What was something you believed all through childhood and were surprised to find out was false?
I think the thing I believed all through my childhood–and later learned was false–was that faith was something I had to “do”, something for which I needed to strive.
I grew up in a conservative evangelical home and church in the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s. I was taught from my earliest days that Jesus loves me and that the Bible told me so! I learned that I needed to ask Jesus into my heart, and did so one night at Happy Nights at Dunning Park Chapel when I was 7 or 8. I was taught that I was a sinner and needed Jesus to die on the cross for my sins, but that the only way for that to actually “work” was for me to accept the gift that God was offering me. Later, I was taught how to have “quiet times”, to memorize scripture, and even later, taught how to do inductive Bible studies. I learned a LOT about the Bible over the years, having “walked through” it a few times and also reading it through in a year several times as well. I went to Christian college (Taylor University–my dorm nickname was “Rev”) and studied Bible courses there, and later to Moody Bible Institute for further biblical training.
Along the way I also picked up a few more false ideas. The Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, popular in the early 70s (and especially enjoyed by my Dad) encouraged me to vow to read God’s Word every single day (a vow I later broke.) Another message learned there was that if I did what I was supposed to do, God would surely bless me. If I honored my parents, kept myself pure until marriage, chose well, and stayed in the Word, I could expect a pretty good life. Focus on the Family, a popular Christian radio program in the 1980s taught me to well, focus on my family and expect God’s blessing with children who followed Jesus.
When life didn’t exactly turn out that way–when I didn’t feel blessed either generally or specifically in my family life; when the church fellowship that I committed myself to for 28 years pretty much blew up in our faces–I started to distance myself from my faith. I still went to church, participated, prayed and studied/read the Bible but emotionally I kept God at arm’s length for about ten years. I gradually learned that he never really promised what I thought He did, but I was still discouraged and distant for a long time.
In 2011, we sent Annie to a Capernwray Bible School in New Zealand. In October of that year I visited her for two weeks. We memorized Isaiah 43:1- together, with me inserting my name into the text. (Annie didn’t think I could/should do that.)
“Thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Chris,
He who formed you, O Christine.
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you;
when you walked through fire, you shall not be burned;
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…
Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you…
(I added…I could already see where this friendship with James was headed)
Fear not for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east
and from the west I will gather you.
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold,
bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.”
I also started reading Major Ian Thomas’ book, The Life of Christ, on the way home and for several weeks thereafter. His phrase, “I can’t, but You can” really struck a chord in my heart. I learned from him that I wasn’t even supposed to be striving so hard to live the Christian life.
In the years since, this message has been reiterated in many ways and times. Jesus told us that in this life we WOULD have trouble, not the message I learned early in life. And yes, in the 90s, and all the way through the first twenty years of 2000-2020, I’ve faced a good number of life challenges. I am still learning this truth: I cannot please God no matter how hard I try (He is already pleased with me, because he chose to love me.) I can’t earn salvation or blessing. I don’t need to “advise” God through my prayers. Instead, I need to trust him and lean not on my own understanding. I need to ask his Spirit to guide and empower me. I need to rest in Him and wait, knowing that he is a good, good Father and has everything in his sovereign control. Everything.
Recently, a friend told me she was “so glad that God had given her the gift of faith. She had never doubted God.” My first thought was that he certainly hadn’t given me the gift of faith–I am a natural doubter and have been all my life. I thought that was okay; God gives different people different gifts. But this spring when Covid-19 and Cancer coincided in my life, I found myself finding faith kind of easy. I knew that I had absolutely NO control over the cancer or the coronavirus and what either would mean for my life in the weeks ahead. I might as well trust God, who did know. (It turned out to be rather a blessing to have both hit at the same time as I was able to see doctors and get tests done quickly and my lack of energy fit well with the lockdown guidelines.) As I’ve gotten a little bit better, I started figuring out ways to “help” Johnny make better decisions, and then soon realized that I have no control over his choices either. I don’t think God has given me a lifetime pass on the gift of faith. I have a feeling I will still struggle with doubt at times. In the meantime, however, I want to rest in faith, trusting that he knows the number of my days and the hairs on my head (which I plan to keep this time around 😉