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Throw Away the Script

notebook and penI wedged myself into our overstuffed burgundy recliner, the only furniture we’ve ever bought brand-new, knees pulled tight under my chin. My husband lounged across from me on the couch, easy.

Two men, one an acquaintance, one a longtime friend, sat with us, our papers in their hands. My words, bare and black on the white paper.

We were interviewing for church membership, but my stomach twisted like it was an interview for a job for which I was horribly unqualified. They were there to ask a few more questions, including a short version of how we came to faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

This was a formality for my husband, a casual conversation about his childhood and what he was learning today.

I hoped he would talk first. I’d wrestled with it for weeks but couldn’t figure out how to answer their question.

I could see the right words projected like a PowerPoint slide in my mind.

I asked Jesus into my heart at age 3, asked to be baptized at age 5, memorized many verses in high school Bible-quizzing, graduated from Christian college, served faithfully in church….

True words. But now, they seemed the stuff of glossy magazine covers. Air-brushed and artificial.

I couldn’t do it. For the first time, I decided to throw out the script. I stumbled awkward through an unrehearsed version of my real story with all its messy ups and downs.

As I stammered along, I wondered if I was sabotaging myself. Who improvises in a membership interview?

***

I’ve been in Sunday School, sermons, Bible studies, choir, Bible memory programs, camps, and VBS my entire life.  In 35 years, I’ve worshiped in community, charismatic, Mennonite, Baptist, and Reformed churches, huge ones with youth groups of over 300 and tiny neighborhood churches with just a handful of the most lovely people you’ve ever met.

So I know what I’m supposed to say when asked the usual “are you a Christian?” questions:

When you die and arrive at the gate of heaven, what will you say when they ask why you should be allowed in?

or

How do you know that you are part of God’s family, one of his adopted children?

or

What is the chief end of man?

I know the answers … but are they my answers?

At what point do you step forward from knowing a piece of information to living it because you truly believe it? Once across, can “true” Christians move back and forth across that line, from knowing to living to knowing-but-not-living, over time? If we do, does it mean anything? Should it cause me to doubt my eternal state?

And how do we talk about it in a way that makes much of God, hopes in his grace, and does not gloss over very real struggles and setbacks?

***

My faith has been made over these last couple years. When we joined our current church, when I went through that unsettling interview, I was in the heat of that reconstruction.

My heart for ministry had been singed numb by the reality of ministry. I was searching for expression for my grief and tearing apart my faith, frantic to find out where it had gone so wrong to leave me so utterly unprepared for hard things: disability, death, depression, broken relationships.

I think growing up immersed in Christianity can blur the line between knowing information and living it. It is very easy to recite the answers taught without thinking, to blend in, to do what everyone expects you to do because they expect it and not because you love God, and assume that because the right answers glide easily and you look the part, that you’re good with God. It’s easy. You play the part when people are watching, then do what you want with the rest of your life.

***

James 1:22 reads, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

These last verses in the first chapter of James teach us that it is possible to hear and know all the right answers, but not live them. And if we do, that assurance of being good with God is a lie.

James was written to believers, so we also learn that Christians can indeed move back and forth from being knowers only to knowers-and-doers. James teaches us that real, living, genuine faith acts. Real faith lives in light of the facts it knows.

***

I had been one of those complacent and comfortable, deceived into thinking that if I played by the rules, life would be easy.

Sometimes the right answers aren’t.

I believe God allowed a personal earthquake to shake down my flawed faith house, to open my eyes to this. I needed to wake up and see what He actually does for His children, what He promises, and what He asks in return.

He isn’t a vending machine, dispensing blessings in exchange for coins of “right words” and “great appearances.” He doesn’t protect us from pain. His grace isn’t anesthetic. He doesn’t want my rote memory, my blending in, my fitting into other people’s molds.

He does promise rescue from the law that condemns, and He promises a grace life line. He treasures our tears in midst of pain, and our confession and repentance for our sins. He desires our love, our service, our praise.

He wants my life, and He loves me, not despite of but in middle of all my awkward off-script stumbling.

Moving forward from knowing to living, from airbrushed to real, means throwing out the script.

***

She Speaks Conference

The She Speaks Conference is about women connecting the hearts of women to the heart of our Father God and that your heart is to serve Him and His daughters.

Would you like to be considered for a scholarship to attend? Visit Ann Voskamp’s blog to learn more.

 

***

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Comments

  1. He doesn’t protect us from pain, but he does join us in the midst of the messy worst that it can be. If there’s anything we learn about God from the Cross, it’s that.
    Scott Morizot recently posted..The Jesus Prayer 14 – ImaginationMy Profile

  2. You know, I agree with what you’ve written here about faith and God and all. But this interview concept appalls me! I mean, I hear you saying that there is; but then, why the interview?
    suburbancorrespondent recently posted..Whats In A Name EverythingMy Profile

    • Our church does interviews for two reasons, if I understand correctly.

      One is to try to avoid the conflict that often divides churches and casts God’s name in a bad light. This church hopes that by having conversations with prospective members about how the decision-making processes work, goals and vision for the future, etc, before they join, it will help to reduce misunderstanding and division. So in that sense, it is not a screening, it’s a q&a time to get everyone on the same page (or at least in the same chapter).

      The other reason is that they are trying, insomuch as is humanly possible, to ensure that church members are true followers of Christ. As I talk about in this post, it’s very easy to say the right things but be unchanged inside. Now, everyone knows that a person cannot tell if another is truly “saved” — we can even be deceived about ourselves. I have no idea if they’ve ever asked someone to wait to join. I do know that they will suspend someone’s voting privileges (sort of a removal of membership, but not really) if they end up disagreeing on something seen as critical (like the inerrancy of Scripture).

      Does that answer your question, or just prompt a dozen more? :)
      Joy recently posted..I’m a Little DifferentMy Profile

  3. “His grace isn’t anesthetic.”
    This line really jumped out at me. Thanks for writing!
    Young Mom recently posted..The Countdown- My Courtship Story- Part 6My Profile

  4. This is so interesting. My cousins on my dad’s side have this kind of story (faith from a very early age, did not know anything else), but my dad was the black sheep of the family and is only starting to attend church now.

    My story is so beautiful to me because it talks of the pursuit of God and his love, not something I’ve done. Despite the years of alcohol, depression, immorality, etc. he invited me to the same international church 4 times! And in Hawaii, NY, Paris and again in NY – all over the globe. I was hit by a car and should have died since my head hit the pavement, but his angels lifted me up in their hands. He was with me when I lived in Asia and Europe, when my brother committed suicide.

    And when the darkness cleared and I started to read the Bible for the first time, I finally came to the church he kept calling me to (the same church where my atheist husband attended for the first time the same day as me and got baptized 12 hours after me some six weeks later). I repented, was baptized and that is how I came to the Lord.

    Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous, but the sinners.

    • What a beautiful story, Jennie (can I call you Jennie? :)). Thank you so much for sharing it.

      And oh yes, thank God for your last sentence.

  5. Good post. Blessings to you!
    April recently posted..Yes- DearMy Profile

  6. What a beautiful post. Lately I’ve been thinking about this quote from L’Engle: “Conversion for me was not a Damascus Road experience. I slowly moved into an intellectual acceptance of what my intuition had always known.” I’ve been trying to make that more real as I, too, throw out the script. It’s good to know there are other people trying to make that journey honestly.
    Preston recently posted..all that glittersMy Profile

  7. I can’t help loving this today. It is so true. I think there comes a time in each of our lives when we should (we must) throw away the script and find our own reasons for loving and believing. It is only as we make that change that we really find what faith and believing are all about.
    Pattyann recently posted..Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

    • Exactly. And what’s funny is that I did it (or at least I thought I did it) back in college. Maybe one has to keep doing this… keep checking themselves to make sure they are really loving and believing, not just going through the motions.

  8. He doesn’t waste any pain, girl! I always remind myself of that when I think of you and all you’ve been through.
    Melissa recently posted..The Truth HurtsMy Profile

  9. Amber-Lee says:

    I always stop and pray for you when you post about your church.
    Amber-Lee recently posted..Spring is tryingMy Profile

  10. That small determined flower – against all odds was “hanging in there” and was as full of life as life can be. We cannot see its future, perhaps it shall thrive, or again, it may be swept away by a bird that plucks it out by the root and flys up into the heavens with it! Your story and testiimony is a tribute to God’s loving grace and the leading of the Holy Spirit. God calls the sick and not the well to come to him for His Spiritual Healing. His arms are out streatched to us all and his voice whispers – come unto me.
    Hazel Moon recently posted..Box LunchMy Profile

    • Thank you, Hazel. God had to show me that I was actually sick, before I realized I needed his healing. I’m so thankful he did.

  11. Joy!!!! This is a beautiful story! Thank you for being so REAL with us!
    Sisterlisa recently posted..Finding GodMy Profile

  12. Please keep writing…
    He’s given you a *gift*.
    A deeply moving, powerful post.
    Thank you…

    So grateful for your words…
    Ann

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  1. […] realize that each person’s walk with God is so unique. Please take a moment to read her post Throw Away the Script. She writes about depression and grief in ways that inspire and validate our pain…that these […]