You don't know me but I feel like I know you. I wish I knew someone like you in real life too. I love your site, I think it is the best Christian website I've seen and I've seen quite a bunch of them. I know that you are a busy person so I'm not expecting any response at all, I just want to let you know how much I appreciate your writing and what it means to me.
Let me elaborate. I became a Christian a few weeks ago. Actually, I was raised in a Christian home so I carried our religion constantly with me - and boy, what a burden it was! I adopted a religious appearence and habits because I didn't want to hurt my mother by becoming a non-Christian but deep down in my heart, I never really believed or trusted in our God, I was merely afraid of Him and tried to keep Him happy by pretending to be His loyal follower.
My crisis started last summer when I realized how unhappy, how chained, how much like a slave I felt while believing in all those doctrines, rules and customs. I wanted to get rid of them for good! Yet I didn't want to give up a chance of finding the Real God or at least something loving, something good outside myself - the thought of me on my own in a cold, cold world seemed even worse than keeping the religion which had mutilated me so.
I won't go into details, I'll only say that I spent more than half a year searching desperately. I'd never read so much literature on religion before! But the more I read, the more abstract and the more frightening God seemed to became. Finally I decided that the only thing probably worth knowing in this stupid, inconsistent religion called Christianity was Jesus Christ. I started reading about Him. And then something amazing happened: I met Him. Not a doctrine about Him, not someone else's vision of Him, but Jesus Christ, the living Son of God Himself. This is hard to explain without sounding crazy and mystical but it happened to me. I tossed my religion aside and promised Him to follow Him instead, for He was not a set of rules or a cunning philosophy, but a Person, Life itself. The joy, the freedom, the love! I was genuinely happy - maybe for the first time in my life. My search had ended, Jesus had taken all my guilt, fear and loneliness. God wasn't judging me far away any longer, He was there right beside me.
But it wasn't the end of the story. I was excited and wanted to find out more about following Christ. I called it that way instead of Christianity because I wanted to make a clear difference between my newly-found love and the old monstrous religion which had almost ruined my life. However, the material I found ranged from mildly comforting to deeply disturbing. (I don't mean the Bible with this "material"!) Soon I had two major problems.
1.) The most Christians seemed to demand some sort of "religious" behavior and faith in their philosophy, rhetoric and special morals - my innocent trust in Jesus wasn't enough by their standards! I wasn't Christian enough if I didn't also believe 1,000 other essential facts. Unfortunately, each and every person had a different opinion on what these necessary facts were. Who should I trust? Who should I listen to? Wasn't my Bible enough? That sort of religion was just what I had escaped! My life had become a prison when I had tried to live according to religious facts! I surely didn't want to be fooled back into that.
2.) The most Christians seemed to have a very negative attitude towards science and all heady stuff in general. But I was a researcher at university and working on my Ph. D.! (I still am.) Did they expect me to give up my job? If I wanted to keep my job, my self-respect and my intellectual honesty, was becoming an atheist my only choice? The kind of halftime-Christian, halftime-scholar life I saw some people lead couldn't be a serious option for me.
These problems tormented me horribly. I didn't want to give up Jesus but I didn't want to become "religious" either and I certainly had no desire to get a lobotomy. Now you can guess the rest. When I found your site, I was amazed to find the answers to my both questions. Following Christ is not a religion but a relationship, and having a brain doesn't mean being God's enemy. So, what I had experienced and realized had been true, not just a product of my hyperactive imagination, and I could cling to it with a clear heart and a clear head! The joy, the freedom, the love - and the peace!
Here's the happy end of this story, or maybe we should say this is more like the happy beginning, for I am not finished but growing each day. I have written all this to you because it helps you to see why and how deeply I admire your work. (By the way, please don't quote this letter anywhere in public. I know you respect anonymity but this is still kind of personal and my past has made me very withdrawn and shy.) After all, saying only "I love your site" can be interpreted in so many superficial ways. I will include you in my prayers.
Your sister in Christ, ABC
What a precious, precious story!
Thank you SO MUCH for sharing it with me...Isn't HE WONDERFUL?!!!!! Such a Lover, such a Leader, such a LORD!!!!
The freedom you have found will be assaulted by EVERYONE--including yourself...as Paul said in Gal 5.1: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. "...
Over the decades, the religion vs. relationship has been a source of meditation for me too...I have found a NEW 'versus' now: the "Religious Life" vs. "Dancing with God"!...the verse in which He talks about (1) delighting over His people WITH SINGING! and (2) all the 'partying in heaven' verses have slowly had their effect on me (**smile**)...A Celebrating and Joyful God...who wants us to be like Him...amazing...
As for not publishing your letter below, I will certainly honor that request--ALTHOUGH I BEG YOU to reconsider!...Without the name (which I NEVER publish--although I often change the names and gender when I DO mention them (**smile**), I cannot see any way to remotely identify you...I KNOW it would be a huge encouragement to others, so I would like you to consider letting me use it OR consider editing it yourself to where you feel comfortable with it (but I still refuse to use your name or country)...
I just wanted to make that request...but do not in the LEAST feel any 'non-freedom' (**grin**) about this...and, I will not ask you again...(with my memory, that's an easy promise to deliver on!)
You were 6 months in when you wrote this letter, and it has been 6 months hence...often, at the 1 year mark, new trials appear and new challenges crop up to discourage us and unsettle us...have you seen this yet?
Thanks again, precious sister, for your kind and encouraging words, but thank you ESPECIALLY for honoring and appreciating the One I love...it brings such joy to my heart (and tears to my eyes) to know that someone else has recognized His beauty and His strength and His kindness...
I really, really look forward to meeting you in Heaven, friend and 'comparing notes' on His work of grace in our lives,
in His love,
Thanks for your wonderful reply. Although I regularly visit your site, I had almost forgotten that I'd written to you at all. The reason is that when I wrote that letter I had indeed gone a little out of my normally restrained mind and I was writing all sorts of letters to all possible people. My dear Christian sister had to take the worst... My letter to her contained all the pain and misunderstandings we'd never discussed before and I almost accused her and others of causing them. Well, she replied with such love that it lead us both to tearful apologies and a better understanding of each other.
Curiously, you are so right when you mentioned that my freedom would be assaulted by everyone, including myself - I've slowly began to see that in my case my own share in this negative work seems to be much bigger than I initially thought. September was especially bad in this respect, so bad that I became nearly paranoid. It started with an off-hand remark someone made about one particular Christian issue I'd never even thought about before, namely baptism. (I guess everyone gets this issue thrown at them sooner or later and the differing points of view have been discussed to death in countless books, so I won't repeat this problem in detail.) The more I started thinking about what the guy had said the more it jilted my view about God. My line of reasoning went, "If God really thinks like this, He must be a rather petty person. And if He is petty and mean in one case, then He can be like that in other cases too." In other words, I deliberately let one little dispute to counter all the positive evidence I had seen about His love and goodness!!!
But this freedom vs. slavery thing involves much more than just a few lingering doubts in my case. It especially puzzles me when I think of the difference between me and my sisters: while they have always seen the beauty of the Lord, I've only seen Him as a tyrant. Why? We were raised together, so our background can't be the main reason! My best guess so far is that this has a lot to do with the way I perceive other people and what meaning I give to their communication. The main denomination over here is XXX, which heavily stresses the Word. But sometimes the Word seems to splinter into too many words and then you have nothing substantial, just a lot of idle talk which adds up to nothing.
I was used to hearing that God loves us and that we are saved by grace etc. but I never really saw what those words *meant*. The closest thing I was able to picture was a weird and totally abstract theory which God intended to shove down our throats: this is you here, and this is God here, and this is grace, and when you receive His grace like this, you are saved like this. And that is all God is interested in, saving people and then programming them to act as Christians. However, I had a problem - fortunately, one could say now - because I was never sure that I had played my own part in this machinery right. When I was able to admit it to myself, I understood that I didn't even want to belong to that machinery.
All that time it never occurred to me that God could *happen*. That God and His grace are real, not theoretical. I had taken all that religious stuff as the real thing when I should have seen it as sign posts which just point to Him. When He really approached me - what a shock! Then even the most flamboyant descriptions I had read (and accepted as belonging to the "God theory") became sickly pale and fled under the coach. The funniest thing is that this made *me* into another person who now tries to explain others how unexplainable God really is.
Actually, this is just another way of saying the same thing I wrote in my first letter. But this time I am able to see that it is not really other people's fault that my view of God was so sordid. Eventually, the reason is me - I am an observer, not a participant. It sounds crazy, but it is much easier for me to be objective than subjective. Or should I say "to pretend to be" - as they say, objectivity sometimes is in the eye of the beholder. :-) In this case, the distinction is between knowing about God and knowing Him. After I had met the Lord I went over the top and saw very little value in the former. But now I can appreciate them both. I only pray that I'll never get so lost in doctrines etc. again that they take my eyes off Him, His love, warmth, caring and everything that makes Him so amazing.
Eh, I wonder if it was really me who just said something about idle talk a few paragraphs ago? :-) To the point, finally. Feel free to use my first letter as you like, you can edit it etc. I don't actually care any longer *even* if there was something in it that could be connected to me. I feel that I've already told this story to every passer-by so it is hardly a secret...! (This from someone who used to feel queasy whenever anything religious was brought up in conversations!)
As for your question...
1. you were 6 months in when you wrote this letter, and it has been 6 months hence...often, at the 1 years mark, new trials appear and new challenges crop up to discourage us and unsettle us...have you seen this yet?
September certainly counts here. I fell right back into my old ways of thinking for those trivial reasons mentioned earlier and endured some most unpleasant thoughts. But it is over now... And God brought me out of it with some new insights I'd never gained without that trial. (When I was feeling especially awful I said to myself I'd never call that horror "a learning experience". Here we go...)
First, I got a glimpse of what I'm like without Him - not a nice sight. And then I surprised myself too: my biggest ache was a thought of losing *Him*, not for example losing my share of Heaven, as I might have thought earlier. The third effect was that He generally became bigger and I smaller. As if I'd thought of diving into a pool and found out that even all the seas are not a suitable comparison. I guess I'm slowly turning into a kind of mystic but this is completely different from what I've heard of Eastern mysticism. It is not mysticism for its own sake, but a very poor effort to describe Someone who lives in you and around you, Someone who *is* Life and much more. As you surely must know.