; and Love, family & community. There isn’t a true pattern that I follow as I decide what to write about—I think the most important thing is to be able to write about the thing that’s most on my mind on any given day—but I do try to maintain some sense of balance. If I see a category that has been neglected for a while, I push myself to write something for it.

Somehow, it seems like the “Belief” category is the one that’s most often left behind. That could be because I’d rather gently weave my faith into all of my writings than hit people over the head with it. Or maybe it’s just a sign that my faith is sort of on cruise control right now—I’m not being stretched enough, not listening to God enough, not stirring things up enough in my mind and soul.

Whatever it is, I feel bad about it. Here it is, the day after Easter, and I can’t figure out what to express about my faith, or how to go about it. I don’t have a good “What I gave up for Lent and what it taught me” story. I don’t have a good “In my devotional time this morning this verse spoke to me powerfully” story. All I have is a “I never feel what I think I’m supposed to feel on Good Friday and Easter Sunday” admission, along with an “I’m not devoting time to my spiritual life like I should” confession. Happy, happy Easter, eh?

Progress isn’t all about perfection

As I struggled to decide what to write about this morning, I asked some of my Christian Twitter friends what they were blogging about. @BigMama247 responded “Why I hate people,” and @TamaraOutLoud said “How shittily I handled Lent and how good God is anyway.” I wanted to reach through my computer screen and hug them fiercely.

You might think “Oh, that’s great—you can feel better about your sorry self by finding others who are just as sad and sorry as you.” But if you know these women, and if you read their posts, you’ll see they’re not slackers in the least. They’re strugglers and thinkers and doubt-laced, hard-core believers. And I know God loves them in that place, which helps me to believe he loves me in this place, too. (Somehow it’s easier to see first with someone else, isn’t it?)

It’s a place where I don’t have to avoid saying “yes, I’m a Christian” just because I don’t feel like a particularly good and inspiring one at the moment. It’s a place where I can write about just that, rather than leave my “Belief” column stagnant until I come up with something “worthy.” So I guess that’s what this post is—not a place-holder, but an expression in its own right, and one that I believe moves me forward, further into God’s love, even if in just a small, rather tangled way.

Thanks for keeping me honest, friends

And while I’m at it, here are Alise’s and Tamara’s posts again, along with a few others that have recently reminded me that I don’t need to be a perfect Christian—even during Holy Week or the day after I stood in church with my community proclaiming “The Lord is risen! He has risen indeed!” I meant it with all my heart, as much as I could understand what that meant right there in that moment. Blessings to all of you, wherever you are.

Alise: I hate people

Tamara: Random crap I learned while trying unsuccessfully to be good

Katie: On children in church

Shawn: Rob Bell, Walmart, and loving my neighbor

Jamie: My lucky day

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  • Tamara Out Loud

    You are lovely, and you are loved– and both just as you are. Thanks for including my messy little thoughts.

  • Shawn Smucker

    Thanks for linking to my post today. I was actually thinking just this morning about how much of a spoiled brat I was regarding giving up all drinks but water during Lent.

    “I don’t need to be a perfect Christian—even during Holy Week or the day after I stood in church with my community proclaiming “The Lord is risen! He has risen indeed!”

    Thanks for the reminder!

  • Jennifer

    I was thinking that the older I get the less time I spend thinking about and preparing for these big Christian celebrations. I feel so overwhelmed by life’s regular pressures I just float along on a bubble of thought and let the pastor tell me what I need to be thinking about. And then I walk out the door and fall right back into a pattern that allows little time for reflection, cogent, deliberate thought, let alone heartfelt, meaningful prayer. You know that kind of prayer where you’re not just providing a litany of a wish list to the Genie in the sky? Yep. Sometimes I wonder if we try to hard to pack a day with meaning that nothing can really be as big as we want it to be or feel. I don’t know. I just know I’m thankful to know others struggles to find focus. xo

  • Alise

    Aw you. Thanks for calling me sad and sorry. ;-D

    Truly, the community that I’ve found online has been so incredibly beneficial to bolstering my faith. It’s kinda’ funny. I went looking for other doubters and when I found them, I also found a stronger faith. It’s a different kind of stronger, but stronger nevertheless. I am profoundly grateful for those who have helped me find that. And that includes you!

  • Katie

    I definitely had a letdown this year – I have no good post-Easter post, though I did enjoy yesterday’s service. And I, too, hesitate sometimes to blog about faith because it’s so imperfect and messy and sometimes barely-there.

    I’m glad you’ve found a place online to express the real, daily truth of your faith – however messy. Your blog is definitely a safe place for me.

  • ChadJ (randomlychad)

    This year, I joked that I gave up carbs for Lent. Insofar as it goes, it’s true–but it had more to do seeing a documentary, Fathead, than it did with being intentional about the Lenten season. Sure, I’ve lost weight, but I think the greater sacrifice for me was actually getting up off my butt to exercise.

    That said, Easter was strange: with two sick family members, we didn’t attend services, or visit with anybody. In between obligations, I finished Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, and started Jason Boyett’s O Me of Little Faith. Nothing like confronting one’s own doubts on the day set aside for celebrating Christ’s resurrection, right? Can I get an amen? ;-)

    Btw, I found your blog via a tweet from Rachel Held Evans. You are rockin’ it hard! Cheers! See you around the blogosphere.

  • Janet Oberholtzer

    I’ve visited here before, I think I said Hi … but not sure, so ‘Hi’. (I have a hangup about walking into a room/blog without saying Hi)

    Thanks for your honesty. Perfection is overrated … in any area of life, especially when it comes to our faith. I’m a skeptic, doubter and wish-I-had-more-answers type of Christian and this Lent/Easter season my doubts seem to be winning, so I’ve basically ignored the whole season. I didn’t go to church yesterday … I hung out with my son (22 yrs old and agnostic) and did some yard work.

    And I’m not feeling guilty … I’ve felt like “not enough” for years and now I’m living life according to theologian Howard Thurman … “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”

  • Joy

    Heh. I didn’t write about faith today because I had nothing. Nada. So nice to know I’m not the only one who was a bit let down.

    A friend of mine wrote this today on my Facebook: “It’s okay to get to the point where you don’t have to feel the presence of God to know that he’s there. If you refuse to move beyond that point, you’re not going to have much of a discipleship.”
    I thought you might appreciate what he said. (I had posted this link to a post critiquing the awful church cliche “If you can’t hear God guess who moved?”

  • Dina Meek

    First time I’ve clicked through to read your blog. Thanks for posting this. What caused the clickthrough was the phrase the “‘meh’ season of my faith”. I, too, have been struggling lately. My Lent was seriously lacking (on my part, of course) and, now that I live in this academic, science-focused community (my husband calls Sunday School, “Disprove the Bible Class”) I find myself questioning my faith in a whole new way.

    I remember learning from a priest that we do go through what he called “desert” seasons of faith, where God seems very far away. I also think we tend to mature as we go through these questioning seasons. The struggle makes our faith stronger. At least I’m praying for that.

  • Kirstin

    This may be crossing the sacred and the secular, but maybe a living relationship with God functions kind of like a marriage? There are times when you are crazy-in-love and other times when it’s more sort of “meh.” Of course, the difference is that one’s spouse has an undeniable material reality that one’s God doesn’t (always) have, and even when you’re “meh,” there’s stuff that you can do to show that you love your spouse in ways that transcend the up-and-down of crazy-in-love vs. “meh.” But it’s harder to know that you’re connected to God when your faith happens to be in that “meh” space. That said, the “meh” on it’s own doesn’t necessarily mean that something’s going wrong–that’s just where you are.

  • Kristin T.

    Tamara Out Loud, thank you for that reminder, and for being who you are in your life and writing. It’s so refreshing!

    Shawn, it’s true, we are so spoiled in so many ways–it’s easy to see our little steps forward as ridiculous, when compared to people who face real trials every day. But steps are still steps, and our struggles are still are struggles, and I believe God can do something important in any and all of it. Thanks for your honesty–I’m so glad Alise introduced me to your blog!

    Jennifer, yes! You so accurately describe what my reality often is–walking out the door of the church back into a pattern of a too-busy life. Sometimes I think those multi-tasking abilities that get me through a day of work and mothering also keep me from digging as deeply as I need to into any one thought or practice.

    Alise, I love this: “I went looking for doubters and when I found them, I also found a stronger faith.” We are funny creatures, aren’t we? And God works in wonderfully strange ways. Thanks for being a part of the community that helps me keep on keepin on.

    Katie, I really enjoyed my church’s Easter service, too, but i was just holding back in some way. I think expectations are a big part of the problem–it’s hard to let go when there’s that annoying small voice going “Is this what you should be feeling? Would you be feeling something more if you had given up something for Lent.” Ugh. Anyway, thank you for understanding and for sharing this safe space.

    ChadJ, I guess that’s the thing about giving something up for Lent–even if we manage to do it that doesn’t mean it will take on the right significance or meaning in our lives. And yes, you get a rousing Amen for this: “Nothing like confronting one’s own doubts on the day set aside for celebrating Christ’s resurrection.” But I guess it’s not completely “off” for us to be mixed up, confused, and slow as we try to wrap our minds around what’s going on with Jesus. Just look at the disciples! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your Easter experience.

  • Cheryl @ finding the beauty

    Loved this! Praise God that it’s not about us and how perfectly we “do” this Christian life. Thanks for the honesty – very refreshing!

  • suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter}

    the spiritual life is a lot more about grace and dependence than perfection, anyway. i appreciate your honesty, friend.

  • Kristin T.

    Janet, hi! Thanks for stopping by, and for sharing this quote (a new one for me): “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” I think that’s a big part of what it means to be the person God created us to be. There would be so much less wheel-spinning!

    Joy, it’s a pretty bad feeling when you’re wracking your brain the day after Easter to come up with something to say about your faith, isn’t it? And yeah, I totally get that “knowing God’s there even when I can’t really feel it” place. There’s a lot of faith and hope wrapped up in that.

    Dina, I’m glad you clicked through! I can definitely relate to this: “I also think we tend to mature as we go through these questioning seasons. The struggle makes our faith stronger.” Or if not stronger, in an obvious way, at least it adds depth and complexity, an important process that takes time.

    Kirstin, I think that’s a good analogy. I mix sacred and secular all the time, just as a way to perhaps grasp a bit of that other-worldly aspect of life. What’s interesting about the analogy is that when a marriage relationship is weak or broken, a “meh” period can be extremely frightening, whereas a strong marriage can drive through a “meh” week on the “fumes” of solid love. I’ll have to reflect more on where my relationship with God is—probably somewhere in the middle.

    Cheryl, yes, it’s not about us! My failure to really dig in this Lent and Holy Week did not diminish, in the least, the reality of God’s love through Jesus.

    suzannah, I completely agree—”the spiritual life is a lot more about grace and dependence than perfection.” So where did the Church, for the most part, go wrong? Why do so many people think being a Christian is about trying to be (or at least pretending to be) perfect?

  • Jen

    Oh man, I feel this. Thanks for being so honest and true, as always.

    I always start Lent with really great intentions — I’m going to fast and read and pray more, and every time I don’t have coffee I’m going to think about Jesus and be all sober and pious and stuff. But it never works out that way. About halfway through, I’m so used to not having the thing I gave up that I start wondering if I’m doing something wrong. And at that point it’s all about me. Ugh.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t help but be changed by this whole season though. And it’s okay to not feel the things you’re “supposed to feel,” because change is happening whether you notice it or not. There’s growth in the “meh” times too.

    “They’re strugglers and thinkers and doubt-laced, hard-core believers. And I know God loves them in that place”

    Love that! So glad we don’t have to be perfect. :)