I’m Jealous of Your Faith

Of all the things in the world to be jealous of (cars, relationships, houses, jobs, vacations, etc.), being jealous of another person’s spiritual life is probably one of the odder ones. As I read a book recently though, I kept noticing the different ways she described aspects of her relationship with God. Going throughout her day, God “whispered to her,” or “stirred her spirit,” or “gently prodded her.” There was an active, ongoing, reciprocal nature to it, and her awareness of God seemed so different than my own.

Having been raised in a tradition that tends to be wary of claims of God speaking in audible or flashy ways, I had a measure of hesitation, but the more I read of the book, I began to feel jealous. “Why don’t I experience God that way?” I thought. Which is a perfect example of how completely and utterly I miss the point at times. Reading about other people’s faith experiences shouldn’t make me compare or be jealous, it should help me appreciate the similarities of our journeys while also learning from the differences.

Often when we talk about faith, we talk in very straightforward, cut and dried terms about the practices our spiritual life should include. Reading the Bible and praying are typically first and foremost, then being in community and maybe devotions or “quiet time,” as it’s often called. All of these can be incredibly important, helpful practices for building and growing a life of faith. What we can easily miss though is that within each of these categories are many, many different ways of actually living them.

Reading a print Bible in the morning while drinking coffee may be some people’s way of soaking in those truths, while other people may benefit more from listening to a passage from a Bible app. Praying the Psalms can be a helpful way to structure a prayer, while some people may feel restricted by that form and like it doesn’t allow them to express everything they want to. Singing worship songs may usher one person into the presence of God like nothing else ever does, while the person next to them may get distracted by the environment around them and not be able to focus on what the words actually mean.

With all the different ways we choose to interact with God, maybe it’s to be expected that he uses different ways to interact with us.

While I can still learn from my jealousy of the author’s relationship with God, because it points to a closeness with him I seem to be lacking, I don’t need to be jealous of the exact way the author has closeness with God. There may be pieces of her practices that are a fit for my own life and relationship with God, but there are likely many that are not–and it doesn’t mean either one of us is “doing faith wrong.” In college, where I studied Bible and theology, I often underlined and highlighted passages in my academic textbooks that stuck out to me. Those were God’s way of interacting with me, while other people may struggle to appreciate the richness of those same words.

When we compare our own spiritual life to other people’s, we’re missing the beauty and importance of both of them. The way other people relate to God should be celebrated, not envied. And by learning about and appreciating different ways of relating to God, we may uncover things that can benefit us as well.

Til next time…

~Brianna

P.s. What practices have been helpful to you in your spiritual life?

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How Harry Potter Helps Me Understand the Bible

*Note: This post contains mild spoilers for the Harry Potter series.

One Saturday night, I watched the last Harry Potter movie. On Sunday morning, I went to church. These two activities seemingly don’t have much in common, but I was surprised by the way my viewing of Harry Potter informed the way I heard the message in church that day.

King Herod is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, though we never get a lot of background information on him. Other sources have recorded his often-brutal ways, such as killing his wife and two of his sons, and ordering a large group of people to be killed when he died so there would be what he deemed an appropriate level of mourning (his son did not carry out this wish, however). A ruler like him may have instilled fear and worry in people, never knowing what he might do next–or who might find themselves in trouble next. All of this backstory doesn’t come through in the few verses I read about him in the Bible though, so it’s easy for me to skim over it. Sure, King Herod wasn’t great, and then I’m on to the next piece of the story.

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In the Harry Potter series though, there are seven books (or eight movies) detailing the life of Harry and the back-and-forth struggle in the magical world between Harry and the other “good people” and evil Lord Voldemort and his followers. As the series goes on, the worry and fear over Voldemort’s power and sinister ways grow and grow, culminating in book seven, when all hope seems like it may be lost. Society in the magical world is in chaos, with many people on the run for fear of being caught as part of the small remaining group who opposes Voldemort and his tactics.

Comparing King Herod to Voldemort is by no means perfect, but there are certainly similarities. They were both very powerful, had morally questionable methods of getting what they wanted, and squashed those who tried to stand against them. The main difference, of course, is that one is a historical figure who we can verify actually lived in a real time and place, and one is a fictional character who lives in the world of pages and screens.

But their similarities are why stories, even made up ones, matter. At their best, they help us better understand our actual, day-to-day lives in new ways, and give us a deeper grasp of other stories we encounter, be they in the Bible, from a friend, or in a movie. When I experience a story in a long format, getting to know the various characters and their actions, I can develop a fuller understanding of who they are, why they do what they do, and what their world is really like.

When I read the Bible, there are many instances where entire years go by in the matter of a few words or verses. It’s hard for me to fully comprehend what actually took place in that time frame and to put myself in the place of the people who experienced it, because I don’t have very much information. Other stories give me the words and ideas to better understand the fear or joy or despair Bible characters may have felt, even if the text doesn’t directly tell me what it was like for them. As I listened to my pastor talk about what life may have been like for people living under King Herod’s reign, I imagined the same kinds of feelings characters may have felt at the end of the Harry Potter series when Voldemort was in control, and it gave me a new and different view of the story.

While I don’t read and study stories like Harry Potter the same way I read and study the Bible, there’s a beautiful value in being able to take the kind of learning I get from one and letting it inform how I learn from another.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What are the stories that have helped you understand life differently?

Reading the Bible Doesn’t Work

This Lent, I’ve been doing a reading plan through Bible Gateway that will take me through all of the New Testament by Easter. So far I’ve been quite good about it—there have been a couple days when I missed all or some of the chapters, but I’ve always gone back and caught up.

I’m over halfway through the plan now, and yet, I don’t really feel like it’s doing anything.

.

.

Sure, sometimes when I read it I’m not fully engaged and am reading the words merely to say I’ve read them, but there are times when I really am paying close attention. In an effort to keep me from being able to skim so easily, I’m reading The Message, instead of my usual NIV or ESV. There have been moments when certain verses or phrases stick out to me a bit, but certainly no lightning bolts. Not that I necessarily expected one, but it sure would be nice.

I’ve tried not reading the Bible at all for a while, I’ve tried eating something I enjoy while I read it as a reminder of its goodness, and now I’m trying a fairly regimented approach to reading it.

And none of it seems to be “working.” Whatever “working” exactly means when it’s applied to Bible reading.

If it’s supposed to break God’s seeming silence, it’s certainly not working the way I’d like it to.

I can’t pinpoint when I wandered into this weird space of not really knowing what’s going on with God. It’s been some time now though, and while I’ve seen glimpses of him here and there, mostly I have not.

God is there—I’m as certain of it as I think I can be (which is to say, not 100%, but enough to continue believing and living like it)—but it kind of seems like he’s not.

In the midst of all of it, I’m continuing to look for the lessons here. And I’m coming to realize it’s not in my right to DEMAND more of God. It’s what I want to do, and oh how I wish he’d give in to my foot-stomping wails for him to appear, but that is not how he operates. Or at least, it’s not how he has to.

He doesn’t have to do anything.

I’ve realized I’m still not tempted to walk away from this faith thing—that’s never really been a serious consideration in my mind, even here, in this strange space. I think this is me learning that inherent in the idea of “faith” is the idea keeping after it, whether or not the feelings are there.  

So where does that leave me?

If the ways I’ve seen and felt God at work in my life turn out to be all I ever get, for the rest of my breathing days, is it enough?

I can’t say with absolutely certainty, because life may be long and messy and painful, but I think it might be.

If reading the Bible never starts feeling like it’s “working” again, if my problems with prayer persist, if God never shows up in a pillar of fire, is it enough?

I hope so.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What do you do when reading the Bible doesn’t seem to be “working?”

I Stopped Reading My Bible

For the most part, right now, I have stopped reading my Bible.

It is a petty, passive aggressive way to handle what feels like God’s silence, and it is not the response I’d exactly recommend.

It is, however, my present truth.

Photo Credit: Flickr User net_efekt, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User net_efekt, Creative Commons

 

This seems like one of the things I’m not supposed to say out loud, not supposed to admit to people, much less put out there on the Internet.

But I can’t help thinking I must not be the only one.

 

I can’t be the only one who, while still believing the words, has stopped reading them for a time.

Not because of some tragedy that’s left you staggering and doubting, but because a gentle weariness has set in, and it feels too much to keep repeating the same thing over and over when it seems that nothing changes.

Because even when you believe in the words, their meaning can go missing. Not lost in a broad sense, but misplaced, at least by you, at least for a time.

 

Eventually I’ll read those pages again, as I always seem to, but I am done beating myself up for setting them aside for a time. While giving up on reading my Bible entirely might be cause for alarm, I am not ready to admit that, by failing to regularly read my Bible for a stretch of time, I have fallen short in any way greater than I do each day as it is.

 

I’ll make my way back, just maybe not today.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you ever stopped reading the Bible?

I Don’t Like Reading The Bible

What if I don’t feel like reading the Bible?

What if it feels stale and boring?

What if I’ve read the words before and didn’t get anything from them then?

What if I’m too frustrated with God to really listen anyway?

What if I just don’t want to?

Photo Credit: Flickr User geishaboy500, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User geishaboy500, Creative Commons

Sometimes I forget that the BIble is meant to be enjoyed. 

Lately I’ve started to do something I had, for whatever reason, not really thought of before. I enjoy food; at times more than I should, even. So occasionally I’ve started to read the Bible while enjoying some food that I love–chocolate or cake or some other sort of dessert. (I have a massive sweet tooth. Sugar. Yum.)

In his book Blue Like JazzDonald Miller writes:

“We would eat chocolates and smoke cigarettes and read the Bible, which is the only way to do it, if you ask me. Don, the Bible is so good with chocolate. I always thought the Bible was more of a salad thing, you know, but it isn’t. It is a chocolate thing.” (page 47)

For a long time now, I’ve treated the Bible like it’s just a salad thing–or something to not really be enjoyed at all. Studied perhaps, or used for guidance or comfort, read out of obligation because I’m scared of what will happen if I don’t–but not enjoyed.

Eating while reading the Bible is by no means a perfect solution. There’s a lot in there about bodies being temples and how it is good to take care of them, which is something I don’t do very well at all, so eating a hunk of chocolate or cake every day while I read the Bible would simply not a responsible choice for me. But occasionally, right now, it serves as a reminder of what the Bible really is.

Good.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you enjoy the Bible?

(In)tangible Christianity

Christianity is filled with phrases like, “Give it to God,” “Don’t fear, “Trust Him,” “Don’t envy,” and countless other “do’s” and “don’ts.” For the most part, they’re noble, well-meaning suggestions, but difficult to wrap my mind around. I find myself questioning what they look like in 3D, in the world I live in of going to work, eating supper, spending time with friends, blogging, or reading.

What does “Give it to God” look like when it has bones and muscle and skin, all the parts that put the words into true action that shapes how I live my life? I can’t physically remove my uncertainties and doubts and place them in a helium balloon, watching them float away into the sky.

And when something ugly has begun, when I am fearing and envying and any other number of things, how do I begin to get rid of them? It’s not like a vegetable garden, where I can get down on my hands and knees and rip the weeds out. When something dark and sinister takes root in my heart, I can’t buy a shovel and dig it out.

The correct Christian answers here are to read the Bible and pray. Those are absolutely necessary for any sort of spiritual growth; it’s not that I don’t believe in the point of them. I do. But sometimes they don’t feel like enough. Reading some Bible chapters and saying a prayer often don’t feel tangible in the face of daily realities, with real people and real lives and real messes.

Maybe it would be nice if I could hold a prayer in my hand, a touchable, 3D thing. Perhaps it would shimmer a bit, a white wisp, and as I spoke the words off it would float, and I would be able to see my prayers for just a moment.

Instead, I suppose it’s an element of faith to believe that these intangible practices will manifest themselves in tangible ways; that my prayers and Bible reading will be given bones and muscle and skin in the way I work, eat, talk, blog, or read, and the weeds will be unearthed and replaced with something good.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Are there parts of Christianity you struggle with because they don’t seem tangible enough?

Found in Translation

There are nearly 100 translations of the Bible–in English alone. Maybe more, as it was hard to find a complete list. So it’s easy to see why people put up a fuss about how they were done, who wrote them, which text they used to translate them from or is it just a paraphrase, what was the translator’s purpose of creating yet another translation…and on. It seems like the Bible might be more credible if we could decide on just one English translation.

But sometimes I appreciate them. I’ve read Galatians 6:4-5 a slew of times in my years, but it has never stuck so deeply before.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.  –Galatians 6:4-5, The Message (emphasis mine)

Sinking myself into what is before me is something I need to hear right now. Not dwelling on aspects of other’s lives I may desire–I am not equipped or called to handle the work in front of others, whatever that work may be. It’s not that I abandon others or cease to help them, but an acceptance that my main responsibility is me.

The work God has entrusted to me.

The troubles God has entrusted to me.

The life God has entrusted to me.

 

And Galatians 6:4-5 has never meant so much to me before.

So I understand the translation battles. But today,  I am thankful for a new perspective.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Do you find having multiple Bible translations to be helpful or not?

Comfort in Mystery

In my life lately, it’s been difficult for me to get used to not knowing what’s going on with…well, pretty much any part of my life. Part-time jobs, living with my parents, my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces living with us for a few months, instability at work, and more–the unknown and I are no strangers to each other.

Yet there is unknown I find appealing, mystery I can appreciate the beauty of. Sure, I’ve taken some classes on the Bible, go to church,  read some books,  attend Bible study, talk to friends about God and Christianity and what it looks like to try to live like Jesus…but there will always be things I don’t know about God.

Studying can teach us a lot about God and his word, his triune nature, the historical and cultural context of the Bible, the attributes of God, and so much more. I find these fascinating, and love to read what others have written and listen to what others think of such things.

But despite all the books that have been written, sermons that have been preached, and arguments have taken place over God and his word, there is much my brain will never be able to fully comprehend, nor will anyone else’s. I don’t think we’re supposed to be able to fully understand everything about God. We are to seek to know him more each day, but no matter how long our lives may extend, there are aspects of God and Christianity that are simply incomprehensible to the human mind.

And I kind of love it.

Perhaps the two most incomprehensible, beautiful, mysterious aspects of God are the Trinity and the incarnation.

Trinity: God, in three persons, yet one. I’ve read about it, studied it, and there are those who have devoted their lives to studying it. Still, it’s a diving mystery. Perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Incarnation: God in human form; fully human, fully God, living and breathing and walking on earth.

The Message puts John 1:14 this way: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

Incomprehensible, beautiful, mysterious.

For today, I find comfort in this mystery, that God is not a concept I can wrap my brain around. I’d be leery of a god I felt I could fully understand; if I could understand it, what would stop me from thinking I could do a better job myself? Though I often act this way in regards to God, at my core I know it to be untrue–there is no piece of my life that would be better if I were completely in control of it.

The opposite is true: every piece of my life is better when I’m not trying to be in control of it.

So today, though not always, I am in awe and appreciation of the mystery of God, of the unknown that will never be fully known, and the beauty therein.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Do you find it frustrating or comforting that there are things about God we’ll never understand?