My precious friend-
Recently, you told me you consider yourself an agnostic. If I understand the word agnostic, then you aren’t sure you believe in God, but you haven’t completely decided you don’t believe either.
First, let me say, I get it. I really do. Matters of faith and spirit are not measurable in the traditional sense of the word. There is mystery, nuance, and wonder involved in our perception or knowing about the divine and you are a person of intelligence and curiosity accustomed to dealing in facts. You are smart and you don’t just accept other people’s opinions as truth. I admire your independence and confidence in your ability to discern truth for yourself.
In addition, some of the people who identify as “religious” in the media are scary; crazed supporters of a megalomaniac candidate or vehement purveyors of hate and discrimination. Why would anyone want to join a club with members who seem to embody the polar opposite of what their faith teaches? How can any truth be found there?
Even though I understand why you would doubt, I still experienced a deep sense of sadness when I heard you say you weren’t sure you believe in God. Although the semantics of faith and identification matter little to me, having a relationship and ongoing conversation with God is the greatest joy of my life and, because I love you, this joy is my greatest wish and desire for you. I can’t say what is true for you or for anyone else, but I know what is true for me. This letter is my attempt to share my experience and perception of truth with you.
From the time I was a little girl, talking to God was part of how I dealt with the world. My mom taught me to pray, so I did. I too have regularly been frustrated with and hurt by the church, but have continued to talk to God even when I stayed away from church. I have battled, questioned, read, studied and doubted in a million different ways, but continued praying because I believed someone heard me. The more I prayed, the more I experienced God.
My first memory of praying was when my parents temporarily separated when I was 8. Although simple, child-like prayers initially, the tangible sense of God’s presence got me through the scariness of my dad moving out. Again when my parents split for good when I was 15, when my beloved boyfriend broke up with me, when my dad’s drinking got worse….through all the valleys, prayer felt as real and as tangible and as true as any relationship in my life.
As I got older, I began to sense my faith was somewhat selfish and too much about my personal comfort. Although I knew God wanted to continue to be my comforter and friend, I began to sense there was so much more. He wanted me to grow into the best version of myself I could be and growth required sacrifice and intentionality. If I was created in the image of the Divine, connection to the Divine was the path to my better self. I think this yearning for meaning, purpose and self-knowledge has been documented by writers since the beginning of time and my belief is this was placed within us by Something or Someone larger than ourselves. Despite differences in theology and dogma, it is difficult to deny we humans seem to have a yearning for God.
When I was younger, I chased after knowledge. Being intelligent seemed the most important prize and I took great pride in being smart. I read every book and soaked up the words of the world like a sponge. As I have gotten older, and I have begun to understand how much I can’t explain about life through intellect alone, I have begun to more often chase after goodness instead. Being kind and humble is now of much greater value to me. I want to be kind and I want to surround myself with others who are kind. Unfortunately, I find I am not always kind or humble on my own. Left to my own devices, I am more often selfish. For me, the path to being a grown up and to gaining an understanding of my place in the world has been through the work of what I would call the holy spirit in my life.
During the course of our conversation the other day, you mentioned several times your perception that I saw the world differently than you…and even perhaps differently from others. Your perception is I think the best of people and that tendency somehow makes me different. Although I couldn’t verbalize it the other day, I think you are talking about the tangible “fruit” of walking closely with God for a number of years. Simply put, you become more like those with whom you hang out. For many, many years, I have been hanging out with Jesus. What you see in me is a direct result of my lifelong faith, not a personality characteristic. Unconditional love and acceptance is from God, not humans. If your perception of me is true, it is Jesus you see.
My world view is intimately connected to my understanding of God and how He connects us to one another. My deepest relationships are with those with whom I pray. I love how Jesus talks about the Kingdom in the Gospels, an ideal world where we live in connection to our Maker and to one another, like the metaphor of the Garden of Eden. Once we decided as humans that we didn’t need God, once we decided we could be our own god instead, we determined we were all on our own and didn’t need each other anymore either. In seeking and finding God, we find our way back to each other and find our way Home. The Christian story as told through biblical stories is a beautiful tale of redemption and return. Within the pages of my bible, I have found truth, strength and purpose. The words of Jesus in particular astound me with their call to radical, sacrificial love. I find them stunningly powerful and transformational. Through those words, the world make sense for me.
Here is the thing, my dear friend…
One of us is wrong.
Either there is a God who cares intimately about us, woos us and desires to lead us to our best self and to lives of meaning, purpose and co-creation with Him.
Or it is all a lie and I am a giant fool.
It can’t be both.
I have bet my whole life on my perception and belief that goodness, truth and a life of meaning is found by clinging to the Divine. I’ve put all my eggs in one basket, all my money on this one hand. My choices about the kind of person I choose to be are steeped deeply in my understanding of God. I believe God is love and therefore my greatest calling is to love. Period. It informs everything I do, everything I am and the people who I allow to influence me. It is why I spend time at the homeless shelter and even why I refuse to entirely give up on the church, even though it is ailing and makes me absolutely crazy sometimes. I can’t complain about the church from the outside. I can however be the change from the inside. I may be the only Jesus follower someone knows, so I better be clear about who and why I serve.
If I’m wrong, if there is no God or if God is disinterested or ambivalent, then so be it. My life has been based on a tremendous lie.
But what if it is true? What if I am right?
If I am right, living a life connected to God is a radical game-changer. If I am right, seeking God is a joyous, sacrificial, transformational ticket to an adventure like none other. If I am right, chasing after Jesus is a brave, bold choice and only for those who are willing to be instruments of change.
And if I am right, it is the life I wish for you.
Don’t give up on God, my friend. If I’m right, God will never give up on you.
And I will never quit praying for you to know this truth for yourself.
Welcome, Live Free Thursday friends! I am linking up today with my #livefreeThursday writer friends from Susie Eller’s blog community. This week’s prompt is “let the adventure begin.” Read more stories of adventure HERE.
Rosilyn Dudley says
Kelly. So beautifully written and an encouragement to those like me who wander, question and battle doubt but somehow always return home to my Lord. Rosilyn
Kelly Johnson says
I’m so glad you found this meaningful, Rosilyn! I have always been a questioner as well, but know God has always drawn me closer to Him when I continued to seek. Thanks for visiting, Rosilyn. Miss you and love you, dear friend!
Kelsey Townsend-Remmelts says
Awesome Kelly. Well done. One thing I have discussed with non believers is this-what if I am wrong? The hours of praying for others, feeding others, nurturing others, thinking of others, and listening to others, was it a waste of my time? I did not do it for myself, it was a kind gesture, and it brought someone hope. Hope is Jesus. The other point is there is evidence of evil in our world, why should there not be the opposite? Thanks for sharing your beautiful soul. Keep on writing sista!
Kelly Johnson says
Such good points, Kelsey. Jesus brings me hope too and, if I can bring hope to others along the way, it is time well spent, even if we both end up being wrong. Thanks, as always, for your encouragement. You are a light, sister!