“It will not return empty”

Worldview textbooks and classes bother me. They were good for addressing my middle school cravings for knowledge and understanding of the outside world and how other cultures and religions understood God or the numinous. But they left me hanging.

I have always desired to know more. I was the restless twelve year old who complained to mom that I had read all of the books in the house and I was bored. I amused my fiancé when I told him that some days I didn’t wish very much for heaven, because who could be tired of this life when there are so many more books to read and so much more to understand here on earth? While naive, I have benefited greatly from this relentless hunger, and I think my faith, in particular, is stronger for it.

This hunger has given me freedom from stagnation. Those worldview books I read in high school? Some people read them and stopped there. We all grow up Christian, reading our Bibles and going to AWANA and doing sword drills. We know what the Bible says. We know what the worldview books say about what Muslims believe, about what Buddhists believe, about Hindus and feminists, atheists and postmoderns. We get our nice little high school worldview inoculation and maybe a booster shot in college. And we go to church and talk with our good Christian friends, and we talk about evangelizing and taking evangelism classes or sponsoring an orphan. We vote pro-life and we eat organic. And then we enter the malaise of idyllic suburban hell, where no one asks questions, no one offends, no one drops everything and does anything radical.

There’s been a lot of ink shed on this condition in the last few years, and I am excited to see people getting up and doing things. We are privileged and we are starting to acknowledge it and awkwardly dance with the world outside of our Christian bubble.

I went to a Christian college, I worked for a Christian-run NGO. I did the church thing and the care group thing, I invited my public school friends to church events and outreach events. I explored the Church and learned as much as I could about Presbyterians and Pentecostals, about Baptists and the new reformed movement. I’ve been an acolyte and I’ve danced with a worship dance troupe with praise flags. I admire and am curious about Catholic ethics and Orthodox mysticism. I stopped reading my Bible for a long time before starting back up again this year. I’m surprised and delighted to find myself teaching Sunday school and singing in our church choir. I’m reading tons and asking questions and learning so much.

But I’m discovering that this is, perhaps, somewhat rare. Asking questions, shaking down the dusty upper shelves of my faith, rearranging, saying I don’t know, discussing ideas at length for the intellectual exercise of walking out someone else’s assumptions in a conversation–this has been the most healthy part of my spiritual life. I am so small and so inexperienced. But when I find a bit of truth, I like to beat the bushes and see where it came from and why and how it works. And the beauty of it is this: Jesus has met me in all of it. Jesus loves his Church and the Spirit is active in just about every part of the Body.

Shedding old assumptions and gaining a more vast, nuanced, balanced perspective of who Jesus is and what the Church is and can and should be–this has been my health and my blessing, found by accident in the last few years of processing painful situations and spiritual abuse from my old church. I’m so excited to discover healing and community with other believers after years of seeming spiritual dryness and walking this path alone. I’m not afraid to ask hard questions about my faith and my assumptions. I have been led to this place. God knows what he’s doing and where he’s leading me.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
– Is. 55:8-11, NIV

I’ve been talking with some friends about not having a static faith and being willing to ask the hard questions and doubt your previous assumptions. Chryssie and Joanna are linking up with me today, and we’d like you to join us! If you want to share your discovery of God meeting you in your doubting and questioning, write a post about it on your blog and link to it in a comment, or (if you don’t blog), just comment and join the discussion. 

“If one grows up in a Christian home, generally one tends to learn and understand God via what their parents or Church taught them.
That’s not a bad thing.
It becomes a bad thing when you limit yourself to only what you were taught by your parents or your Church.
Faith doesn’t just stop accruing.
One day you don’t just graduate from faith school and it’s all over.
No. We continue learning about God throughout our lives.”
– Joanna, Torches Together

” When I tried to explain to someone what I was feeling, I felt like I had to quickly reassure said person that I wasn’t running away from God; in fact, I was running to Him! The looks of cautious disbelief I got were numerous. Seriously, though, was I running away from or to God? Deep in the recesses of my mind, I didn’t know. I still feared the conditionally loving God I thought I knew.  The questions that ran through my mind were overwhelming and yet I still tried to block them out and pretend that all was well. Those questions soon became like trying to hold oil in my hands. I couldn’t hold on to them, and they started affecting more than just wanting to not go to church.”
– Chryssie, “To doubt or not to doubt” 

6 thoughts on ““It will not return empty”

  1. Hi. I stumbled across your blog while reading the hipster conservative. I apologize if that’s awkward.

    In high school I was kicked out of my church’s youth group for asking too many questions. True story.
    Church and Christianity became increasingly difficult topics for me to navigate as I got older. Some days, I still angry cry over it. I’ve written about it here: http://jayniwrites.blogspot.com/2009/02/church.html

  2. We were always urged to maintain a “rational, intellectual faith.” That meant reading church-approved books that told you the answers, and crafting a beautiful-sounding “biblical perspective” for every life situation. In the end, we didn’t know what “intellectual” meant, because it wasn’t as important a word as “godly.”

    To be godly, we discussed the sermon and agreed on which points we though were Good. We read our Bibles daily, with highlighters. We kept prayer journals. We inserted God’s name into our prayers as many times as we used the word “just.” We blushed at buzzwords like “feminist” and “secular” and tried not to judge all those worldly kids.

    We so wanted to get things right. And we were afraid, and we didn’t know it. Afraid of what The World actually had to say. Afraid that our honest questions could become a little too honest. Afraid of what would happen if we actually asked instead of answered. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “If you could actually show me that my faith was unreasonable, then I’d let it go.” I don’t think that’s true. Because, deep down, you’d be terrified, broken, struggling, craving a way out, desperately searching for a reason to believe.

    I can’t go back there. I want it, but I won’t have it. Because that kind of uneasy comfort is what lets you shatter when life forces you to face the world. Hannah, I appreciate your hungry mind, and I want to have this eagerness for knowledge. When I have the courage to realize it, I know there’s no other way for me to truly, deeply know God.

    That being said, my heart often sinks when other believers encourage me that God has a plan for me in my doubting. That he’s gracious, loving, sovereign — and committed to being my Father. That I’ll come out a stronger and better Christian. Because I don’t always know who he is, and whether or not I believe, and that is empty and frightening. Where others seem to see my heart anchored to him, I see no such ties. I’m wandering, and I don’t know where. Yet I’m thankful for words of hope. Frustrating or not, each one is like a gift: awkward, shy, and blessed.

    It’s good not to be alone.

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