Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Night Driving: Growing Pains

This post is part of a synchroblog event celebtrating the release of Addie Zierman's new book Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. You owe it to yourself to go buy a copy of this book today. My review of Addie's newest tome will be published soon. 

Growing up in church was easy - mainly because we never really grew up. We got older, moved from class to class and small group to small group depending on our age, but growing up, maturing in our faith and learning to think for ourselves, was not something that was actively encouraged. There were lines to toe, standards and denominational doctrines to uphold, and elder/older members of the congregation that kept the system in place by keeping the collection plates spinning. 

We were taught what to believe, Whom to believe in, and that God was our Father, Jesus was our brother, and - sing it with me - the blessed Holy Spirit was our guide. We were taught that Jesus was the answer to everything. We were taught that prayer answered everything.

We were given answers but not allowed questions. We were told to do the mathematically and theologically difficult by reducing the Trinity to a binary system of "black" and "white" answers. We were told what to collectively believe, but never why as individuals we believed what we did. 

Questions were what kept us from the light. Questions led us to dark places. 

This in part explains why while many of my peers were taking refuge in their faith by attending a private religiously-affiliated college or finding sanctuary in the buffets of the BSU (or BCM if you prefer), I recall many nights in the residence hall I spent questioning my faith in the literal and spiritual dark. Like a toddler testing their limits of what they can do, I found myself half flinching while looking up every time I said or did something that ran counter to the answers I had been given. There were no lightning bolts that struck me down when I didn't do my quiet time. No soap appeared in my mouth when I dropped an f-bomb. No boils appeared on my skin and no signs of leprosy showed up when I touched a girl's boob. 

I had answers, but not ones that fit the questions I was asking. And what really was screwing with my mind was that I felt these questions weren't keeping me in the dark; counter to what I was told they would do, they were instead trying to illuminate the way for me. 

I remember in perfect detail the day I sat on the floor in the house of a friend, propped up by a doorway, and with a feeling of numbness in my chest asked the question of my faith that had been nudging at me for years: did I believe in anything? The simplicity of my Christian upbringing was butting up against the complexities of living a life in the world with other people. I was curious about a spirituality that existed beyond the words in hymnals and on projector screens. 

I questioned, and no stones were thrown. But then again, no pat answers were given, either. 

And so, I went dark. I went radio silent in my faith. 

Two years later, I fell asleep on the floor of a different house, crying with tears that wouldn't stop. Years of pent-up frustrations, pain, dashed hope and dreams, and struggles in the dark manifested in questions of why and how, as I pounded my fists on the linoleum until they were bruised. I knew I was crying out for someone, but I wasn't sure if anyone was listening. I yearned for any sign of the faith of my youth, the faith that had stalled in arrested development. The faith that had gone through a far-too-long delayed growth spurt, resulting in bruised and sore, strained muscles.

The faith that had grown into belief and hope. No longer blind faith, but one that stared into the sun. Unflinchingly. 

I awoke on that same linoleum, peeling my face from the cold floor where tears and snot had combined and dried to make my cheek stick to the tiles. I walked to the bathroom, feeling numb and empty. I had finally let everything drain from me. And in that moment of harsh reality from the morning light, seeing my reflection in the mirror, looking and feeling like I had taken a cue from Jacob and wrestled with an angel (preferring a bruised thigh to my hands), I heard - felt - a Voice. A Voice that didn't question back the why of what all I had done, how could I have done it, or what was I thinking. 

All I felt was a Voice telling me "You are made for more than this. This is not who you are supposed to be."

A Voice showing love with a statement I needed to hear in response to my questions. It may not have been the direct answer I wanted in response to my questions, but it was the answer I needed. 

In the interim decade-plus since that night, that Voice has remained consistent, even though I haven't. Questions still arise, doubts still stand and sting, and still like a toddler, I touch the stove  even though I've been told - and learned from first-hand experience - that it can burn. But that's what growing up, what maturing is ultimately all about: making mistakes, sometimes repeatedly, and learning from them.

And that all great Teachers enjoy it when you ask questions.