I started my career as an auditor, and remained in the field until very recently. I found that role emphasized a handful of core traits: critical thought, a healthy challenge of the status quo, the ability to “connect the dots” and cross-check information from different realms. I didn’t fully realize how well the role would align with my personality when I took my first job – but let’s just say, it fit like a glove.
I didn’t just grow up in a “Christian Home” – I grew up in an uber-Christian home! My father had grown up in faith, but had consciously turned away from the Lord after high school. My mother’s family was religious during her childhood, but she hadn’t internalized a faith or known Christ personally. They both let the Lord into their lives when I was a toddler, and their enthusiasm and passion for Christ saturated our home. Worship music was always playing, we learned Bible verses at the breakfast table, and (my husband’s personal favorite), my mom even played tape recordings of scripture at night as we slept! My parents basically incorporated faith into every possible aspect of our lives – and remarkably, their enthusiasm hasn’t waned in nearly 30 years.
As you would expect, all of this rubbed off on me, and I can honestly say that Christ was the core of my identity growing up. I feel like this is where one might expect me to begin to talk about the legalism, self righteous, guilt complexes and other negative by-products often associated with a heavily religious upbringing - but it wasn’t like that. My faith was a positive, grounding, freedom-bringing part of who I was, and I was encouraged to live in the world but not of it.
All this isn’t to say that my “inner auditor” wasn’t present even as a child. My obsession with “why” and “how” lasted far longer than most children. As I grew older, my need to question and understand began to play out in my faith as well. I began to ask many questions within the boundaries of my faith – “If women are meant to be quite and submissive, why did God create me with such a strong personality?” “If both man and woman were created in God’s image, why is “He” a “he”?” – but there was a very clear time in my life when that boundary was pierced.
The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college I went on a ten week mission trip to Ghana, West Africa. I’d participated in summer mission trips with my youth group before, and had heard countless testimonies of individuals returning from mission work, so I fully expected the trip to deepen and strengthen my faith. However, being submerged in a Muslim culture brought questions to life that had previously been only theoretical. In one village, I spent an afternoon sharing my faith with a woman and introducing her to a personal relationship with Jesus. She was incredibly receptive – I could tell she wasn’t just nodding her head for the novelty of spending time with an American woman – she was genuinely interested in Christ. Unfortunately the next day, she came back to the compound where I was staying visibly beat up, saying that she needed to return the Bible to me – her husband would not allow her to be a Christian. Keep in mind that in her culture, women were neither educated nor employed, so to go against her husband’s orders was to risk her livelihood. Something clicked in me – how could a just God place me in a situation where I would have had to reject everything I’d been brought up with not to receive salvation, while she had to risk everythingsimply to own a Bible and investigate for herself? How could a perfectly loving God allow for this woman to go to hell, when I, who was not perfectly loving, would never do so?
By piercing that boundary, it seemed like the whole thing collapsed. Suddenly, questions were cropping up left and right, and in the midst of my mission trip, I was having a huge crisis of belief. And it wasn’t just intellectual – it was deeply emotional. There were the logistics to consider – my whole life was built around my faith – I was at a Christian college, all of my close friends were Christians, my dad had even left his engineering firm to become a pastor the same summer of my trip – how could I go back to that life if I no longer believed? But even deeper – my Jesus, the lover of my soul – might not be real? I can’t think of a good parallel, but it would maybe be like finding out that my husband was not a real person – that the intimate relationship I’d experienced had been based on illusion. I fell into depression.
Being the fairly right-brained, problem solver that I am, when I got home I threw myself into trying to close the gaps that had opened up in my faith during my trip. I desperately wanted to return to the place I’d been before I left (what now seemed like ignorant bliss), and I was systematically trying to get there. I sought out all the spiritual advisors in my life to ask for their answers to my questions. I read books. I prayed for resolution and gathered those around me to pray as well. I reached out to professors of apologetics. When it all came up short, I tried to construct my own logical arguments. It drove me crazy that I couldn’t get all the pieces to fall into place, and I remained frustrated and depressed for a long period of time. I found that reading the Bible or engaging with sermons often raised more questions than it answered, so six or seven months after my return, I intentionally stopped engaging. I really missed Jesus – it was like I’d lost a best friend – but I didn’t know what else to do.
After a couple of years of going through the motions, I was sitting in church one morning, and our pastor was preaching about God’s perspective on racism and justice. While there was nothing magical about his sermon, it was a glimpse and a reminder of the God that I loved! I realized that I’d thrown the baby out with the bath water – I’d let the small things that I didn’t understand about God keep me separated from all the wonderful things that He was and had proven to me in my life. That morning began a healing process for me, and I began to slowly re-establish the pillars of my faith – salvation through grace, the teachings of Jesus – and accept the fact that there were less critical elements that I just might not ever understand on this earth. (My husband can attest that it is very difficult for me to accept that there are things I can’t understand.) While I had believed that there was nobility in my persistent search for answers, I hadn’t realized that there was also pride and stubbornness in my belief that if I couldn’t understand something, it couldn’t be true.
When I started on the path back to faith, I was hopeful that I’d get all the way there – that I would slowly but surely get back to the place that I’d been before I left on my trip. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. It’s been about 10 years now, and while I’ve resolved some small questions, others have remained, and yet other new questions have come up. I’ve found that I’ve had to accept the dissonance of living my faith from a place of uncertainty. I’ve prayed and prayed to return to faith like a child, but it doesn’t appear to be coming. This might be the thorn in my flesh. This might be a difficulty God will sustain me through so that I can be an encouragement to others who have similar obstacles to belief.
Recently there have been a few situations in my life that have really brought faith to the forefront. To my great relief, I found that while the questions in my head ebb and flow, my heart remains anchored in faith.