Faith: Real or Not Real?

hungergames_peeta_rock

Remember that idealistic thought in November about me participating in National Novel Writing Month? Well, I didn’t really. I got about a week into it, got ridiculously busy, life fell apart, baby niece and Thanksgiving happened, and then it was December. Seriously, NaNoWriMo — pick a month that doesn’t have a major holiday in it. Like June.

Despite typing only 10,000 words in the month of November itself, I haven’t stopped work on this novel. It’s helped me explain and work through my questions about faith and life.

Plot summaries always sound stupid, so to protect my pride, I’m going to give you a vague one: A girl is told she has a special, amazing gift and goes off to receive training for it –- but she finds that nobody there, including herself, possesses a “special, amazing gift” at all. Their gifts seems like ordinary human faculties that anybody could possess –- not something objectively impressive or miraculous. She must begin the hard, dangerous work of sorting fact from fiction. What’s fake? What’s real? And what’s potentially real?

A real life girl once wrote to Addie Zierman,

Sort of like Peeta Mellark in The Hunger Games, I found myself thinking back to ultra-spiritual personal moments and wondering, “Real or not real?”

I wonder that every day: real, or not real? I think that I’ve encountered lots of “not real” in the Christian community and in my own faith — both flat out lies about science, others, God, and myself, and more subtle deceptions that I participated in.

As a young Christian blogger, I would share my thoughts and breakthrough moments about my relationship with God. I’d write a post about my conviction to read through the Bible, or my realization that it’s more counterproductive to bash yourself over the head for not praying at 5 AM that morning rather than just kneeling down right then and there to pray. Even then, I remember a little voice suggesting that, perhaps, it was a little dishonest to write about those things with any sort of authority, since, you know, I never actually developed a habit of reading Scripture and praying.

And I never did develop that habit. My breakthroughs and thoughts never helped me. But I’m sure it did accomplish one thing — convince other people that I had some semblance of a habit, perhaps guilt people into wondering why they weren’t as passionate about Jesus as Bailey Bergmann, maybe inspire them to have their own one week of fire for Jesus before disillusionment took over.

I would write and tell and teach about a relationship with God without really having that relationship.

I do the same thing with exercise. If I write a post about my new exercise regime, don’t be impressed. It’ll last a day or two (okay, really only one day), and then I’ll be back on the couch. Until I write a retrospective post on my months of training for a marathon, don’t attribute any sort of athletic self-control to me.

In the same vein, there’s a fad of genuineness going around the Christian world, where people are honest about their spiritual failures and shortcomings, and honest about their resolutions to change. But it’s all present tense — I am getting up at 7 AM to have morning devotions, for instance — and that could honestly be talking about one or two days, for all the reader knows. Not really impressive, not really helpful, but certainly discouraging to those of us who think they’re able to sustain a daily devotional habit.

We have a spiritual idealism. We talk about our ideals, what we should be doing, what Christ calls us to, etc., etc., but nobody — and this was my frustration with Christianity from the get-go — nobody knew what they were doing. Nobody knows what they’re doing, and everybody thinks everybody else does, so everybody feels guilty and inadequate for not doing what everybody else is doing, even though nobody is doing it.

And because idealism isn’t sustainable, the idealists get discouraged and burnt out and trash the whole project.

I get so disillusioned whenever I read a new work by a new author talking about his newfound discovery of some theological tenet or spiritual practice that’s got him all excited, because just like I don’t sustain my excitement about exercise or daily devotions, I question his ability to change just because of this one new thing.

That’s why I like reading mystics and saints and Ann Voskamp and Sarah Bessey. They write from a past tense of actual experience, not idealism. And even though I’m never going to be like them, it’s nice to think that a real relationship with God seems legitimately possible for some people.

With all of these thoughts rattling around in my head, I’m toying with the idea of starting an interview series with ordinary people about their ordinary faith. Their actual devotional life. Their actual doubts. Their actual beliefs. Their actual habits. Their actual gifts. The real, not the not real, not the idealism, not the right answers. The real.

I’m sure another major holiday and babies and life crises will  prevent me from getting on with this idea, but, as an idealist, I’m asking, would you be interested in this series? Who would you want to hear from?

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15 thoughts on “Faith: Real or Not Real?

  1. Shaun Jex

    I’d absolutely be interested in the series. In terms of who I’d like to hear from….I don’t know. But I’d definitely be interested to read what you put together. I think it’s a lot like Paul says, all those things I know I should do I don’t and the things I know I should do I don’t. I catch myself sometimes and then fall back down, get back up and repeat.

    In terms of mystics and saints, I enjoy reading some of their work, but sometimes I worry about the elevated status that we give to some of them. I suspect that just like us, they probably had countless false starts, failings and struggles. I mean, the heroes of the Bible were horrifically flawed and seemed to get it wrong as often as they got it right. It’s one of the things I find most encouraging in the Bible. If God can use someone as flawed as David, Noah, or Paul…surely he can do a little something with me.

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    • Bailey Steger

      Yes, good point…it’s relieving that even the greatest of us our majorly flawed. But where I’m at, I’m almost weary of hearing that. Not that I want a legalistic browbeating….it’s just….I thought Jesus came to change us, and transform us, and make us new creatures, and I’d like to see some evidence of radical change, of men of God who aren’t adulterers and murderers, of people who actually *do* have a relationship with God and it makes an actual, observable difference. I’m tired of hearing that we’re trapped by sin, but it’s okay, God can work with that. I want the liberation that Jesus promised. I want to be saved from sin, not the consequences of it. I want nothing less than that, because that’s what was promised, and by golly, I’m gonna hold God to his infallible, inerrant promises. ;)

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  2. Corrie Elizabeth

    I agree. I often find my conversations with my mentor entering that category of idealistic planning of what I WILL do to change my spiritual habits. Although I must admit, it certainly helps to have someone on the other side of the conversation who will ask you later about how that plan actually went :).
    But I agree that it is so encouraging to actually hear what someone is already doing in pursuit of Christ, rather than a group mourning session over what we aren’t doing. “You don’t journal? Me neither, but I always try to.” It’s encouraging to hear an honest account of what already happened.
    Speaking of mystics, have you ever read Divine Revelations by Julian of Norwich? She was the first woman to write in English, and her work was really encouraging to me this semester. I would love an interview with her, but I suppose that might be difficult :). As far as interviewing people about their real spiritual disciplines, I’m definitely interested.

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  3. Karen Wright

    I suspect that spiritual discipline can vary vastly from person to person. It would be nice to see what spirituality looks like for people in different seasons of life, rather than this one-size-fits-all standards presented that ends up making the majority discouraged because they con’t read the bible through in a year or spend 30 minutes a day in focused prayer. What does spiritual discipline look like to someone working full time and in grad school? How about a mom with 4 kids? Or someone on sabbatical with all the time in the world? Would be interesting to hear how spirituality can shift and take on different shapes depending on the personality and life situation a particular individual is in.

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  4. David

    I’d love to read that series. Maybe, Christmas plans permitting, you could even sit down with a relative or a hometown friend this week to do the first interview. Or not! You’ll still be OK either way.

    Also, you write: “Nobody knows what they’re doing, and everybody thinks everybody else does, so everybody feels guilty and inadequate for not doing what everybody else is doing, even though nobody is doing it.” Two thoughts:

    1. You’re describing adulthood — not just religion. True fact. :)

    2. Guilt and inadequacy are, I think, a natural consequence of growing up evangelical. I’ve noticed that there are very few socially acceptable ways for evangelicals to say something *nice* about themselves, but dozens and dozens to talk about how bad they are. Your average evangelical could cure cancer *while* building an orphanage and still be convinced she was a terrible sinner unworthy of praise.

    So, given that no amount of good behavior would actually free you from guilt, maybe the guilt is unreasonable. Maybe, next time you feel guilty, you can say: “Guilt? I see you there. But let’s spend a little time apart.” — and then take a moment to acknowledge a good thing that you’ve done.

    … or not, if that sounds weird and dumb.

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  5. inohnothing

    That sounds great! I just want to hear from God for myself and it’s tough to silence all the noise, especially my own super-idealistic thoughts and disappointments. My life did not follow the plan and sometimes I think I’m in some nightmare Plan B as a single almost 40 year old, an only child with parents in declining health (I’m too young for this! Or, am I?), and being overeducated and underemployed. But yet I know God wants me here, so imperfect, having tried everything religion and mankind can give me and finding it all empty, longing for God yet not knowing all that I don’t know. Jennifer

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  6. Jasmine Ruigrok

    I should get what you’re saying. I think anyone who grew up in the conservative Christian circle gets this. I’ve finally come to the realisation though that it’s all hogwash. Know why? Because the focus is all on SELF. What habits WE form, what things WE do, and how WE can make ourselves acceptable in the sight of God and man. Where did this idea come from? Like we can DO anything! That’s the whole point of what Christ did! I love a quote I heard somewhere that reads, “when we rest, God works. When we work, God rests.” How in heaven’s name are we to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit if we’re too busy trying under our own steam in our own works to even let Him?! Anyway. End vent. As someone who hasn’t had a single quiet time this week and still has the assurance she has a thriving relationship with a God madly in love with her, and has a Saviour that has enough grace to cover her butt when she fails, I hate how conservative Christianity has adopted works as a basis for sanctification and called it empowered living. That’s exhausted living if ever I saw it. Don’t buy it, Bailey. As you may have noticed, many of us have tried it and it doesn’t work.

    Ima get off my soapbox now.

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    • Bailey Steger

      Yes yes yes! I’m not sure if I’m saying this right, but all too often the spirituality accompanying the “just accept Jesus into your heart and be saved” is so works-based. I can’t put my finger on why that is — perhaps there’s too strong an emphasis on YOU must believe, with your unwavering faith that produces an undying passion for God? I don’t know, but what you just described sounds all too familiar.

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