August 2013 marks forty years that I have been a Christian. I was fifteen when God revealed himself to me. Therefore, I have been a Christian more than twice as long as I’ve not been a Christian. I wish I could say the last forty years were fantastic. The first six months were. The intimacy of those days quickly faded after I walked into a church. There have been a few bright spots, but the years have been anything but wonderful years of happy memories.
I have survived longer than all of my family except my mother. My father died an alcoholic in his fifties. My brother and sister both died in their forties also slaves of addictions. My mother and I are the only ones who embraced Christianity. She as a Catholic, me as a Protestant. She was a Catholic in name only for many years but returned to the Catholic Church after my father died.
I have never wavered from following God to the best of my ability. My best produced forty years of tears and bitter disappointments. My experience was similar to the Israelites journey when they departed Egypt to follow Moses into the wilderness. Their journey to worship God was littered with pain and disappointment. Midway through my wilderness wanderings, I realized that I was guilty of the same sins Israel committed on their way to worship God. I did not bow before a gold image of a cow crafted by human hands. But I did bow before many false ideas about God taught to me by modern day Aarons’.
I’ve also dealt with the bitter reality that my sins have guaranteed I will die in a wilderness as Israel did. God didn’t abandon Israel in the wilderness, and he has not abandoned me. He has provided for me, answered many prayers and kept me alive while my family and most of my friends perished. I have accepted that the things I lost will never be restored. But I can’t escape a smoldering wick sending smoke signals that maybe God will prove my resignation to defeat came too soon.
I came to the final months of my forty year journey with many complaints. Is surviving all there is? If God loves us, why does he give us shepherds who hate us, lie to us, and use us to fulfill their selfish ambitions? If God is greater than sin, why did sin rob me when I wanted to obey but couldn’t find the strength? Is the devil’s power to steal, kill and destroy greater than God’s power? Why am I someone I do want to be and did not choose to be yet I have to suffer for things that are beyond my control? Jesus said, “who the son sets free is free indeed.” Where is my freedom? The only freedom I found was freedom from the addictions that destroyed my father and siblings. Where was my freedom to obey?
As the calendar turned to the year 2013, I realized that I don’t cry anymore. God has not responded to my complaints, but I’ve stopped laying them before him. I don’t know when I stopped. One day, I simply became aware that I am quiet now. Unusually quiet. My circumstances have not changed, but there is a joy in me that I don’t understand. What I need in life is no longer derived from an institution established by men to worship God but from God himself. That in and of itself was worth a long miserable journey.
I still attend church. It’s doubtful that I will ever stop. Whether church leaders obey God or not, God does not abandon people striving to worship and obey him. I met my faithful, loving husband in church. I have met and befriended people of like mind in the church who helped me in difficult times. And I have lived long enough to witness disobedient church leaders severely chastised by God.
I opened the Bible to Hebrews to conclude these reflections. I wanted to reference the scriptures about the people of great faith who were tortured, mocked, stoned, and destitute. Pointing out that my experience never touched this depth of suffering would have been a fitting end. Instead, I was snapped out of my pessimism by the people of faith who subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, and obtained promises. Maybe my next forty years, if God gives me that long, will be better than the last forty.