Epistle to the Ephesians

The Power of Belief: What do you believe? What do I believe?

Heavenly Minded Earthly Good

There is a difference between what you know, what you want to believe, and what you actually do believe. The stormy, swirling grey area in between those three things is probably where I’ve spent the majority of my adult life.

Recently, I have come to the conclusion that having the knowledge and information does not necessarily imbue those facts with belief. The opposite is also, quite painfully at times, true – facts and knowledge do not have to be present for belief to exist. This is probably the seemingly ever widening chasm between people who ascribe to a spiritual belief system and those who are adamantly athiestic.

Apathy Fuels Athiesm

Apathy Fuels Athiesm

Recently my friend and pastor, Marc Alan Shelske, posted a writing prompt based on this article, Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity. As I read through the article, I found myself identifying on a deeply personal level with the stories of the young Athiests in the article. Like many of them, I had attended church, however briefly and sporadically, in my youth. Like them, the superficial lessons of childhood didn’t transition well into my teen and young adult years and by the time I was in my early 20’s, I was adamantly opposed to religion, church attendance, and being evangelized – so much so that I even was skeptical and resistant to the most earnest and sincere of secular marketing and networking efforts and attempts. I turned into a modern, female version of Frank Sinatra, determined to do it and have things, “My Way.”

The thing that I came to understand and believe about myself, very early on, was that I wasn’t enough. Despite my intelligence, my ambition, and the potential that I thought I had, which others seemed to also see, I wasn’t enough. Or, to be more accurate, I was too much. I was too overwhelmed with an inability to handle my own thoughts, emotions, and physiological responses to stress, obstacles, other people’s stuff, and the consequences of my own wrong choices. No matter how hard I danced, regardless of how much information and knowledge I accumulated, in spite of learning correct and appropriate behavior, I just continued making one wrong choice after another, for all the right, and wrong, reasons, digging myself ever and ever deeper into depression, despair, isolation, and dysfunction.

Religious platitudes only alienated me and triggered shame, anger, and denial. Spiritual and Secular attitudes of judgment and superiority just put me on the defensive and caused me to isolate, withdraw, and keep moving in search of compassion instead of pity, guidance instead of rules, acceptance instead of criticism, validation instead of being constantly questioned and told how misguided, mistaken, and misaligned I was.

Somehow, somewhere, in the midst of it all, the childhood refrain that “Jesus loves me,” and that:

Jesus Loves The Little Children

Jesus calls the children dear,

“Come to me and never fear,

For I love the little children of the world;

I will take you by the hand,

Lead you to the better land,

For I love the little children of the world.”

Refrain

Jesus loves the little children,

All the children of the world.

Red and yellow, black and white,

All are precious in His sight,

Jesus loves the little children of the world.

reached through all the chaos, conflict, confusion, and pain inside of me and outside to keep me coming back, like a stray cat needing care but too sketchy to trust touch, time after time.

Last weekend, Marc taught on the book of Ephesians and what “church” means. Check it out on YouTube. As I was sitting there and listening to what he was saying, I was reminded that someone once taught that the early Christian church of believers didn’t have an understanding or belief in what we now accept as part and parcel of Christianity – the eternal afterlife of heaven and hell. I could be wrong, but I personally believe more in the Eastern Orthodox take on it, “The Eastern Orthodox church teaches that heaven and hell are being in God’s presence[38][39]which is being with God and seeing God, and that there no such place as where God is not, nor is hell taught in the East as separation from God.[40] One expression of the Eastern teaching is that hell and heaven are being in God’s presence, as this presence is punishment and paradise depending on the person’s spiritual state in that presence.[38][41] For one who hates God, to be in the presence of God eternally would be the gravest suffering.[42][43][44].”

This belief, my own life experiences, and the teaching from Marc, leads me to believe that walking out my belief in God and Jesus, means that each moment, of each day, I do my best to operate out of the knowledge and belief in grace, love, compassion, empathy, hope, grace, mercy, and forgiveness in spite of, and sometimes even because of, things that are painful, hurtful, heinous, unjust, criminal, and devastating. Especially in response to those whose words, actions, thoughts, and beliefs drive those things. I have been such a person and if I have received all those things, I must do my very best to offer the gifts I have received.

Offering prayer is nice, but being present, engaged, invested, and even sacrificing personal comfort and desire for the sake of another’s need speaks louder than me chosing to debate whether someone else’s beliefs are right or wrong as compared to my own.

Faith, Belonging, and Community

It is no secret that I have struggled with being in relationship and community with others. I have struggled with myself, God, my family of origin, my children, friends, co-workers, acquaintances. Relationships have never been my strong suit.

It has been a lifelong struggle to feel like I belonged somewhere, anywhere.

The primary relationship I had with my mother was difficult and detached. I now understand that it was her own attachment and depression issues that created the emotional and psychological distance between us. Being disconnected from my mother, not having my father, continually moving and changing schools every year or two, and then no longer having any relationship with my mother and being under the guardianship of my uncle whose relationship skills and relationships with all of us around him were impaired and dysfunctional, meant that from a very early age and going all the way through adolescence, there was no relational tether to any one person or community that taught me I belonged.

I became the girl who tried too hard, stood too close, interrupted, talked too much, always had the answer, reacted too easily, and eventually acted out my pain by either getting too physical or using my words and intellect to establish dominance and superiority. When the going got tough, I got going and let go of the people who should have and could have been my strongest supporters because I believed that no matter how hard I worked, no matter what I tried – rescuing, fixing, having the answers, being the problem solver – it was never going to be enough to fit in. I didn’t fit in with the rebels and screw-ups because I wanted to do good and be better. I didn’t fit in with the achievers and winners because I was too guarded and unable to believe in my own worth and value.

I’ve spent the last 20+ years trying to be accepted, be loved, and be included. All the while, the things I tried to make it happen just fell short and I pushed away and let go of those who wanted to be there for me. I chased after the relationships with those who I thought would accept me because of the value I could be to them. Meanwhile, the critical relationships with my children and other family members were neglected and damaged in ways similar to how mine had been damaged by the adults in charge of me. None of whom were any more available or capable emotionally and psychologically than I have been.

The ENTIRE time, there has been One who has chased me down in so many ways, with so many faces, time, after time, after time to convey to me that I am loved, I am known, I am accepted, I am understood, and I belong.

Marc Shelske, the pastor of Bridge City Community Church, has been doing a teaching series on Ephesians and I have had the privilege of being present the past two weeks to hear his insights in person. Thankfully, when I need to revisit and recall what was shared, these messages can be found on the Bridge City Media YouTube channel.

Last week he talked about the fact that Zombies are biblical concepts and not just a current entertainment trend. It was very enlightening and a good reminder of things I’ve known intellectually, but never internalized on a personal level. This was the “before” picture of how I have operated with my lack of personal understanding and acceptance of God’s grace and mercy for me, in my life.

He continued the conversation this week and spoke about the “after” picture. What he described was exactly what has been happening inside of me, in my life, and in my relationships over the course of the past year and a half or so.

“As we get closer to God, we have the capacity to get closer to other people.” ~ Marc Schelske, 5/18/13, Bridge City Community Church

I was “saved” when I was 8 years old. I’ve been being “saved” my whole life. I’ll be 44 next month and I’m just now internalizing that being “saved” isn’t about not doing wrong or doing good, but it’s about God’s absolute acceptance and love for me because I am His creation, and that creation is not static, but an ongoing work of art, displaying and revealing the character and nature of God, the artist.

As I have allowed these realizations and understandings to sink into my being, without me having to work and strive through my own efforts, God has been closer to me, naturally and organically. As I have grown in my ability to just accept that God is with me and present in every aspect of my life, no matter what, my ability to connect and reconnect in relationship with others has been improving.

I started with the internet and the online communities available here in the blogosphere and on Facebook, with people who didn’t know me or my past who I felt safe exposing my self and my truths to. Slowly, others who have known me and shown me they care and want to be in relationship with me have gotten to know this part of my identity.

The lines are now blurred and I am fully engaged in supportive online communities which include people I see and engage with in person, in significant and meaningful ways. It is also increasing my connection to others who sincerely care, accept, and include me as part of their community, simply because I accept that I belong, I AM because GOD IS.