I’m Afraid of the Holy Spirit

In the religious tradition I grew up in, the Holy Spirit was by far the least talked about member of the Trinity.  When he was referenced, it was in ways like, “Let the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts and actions today,” or “Listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit.” And let’s be real–my life has been steeped in the Bible and Jesus and prayer and all that, but I still don’t truly understand what any of those phrases about the Holy Spirit are actually supposed to mean and how they’re supposed to change the way I live. As a concept, I understand that the Holy Spirit should be as much a part of my life as God the Father and Jesus are because of the complicated three-in-oneness of the Trinity, but on a life level, I do not understand it.

fire

Photo Credit: Dominik Lange

For most of my life, I was fine with mostly ignoring the Holy Spirit. As I’ve learned more about the different streams of Christianity though, I’ve discovered just how much many Christians decidedly do not ignore the Holy Spirit, and this is where things get complicated. I don’t think my way, of ignoring the Holy Spirit, is a good or healthy way of not understanding him. The way some Christians interact with the Holy Spirit is so dramatically different than I grew up with though that I don’t quite know what to do with it.

When people talk about speaking in tongues, it’s like I don’t have a category for where to process it, the same way I don’t know what to do with faith healers making people stand up out of their wheelchairs and ridding people’s bodies of cancer. I believe some people who speak in tongues and heal people truly love Jesus and are performing those acts in genuine, God-fearing ways, but I also believe that some people abuse and warp those seemingly good gifts. Even less extreme examples, such as people saying they made a certain decision because they heard the Holy Spirit talking to them, are outside of my own personal experience and make me pause. What does “heard the Holy Spirit” actually sound or feel like? And how do they tell the difference between the Spirit and their own thoughts?

It’s not that I don’t believe the Holy Spirit can and does work in these ways–I do. But if the Holy Spirit hasn’t worked in those ways in my life, does it mean I’m doing something wrong? Admittedly I think I am missing something about the Holy Spirit, in the way I live out my faith and also possibly in the way I believe in and think about the Holy Spirit, but I also wonder if the way I’ll experience him will just be different than those.

Perhaps the logical thing to do would be to set out on a religious quest to learn all I can about the Holy Spirit, with the hope that learning would lead to experience. There’s value there, and I am making steps in that direction–but it’s with trepidation. I’ve grown rather comfortable not really understanding the Holy Spirit, and I’m a little afraid at what I might discover, because I don’t think I’ll end up in the same comfortable place I’ve been in. Change is scary, and I suspect the Holy Spirit may have work to do in my life that I don’t want to admit to. When I pray, I’d rather avoid leaving time for silence to listen to the Spirit, because who knows what I might hear? It’s so much easier to ignore uncomfortable parts of our faith than to face them head on.

My time for ignoring the Holy Spirit needs to be up, though. It never should have existed to the extent that it has, and I need to learn a better way to understand all three persons of God. I just don’t know what it’s going to look like.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What has helped in your understanding of the Holy Spirit?

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A Change of Faith

Some people are thrown into Strange Spaces of faith because of a major crisis, perhaps an illness or a death, or maybe some large question that has barged into their life and refuses to go away. These, I understand, can absolutely see why they send people into a tailspin of doubt and anger and questioning.

I have no excuse for my entry into a strange faith space, no major tragedy or question begging to be answered before I can move on to somewhere new.

Whatever the reason though, I’m beginning to think it’s needed. Socrates is credited with saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I wonder too if the unexamined faith is not worth having.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ella's Dad, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Ella’s Dad, Creative Commons

It feels as though I have been taking my faith and examining it from every angle, holding it up to see each side and nuance. Not so that I can ultimately set it down and walk away, but so that I can come to know and embrace it more fully.

There are big questions to ask, of why I hold this faith and what it means for how I order my everyday life, how I approach the world and all the complexities that come with simply being human. There are questions of how I read the Bible, what place I give it in my life, what Christian community means and what it looks like on a very practical level. How do I make decisions, big or small? How do I treat people, and is it reflective of what I believe about the love of Christ? How do I answer the big questions of why we exist and what the purpose of life is?

So many people have attempted to answer these questions and will continue to do so, and I can’t help thinking that no one has or ever will get all of these faith matters completely right. Which is a jarring thought, given what I had subconsciously believed for much of my faith life. Because what if there is no one perfectly correct way to follow Jesus?

I’m becoming more okay with that thought, what it looks like for other people’s lives as well as my own. There are core pieces I haven’t given up, nor do I think I’ll ever. But even those must be revisited, reexamined, if only to reaffirm where I stand. So much though, more than I would once have ever thought, I’m learning to hold loosely. Different really can be okay.

A reshaping of faith is not an entirely enjoyable process. It can be uncomfortable, convicting, and confusing.  Examining often comes with reshaping, discovering pieces may not fit at all anymore or may fit in a different way. Yet, despite my issues with prayer and the Bible, my questions of the practicalities of how to follow Jesus (and what does that phrase even really mean?), I have never seriously considered completely walking away from my faith.

For all the confusion it sometimes causes me, there is something to this Christian story, something to this God and this Jesus, that keep pulling me back. To grace, to mercy, to forgiveness, to a love so big I will never understand even a fraction of it.

There is no other story I would rather wrestle with.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

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?”

Tell Me Your Story

For some time now, I’ve been wondering where God is. Objectively speaking, I know, but like I said about prayer–I believe God is there, but it hasn’t really felt like he is.

At Bible study recently, several women shared how God has been at work in their lives and in the lives of people around them. And I sat there thinking how glad I was. That God is at work in visible ways even if it’s not obvious in my own life right now, that these women are noticing where God is, and that they were willing to share their stories with us.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Pauline Mak, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Pauline Mak, Creative Commons

And this is why we need people, why we need community, why we need Church–so that others can show us faith when we have misplaced our own.

We need to tell these stories to remind ourselves and each other of the ways God shows up, even in the darkest of moments. We can’t always see those moments when we’re in the messy middle of one of our own stories, but maybe someone else can share the light they have seen. No two people will ever encounter the exact same circumstances, but they may have commonalities. There is power in the words “Me too.”

Of course, there are no guarantees that our own stories will get the same light that someone else’s did. But we may get glimmers, or light of a different kind entirely. Or maybe, for a very long time at all, no light at all. And that is when we so, so need people who will hold onto the hope when our hands cannot, and who will tell us their stories, with all of their wild goodness and pain and beauty.

The world needs your story. I need your story.

Stories are what carry us through and remind us of things beyond our own circumstances. They point us back to the God who is, the God who sees us even when we do not see him. Stories matter.

Will you tell me yours?

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

My Real Problem with Prayer

Faith is hard. Anyone who dares tell you otherwise is, quite frankly, a liar.

From feeling like God is being silent to having (mostly) stopped reading my Bible, I’ve been in one of the dry seasons. “Difficult” or “challenging” seems too extreme, as though there are certain obstacles I’ve been facing. Those would make it make more sense—if there was some sort of identifiable catalyst for this season—but I haven’t found it. This season just is.

Admittedly, my response has not been what it’s “supposed” to be. Reading the Bible and praying are the steps most Christians would recommend for times of feeling like you’re in a spiritual desert, and those are the two things I have, to some extent or another, set aside for a time.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Grey World, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Grey World, Creative Commons

I think my real problem with prayer is that I’ve stopped feeling like it works.

Not that I’ve entirely stopped believing it works, but that I’ve stopped feeling like it works.

For someone like me, who interprets life heavily based on feelings, this has left me looking at prayer a little side-eyed. Somewhat wary, unsure of it.

In my head, I know this not what I’m supposed to base my prayer or any other part of my spiritual life on. Somewhat inherent in the word “faith” is the idea of keeping after it, whether or not the feelings are there.

This kind of faith is not one I have come to know well yet.

I’d be willing to guess that prayer is one of the more difficult parts of Christianity for many people. If it doesn’t feel like it works, it gets hard to keep believing that it actually does work. And when the answer to “Please bring the right significant other into my life” or “Please heal them” or “Please fix this brokenness” keeps being no, the belief can start to flicker.

Mine has. Right now, the belief in prayer is there, but dimmer than it has been at other points in my life.

I don’t know what the path looks like to get back to the place of both believing and feeling like prayer works.

Or perhaps, just belief will be the new normal. And maybe I’ll learn to be okay with that instead.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you handle times when it feels like prayer doesn’t work?

When Prayer Feels Pointless (From the Midweek Encounter Blog)

Every other week, I write a post for my church‘s Midweek Encounter blog reflecting on Sunday’s message. Our message series has been on prayer, which has had led me to have the not-entirely-uncommon (for me, anyway) feeling that my pastor is, in fact, and annoyingly, talking directly to me. Which has also helped validate my suspicion that I am not the only one who struggles with prayer.

 

When Prayer Feels Pointless

As someone who grew up in Christianity-saturated community, I’ve been told all of the “correct” answers for when we feel like God isn’t listening to our prayers.

“His ways aren’t like ours.”

“He answers prayer, just not always in the timeline we’d like him to.”

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” (Okay, that one might have come from The Sound of Music, but I’m sure someone has said it at some point too.)

At least for me, prayer is one of the most difficult parts of following Jesus. I’d be willing to guess that unanswered prayers have been a catalyst for more than a few people to walk away from faith entirely. For those of us who have ever prayed, even if only a handful of times, at some point we’ve probably all wondered what the point is. We’ve probably wondered if God is actually paying attention, or if our words just fall to the floor, empty and meaningless. Maybe we’ve prayed the same thing for weeks, months, or years, and though we’ve been told that God answers prayers, even if it’s sometimes with a “No,” it seems that he has completely overlooked ours.

Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.

 

Giving God a Piece of My Mind

Oh, God, where are you now?

It feels almost wrong for me to be the one asking that question. On the list of true tragedies, I’ve suffered none of the big ones. Yet, not being able to see you kind of feels like one, in a way.

So I’m writing, because good relationships have good communication, and it’s probably past time for me to tell you how I feel.

Photo Credit: Flickr User  kevin dooley, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User kevin dooley, Creative Commons

This silence has gone on for long enough, don’t you think?

I thought maybe you’d show up on the mission trip; I saw a flicker of you, but not a flame. Maybe it was my own skepticism getting in the way.

It’s not that I don’t believe in you or that I don’t think you’re entitled to do what you want (you are God, after all), but everything feels rather messy. God, there’s so much Broken here. The fighting and the uncertainty and the illnesses and the doubting and the death.

There’s an ache here, in the world, but also in me.

They tell me you cry when we cry, that you’re near to the brokenhearted, and I believe that about you—it’s one of the things bringing me back, time and time again—but it really doesn’t always feel that way. Because even though I know the textbook answers of why you don’t always step in to fix the Broken, they don’t always make sense in the here, the now, in the dust and the ugly.

 

It’s not just the big questions that bother me, either.

 

For one so big, you have mastered the silence.

 

I know this is part of faith, the times where you are so near it is breathtaking and the times when you so distant it is maddening. I am not the first, or the last, to experience and to question this. To question you.

And I am questioning you. Not whether you exist, because I am quite certain, even in the silence, you hold me so tightly and tenderly that I can’t ever truly walk away. But I do question your ways.

 

I don’t think you’ll strike me down for writing this; nor do I think that, because I’m being honest, putting this all out there, airing my grievances, you will “reward” me by showing up in some way I’ve been hoping you would for quite some time. You are no genie, waiting to be summoned from a lamp.

Because if you were, you would have showed up by now. I’ve tried everything but rubbing lamps to get you to appear.

It frustrates me that you show up so readily for other people, who seem to know you and feel your leading in ways I just don’t. Maybe it’s a faith thing, and I don’t have enough, or maybe it’s because we’re different people and simply bound to experience you in different ways, but I can’t help but wonder why you can’t give me a dose of what they get.

 

You’re kind of a shifty fellow who’s hard to figure out, because you don’t work the way I want you to work.

 

And maybe that is what the silence is about—teaching me that you work here, in the silence, as well as in the noise. You might be standing right off the edge of the stage, waiting, quietly, patiently, to make your appearance, because the time hasn’t come yet.

But I’m hoping it’ll come soon.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

 

p.s. What do you do when God seems silent?

Why I Eat Instead of Pray

Today I went out to lunch with some coworkers. I was having a frustrating morning, so I ordered my feelings: a hamburger and waffle fries. And they were delicious.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Shreveport-Bossier, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User Shreveport-Bossier, Creative Commons

Exactly what I wanted, really.

They didn’t totally fix my frustration, but it was something. And they sure tasted good.

This is not an uncommon habit for me. When I’m frustrated or lonely or angry, my reaction is usually, “How can I eat this feeling away?” And a salad or piece of fruit is not my answer.

The thought actually occurred to me today that, oh hey, I could pray about this. So I did—a quick prayer to God that I would have a better attitude.

 

And I felt nothing.

No sense of calm, no quiet reassurance that it would all be okay, no instantaneous better outlook on the day.

 

My hamburger, however, was there for me. It had weight and substance, something tangible I could touch and smell and taste.

I think it stems from a recurring struggle I have with the intangibility of much of Christianity. As I’ve written before, “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.”

 

Prayers are not food. They don’t take up space on my plate and in my stomach, like a hamburger. They don’t smell good and taste delicious as I chew them, like a brownie. They don’t tantalize my taste buds and fill my mug, like coffee.

I can’t see, touch, or taste a prayer. But I can see, touch, and taste food.

 

So I eat instead of pray, because I want an immediate fix for my frustration, loneliness, or anger, and food is there.

Prayer is always there too, in that it’s always an option, but it doesn’t feel like an option I want to take when God seemingly ignores my little, easy prayers for “quick fixes” like a better attitude. In the grand scheme of things, couldn’t that only result in good? So why not answer it?

 

There’s the possibility that I wasn’t really looking for the answer–I’ll fully admit that.

 

Or, perhaps, it’s not so much a matter of a singular prayer that will fix my frustration, but a lifestyle of continual prayer. God is relational, and he wants a relationship with me–so if that’s really my aim, one-off prayers for attitude readjustments are not really the point.

Relationship is the point.

 

Hamburgers and chocolate and coffee are not all bad, but they are a bad substitute for God.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Do you ever eat instead of pray?

(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?

When I Can’t Pray That

The words spewed out of my mouth before I fully realized what I was saying.

I don’t think I can pray that.”

Objectively speaking, I could. I could force my lips to form the words, my pen to write the sentences, my brain to think the thoughts to form a prayer.

But I don’t know that I could truly mean it. Do prayers still count if you don’t mean the words you’re saying? If you pray for something because you know that’s what you’re supposed to, but don’t know that you really want it to be true?

Jesus said to love our enemies. If we truly care about those we love, we pray for them. And so, to love my enemies, it follows suit that I should pray for them. “Enemies” might be strong terminology; anyone who has hurt me or those I love, or who I happen to not like very much that day, or any number of rather invalid reasons…I may not feel like I am able to pray for them.

Praying isn’t about feeling like I want to pray though. It’s a practice, an exercise, a ritual to be done when I feel it and when I don’t–perhaps especially when I don’t.

There is no other way to do something than to simply begin. So when I can’t pray that, I must start somewhere. Praying to be able to pray. It feels foolish, to not pray for that specific something, but to pray to be able to pray for it.

But it is, I imagine, very difficult to dislike someone for whom you are praying good–and meaning it. So by praying to be able to pray, perhaps I will find not only that I am able to mean the words, but to care for the person I was not able to before.

I do not expect this to happen in a day, a week, or maybe even a few months.

This, like the rest of me, is a work in progress.

Praying to be able to pray.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you ever had a prayer you felt you couldn’t pray?