"Don't be angry, if I wash his feet with my tears and I dry them with my hair. You weren't there, the night Jesus found me. You did not feel what I felt when he wrapped his love all around me. And you don't know the cost of the oil in my alabaster box." - "Alabaster Box" by Cece Winans
I was at a Christian conference, and the bible study leader asked us to write down one word to describe our faith. I wrote "obsession." And it was true.
Jesus was everything. Jesus had saved me- but I didn't use the word "saved" because for Christians, "saved" means you became a Christian. No, Jesus had rescued me. As in, literally changed my life. In less than a week, he had turned my life around- I went from completely hopeless to the happiest I could possibly be. It was a deep deep change, all the way down to my heart, all of my emotions. It wasn't just a new piece of information I started to believe, or a new plan for how to improve myself... no, I had changed, and in such a deep way that I knew it was God who did it.
It was God, God Almighty, who reached down from heaven and healed me.
And I was forever grateful. Jesus, Jesus was my love, my life. My lord, my master. Jesus was everything.
Do you know how it feels to lose everything?
Christians talk about how our identity should be in Christ. And God is supposed to be the most important thing in our lives. And we shouldn't have idols.
And then they come to their weekly prayer meetings and say, "Can you guys pray for me? I've really been struggling with putting God first. I try to make time to read my bible, I try to remember to pray, but there are always other things that come up, and it's so hard." The idea is, we all agree that our identity should be in Christ, but it's such a faraway and impossible goal. And we should feel bad about our continued failure to reach it.
Not me though. My identity actually was in Christ.
I loved him. I thought about him constantly. He had rescued me. He was real. I had experienced his power and it was the greatest thing imaginable.
Every day I woke up early so I could spend maybe 40 minutes to an hour reading the bible, journaling, and praying. Sometimes I had an extra hour in the evening between classes and group meetings, and I'd find an empty classroom and kneel down and pray. I loved God.
When I had a crush on a boy, I would pray about it. God was in charge of my life, and any likage of boys was a possible threat. It would be a sin to like a guy "too much" and get "emotionally attached" to him. (That wouldn't be "guarding my heart." And if I acted on my feelings- even in a way as subtle as choosing to stick around and talk to the guy after bible study meetings- that would be "not waiting for God's best.") So if I liked a guy, and he was a good Christian and therefore he might be the special one that God had destined for me, I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. And begged God for a "yes" or "no." I spent hours of my spare time asking and asking and asking, listening for his (yes, his) answer. Analyzing whatever random thoughts popped up while praying, wondering if God was telling me "yes" or "no."
Sometimes God did say "no." Most of the time, I didn't get an answer and I worried about it constantly. And I never got a yes.
I prayed and I begged and I didn't allow myself to feel. But it was all worth it, because I trusted God so much. I knew God cared so deeply about my love life and about keeping me pure, inexperienced, and safe from the horrible danger that is romance.
Jesus was Lord over all of it. I thought, I will wait. And even if God wants me to be single forever, I will. I trust God.
You don't know the cost of the oil in my alabaster box.
There was also evangelism.
I knew everyone needed Jesus. I knew every non-Christian was living every day in their own personal hell, and I knew God had the power to work a miracle and get them out of it.
And I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. I wanted to see God's power, to experience God transforming the lives of my friends. God, open his eyes. God, change her heart, God, show them that they need you.
I knew I was a missionary. Also a college student, but that wasn't anywhere near as important. I went to meetings with my Christian fellowship. I planned evangelistic events. I started bible studies. And came back home and did my homework in the middle of the night because it was the lowest priority. ... Nope, sleep was the lowest priority.
God would sustain me.
And it hurt, and I doubted, and I failed. There were times I was so excited because a new person came to my bible study, and times I felt awful because I missed an opportunity or said the wrong thing. I was locked in spiritual warfare, and I knew I just had to stay strong and keep working for Jesus. He knew. He cared. He knew I was doing the right thing.
I loved him, and it was all worth it.
Do you know what it feels like to lose that?
God was it. God was everything. Every now and then I would identify some kind of "idol" in my life and get all freaked out and repent and consider anew how deep my sin nature ran- but for the most part, God was first in my life.
I prayed. I worshiped. I sang and danced and overflowed with joy and I wanted to share God's love with everyone. I was not ashamed of the gospel. I loved my friends so much and I knew that they needed to become Christians or they would never be truly happy. I had the awkward conversations. I didn't let social norms and politeness get in the way of telling them about God.
My identity was in Christ. My desire was that whenever someone thought of me, they couldn't help but think about Jesus too. I was happy to hear a friend of mine say that, when he was talking to some acquaintance and mentioned my name, the acquaintance said "is she the one who's always posting religious things on facebook?" I'll have you know I never posted sappy Christian-sounding platitudes and cliches. Nope, I'd heard those all a million times and I wanted to cut through all that and express the fact that my relationship with God was real and life-giving and nothing at all like a tired cliche.
That relationship defined my life, just the way that evangelicals say it should.
Now it's over.
They said everyone needs to worship something. And people will look for satisfaction in all kinds of places, but the only one that really works is God. You can chase all kinds of other things- money, romance, family, career, fame- and you'll end up unhappy.
They said build your house on the rock. All other ground is sinking sand.
I gave everything to God. It was hard, but it didn't feel like a sacrifice because I knew that living without him would be hell on earth.
Whatever was to my profit I considered loss for the sake of Christ.
I was driven. I was devoted. And Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." So I started to listen to people who were different from me, so I could understand them and love them. So I could help them get out of their sin and find God.
I listened and read so many people talk about things I didn't agree with. Telling personal stories about their lives that I didn't agree with. They said it was okay for them to live that way, but I knew it wasn't, and I looked for uncertainties in their tone, for places where their confidence cracked because they were living a lie.
Because I knew, and God knew, that you can't have a truly happy life unless it's centered on Jesus. I was on his team. We were on a mission to save the world.
Until I bailed on the mission.
Because how many times can you read people's accounts of their own personal lives, and believe every one of them is lying? (Or at least, lying to themselves?)
I read about a gay man who had spent most of his life thinking he was broken, but finally he accepted himself, and now he's in a relationship with a man, and he's happier than he's ever been. I can read that and think, "No, he's secretly unhappy." But what happens when I read similar stories, again and again and again? How many times can I reassure myself, "No, these people are wrong about their own personal lives, and I know what they really need"?
I read a blog by an atheist who said no, she doesn't have a "God-shaped hole." She is actually totally fine with her life. There is no deep unresolved unhappiness. I can decide, "No, she secretly is unhappy, she'll realize it eventually." But how long can I keep that up, faced with an onslaught of personal testimonies which contradict what I was taught?
In the face of this new evidence, I changed my beliefs. I decided that to truly love someone means to believe them when they talk about their own personal life and their own needs.
But my God didn't change. How could he? Don't you know Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever? This was the God I prayed to because I wanted him to stop same-sex marriage from becoming legal. We were a team. We were fighting for the same things.
I admitted I had been wrong, that I didn't have enough information at that time, and that's why I opposed LGBT rights and thought everyone needed to become a Christian.
But God wouldn't admit he was wrong.
The God I had trusted, that I loved so much, that I devoted my life to, without limit. And all this time, we had been fighting for the wrong things. I didn't know any better. But what about God? He must have known. And his goals- my goals- were things that were actually hurting people.
Do you know how it feels to see the one you love more than anything else turn into a monster?
What's supposed to happen to me, when my identity is in Christ, but I can't have anything to do with that version of "Christ" anymore?
It hurts so bad. I've lost my identity. I've lost everything.
Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss.