“Where is your Hope tonight?”
The guitar chords began to strum faintly, signaling us to stand. I could feel the tears start to prickle at my eyes, the weight of the week threatening to overcome me. I was homesick, exhausted, and a little overwhelmed. It was my first time at camp ever, away from my parents, having all these experiences and emotions that I didn’t know what to do with.
My camp counselor leaned over and quietly asked if I wanted to go talk. Without a word, we both stood up and began making our way out of the makeshift sanctuary toward a nearby park. We sat down on the edge of a sandbox as I attempted to explain all that was going on in my thirteen year-old mind.
She asked me if I wanted to know God, though I thought I knew him well enough from all the pleading and bargaining I did in the past. Part of the reason why I was on that trip in the first place was because of going to my neighbor’s youth group for the last six months. The pastor explained everything in a way that made more sense than multiple years of Catholic religious education ever could, and this whole week I could feel a deeper sense of longing. I wanted that connection, that wholeness that was discussed literally every single night, but I couldn't find the words.
“Alyx, you are a treasure, and God desperately wants you to know and understand that.”
I nodded and bowed my head, something deep down indicating that I had reached the end of my rope. I closed my eyes and prayed along with her, something that in various Christian circles is known as the Sinner’s Prayer. I recall that when I opened my eyes, the sun was shining almost blindingly through the Montana pine trees, and I seriously wondered if I was witnessing a supernatural phenomenon.
I would not recognize the impact of that decision for a very long time, but in that moment I was just grateful to feel lighter, and actually have a smile on my face.
This past Monday marked ten years since that day. Ten life-changing, wonderful, awkward, painful, side-splitting, breath-taking, joyful, insightful years.
I look back on that time and can now admit that I had no idea what I was actually doing. Not that I didn’t want it or didn’t mean it; I had scars on my wrist and on my heart that needed healing. I had anger and self-hatred that was consuming my whole being, and continuing down that road would have killed me. That being said, I was young and hadn’t been raised with any particular set of beliefs, having to investigate and practice my faith on my own. When you’re only thirteen, fourteen years old, you can only grasp or comprehend so much.
As a teenager, I often equated my relationship with God to my relationship with church. Church was my safe haven, a place I could go to when school or life at home became too chaotic. If I understood the sermon, I understood God a little bit better. If I felt close with my friends at youth group, I felt close with God. We would go on weekend trips and experience a kind of “Jesus high”, then come back and lose it in the midst of every-day, real-life stuff. It was very surface-level, and on the outside it probably looked like I was doing everything for the wrong reasons. The next four years were like being tossed around in a tiny boat in the middle of violent storm: my parents’ marriage was collapsing, and I was using every ounce of emotional strength in me to hold onto the idea of my family that I had grown up with. Being a sensitive and observant person, I was more aware of the tension than I needed to be. I had very little self-confidence, and that definitely affected how I interacted with others.
My need to survive eclipsed a willingness to fully embrace and rest in God’s love.
Love and validation from family, friends, and peers seemed more tangible than eternal promises in heavily interpreted texts.
I knew that God loved me, but genuinely believing it was and has been a different story. And that has always been my struggle, causing me to chase after false hopes and depend on circumstances that had no guarantees.
When I went to college, I realized that church was slowly eclipsing God, and I did not want to relate to my creator based on a checklist, performance, or exclusiveness. That is another post for another time, but I stepped away from church for a while. I needed to learn how to separate the two, to measure myself by Grace instead of perfection.
There was no singular moment, no epiphany of sorts, but a lot of moments that I revisited on a regular basis. A lot of writing; poetry, journals, essays, questions. Praying for the anxiety to subside and the tears to dry.
I ran into walls multiple times over, reminding me that partying, boys, and climbing the career ladder was not going to give me what I needed.
And I knew deep down that I needed God; I always have and I always will. Knowing the challenges that I've faced, I can’t go through life just simply existing without some sort of foundation, an anchor that keeps me grounded. I want to seek Him in the midst of all the cacophony, without the fear of becoming hateful or judgmental. That’s why I’ve hesitated to immerse myself in my faith, because of what Christianity is associated with now a days. I have my own opinions about a variety of topics, but it’s easy to start second-guessing them when I hear enough people screaming and shouting about Truth and love and supposedly being right. It makes me want to run.
But I don’t want to run anymore, at least not for the sake of survival. If I’m going to run, it’s going to be towards something.
From the outside, I don’t always act like a Christian, and haven’t really been during this last year or so. I curse. I drink. I let my imagination go for joyrides. I’ve learned more toward anger and defensiveness than forgiveness. I raise my voice (and am tempted to raise my fists), when I should be hitting my knees.
When I reflect on the last ten years, I’m honestly not sure how to feel. But when I think about now, and occasionally down the road, I want more than anything to just be healthy, free, and secure. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To not live inside my head anymore, but to live out what is on my heart; to be vulnerable, so that I can be reminded of who I am and why I’m here. That will take time, discipline, strength, gentleness, and accountability. And perhaps it’s not necessarily about forcing myself to change, but allowing myself to be changed in the process. To be molded by the unseen, but still shrouded in love.
May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
photo credit: Deeply enchanted evening via photopin (license)