“I’m joining the synchroblog for the release of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth by answering this prompt: ‘What saved your faith?’”
Embracing the gray saved my faith.
Maybe it all stemmed from the little Baptist church I grew up in, for there existed a certain amount of certitude that came from the simple act of believing. Doubting was not a part of our vocabulary, nor was questioning the directives of Pastor Jack or Mama or Dada – but instead, we stuck our arms out in front of us, like miniature mummies, playing a valiant game of Follow the Leader. Because how could the leader ever lead us astray?
Perhaps it came from Oldest Child Syndrome, from clinging mercilessly to Black and White, to Right and Wrong, to Good and Bad. You either believed or you didn’t believe. You were either a good student or a bad student. There was no middle line of demarcation, but each one of us stood on one side or the other, sometimes jumping back and forth but never straddling the precarious unknown.
So I clung to this certitude, humming the tune we’d sung over and over again at church camp:
Oh, you can’t get to heaven (oh, you can’t get to heaven)
In a Kleenex box (in a Kleenex box).
Oh, you can’t get to heaven (oh, you can’t get to heaven)
In a Kleenex bo-o-o-o-ox!
Oh, you can’t get to heaven in a Kleenex box, ‘cause God don’t like them little snots.
All my sins are washed away, I’ve been redeemed …by the blood of the Lamb!
And so the verses continued, because let’s face it: I wanted my ticket to heaven, for I believed this the end goal of the Christian faith. I read my picture bible and I sat obediently in Sunday School; I listened, without question, to instruction from my elders, but mostly, I just believed. Because like the song proved, adhering to the Christian faith granted either an “in” or “out” status – and as for me, I wanted in, no questions asked.
The fog-filled gray began to roll in sometime in my early twenties.
In college, disillusionment surrounding church culture met my own unmet needs when I realized the place and the people I’d called home for the previous three years weren’t the right fit anymore. When I left, they called me Jezebel, labeling me with the only villainously biblical female name they could think of; this when I didn’t show up to their place of worship on Saturday night, when I instead spent my evenings waywardly meandering campus smoking cloves.
But in a way, their name-calling provided me room to think and to question, and to mourn the loss of Always-Knowing and Ever-Understanding.
A year or two later, with college behind me, I wore the hat of Teacher by day and Friend by night. Sitting with one of my best friends in a cramped and tiny booth in a vegan restaurant on the west side of town, we finally pushed passed cordialities to the heart of the matter.
“Cara,” he said, his mouth full of Soy Chick’n Nuggets, “I’m gay.” He stared at me, eyes never dropping my perplexed, caught-off-guard gaze.
“No you’re not,” I replied him assuredly, “you can’t be gay.” I may have even laughed at his admission, I’m not sure.
“Um, I am.”
And so our argument went back and forth for the next minute or two: me doubting his sexual orientation while he held firm to the belief, that yes, indeed, he actually was attracted to males. But this doesn’t make sense! I wanted to scream. You love Jesus more than anyone I’ve ever met. How can you be Christian and gay at the same time?
His words blindsided me that evening. Because everything I’d known and believed and professed up until that point didn’t now fit together. In a sense, as the gray fog of faith rolled in just a little bit more that evening, I yearned for certainty and I craved the assuredness I’d unwaveringly trusted in in my youth. But I also began to grab hold of the God who resides in the gray.
Were we to sit down to tea today, bags steeping in metal spoons beside oversized ceramic mugs, I’d probably tell you that most of the time my life feels like there’s more gray than black and white.
But this isn’t, I’d say, a bad thing, not at all. I’d remember with fondness a conversation with my friend Lori, as we walked down Sloat Avenue toward the ocean, slate skies of San Francisco mirroring her words.
“Oh, but gray is good!” she’d exclaim, clutching her latte tighter, smiling her infectious, believe-you-me grin. Because when The Gray emerges, when it overwhelms and frightens and clouds our stories, it also sometimes forces us to huddle under cozy blankets and stare out cloudy windows and just be. We become lost in a tangle of unknowing and we question God, hurling insults at him and raising questions towards him, one after another after another, like the ball pitching machine in the batting cages. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Our hands lob and they sling and they fire fastballs towards the Great One, wondering if this’ll be the last time he’ll lend ear to our third-degree queries.
For somehow, in this insult-throwing, not-knowing, time-of-questioning period of gray, I’ve felt the most certitude.
Because I’ve been able to just been me, even if I don’t have all the answers, even if I don’t seem to understand. And it’s then – in the most eventual of ways – that I come around, because I realize that it’s not actually about me. It’s not even about my faith, and how much I believe or disbelieve, or about how certain I am that I’ll make it past those pearly gates. But it’s simply about him. It’s solely about the God who sees, and right then, right there, he sees me.
And I remember that gray is good.
So, what did this spark in you? If you’re a person of faith, what’s saved you? And if you’re interested in reading or submitting your own story to the discussion, check out my friend Ed’s blog here. Also, you can download a copy of his new book, A Christian Survival Guide, for free TODAY, and on extreme discount this whole week. Check it out!