When I was ten, my parents took me to an Anabaptist museum called Menno-Hof. My family had visited a Mennonite church several times and Mom and Dad wanted to learn more about these Anabaptist types (they were a little disappointed to learn they weren’t Anti-Baptists, as they’d originally thought.)
As you walk through Menno-Hof, you enter different rooms that immerse you in Anabaptist history. There’s a replica of a ship that Anabaptists sailed on as they escaped persecution in Europe, a plain meeting house with wooden benches you can sit on,a tornado room that simulates the wind and noise of a tornado, and then shows Mennonite Disaster Service crews helping to rebuild.
There’s also a dungeon. You enter a dark room and see torture devices hanging on the stone walls. Someone’s singing a hymn. You peak down into a pit in the floor and see a man crouched down at the bottom. It’s just a mannequin, but you can imagine it’s a real person and it hits 10-year-old you that people really have been tortured and really have died for their beliefs.
In another room, you read the story of Dirk Willems. He was captured and imprisoned, but managed to escape across an ice covered lake. When his jailer ran after him, his pursuer fell through the ice. Dirk could have left him to drown, but he didn’t. He turned back and saved the man that had chased him. His reward was being recaptured and burned alive.
This trip to Menno-Hof was one of my earliest lessons in Christianity. One of my earliest lessons on faith.
I always liked to think I’d be brave enough to take a stand for my faith, though I knew it wasn’t likely I’d ever have to worry about being dragged out of my house and burned at the stake.
For eight years, life was quiet and I was surrounded by people who believed the same way I did. There wasn’t much risk that I’d be thrown into a dungeon or anything.
And then all hell broke loose.
Someone came over to the house to talk to my dad once when I was about 16. He wasn’t very comfortable speaking with a pastor, and my dad told him to just ignore the pastor thing and speak plain. “I feel like I’m God’s shit rod,” he blurted out at our kitchen table, which both shocked me and earned him some massive respect points.
A couple of years later, I knew just how he felt.
I know how the story’s supposed to go.
I’m supposed to say when things were at their worst, I fell to my knees and cried and prayed. I’m supposed to say I felt a wave of peace wash over me and I just knew that God had my back and that everything was going to be okay.
Except I totally didn’t get any heavenly warm fuzzies to help me cope. I actually coped by mooching as much weed off my friends as I could, which doesn’t make such a nice story.
I’m supposed to say those hardships strengthened my faith. That I felt closer to God. That it gave me perspective or I had some sort of epiphany. But none of that happened. I didn’t feel closer to God. I felt ignored by God.
I had another negative experience with Christians right after I moved away from my stalker. God didn’t intervene that time either.
God didn’t seem to be doing much for me at all. After everything that happened, I wasn’t sure what I believed about God.
I emailed a long-time friend and confessed I wasn’t sure if I was a Christian anymore. He emailed back to say he knew for sure God existed. Basically, he’d seen some supernatural shit go down that he couldn’t explain.
That didn’t sound like proof to me.
I quit attending church and I quit bothering with all the rules I’d tried to live by. I felt like I’d wasted a good chunk of my life trying to please a god that might not even exist. And if he did exist, did he even care what I did? He didn’t seem to care about what my stalker did.
I was never really an atheist, but I suppose I flirted with agnosticism. I always believed there was something more than us. I just wasn’t so sure that “something more” deserved my attention.
When it came right down to it, I was no Dirk Willems. My faith wasn’t strong enough to light my path through the dark times. I was walking through the pitch black, during a hurricane, with a freakin’ birthday candle. That’s what my faith was like.
I felt guilty for not having more faith. I felt like I’d failed the first little test of my faith (you can tell how guilty I felt because I thought of that whole stalker-who-wants-me-dead thing as a “little” test.)
The thing is, faith is a spiritual gift.
To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.1 Corinthians 12:8-10
“To one there is given… to another…”
We don’t all have the same gifts. Dirk Willems was gifted with the kind of faith necessary for a martyr. But, I’m not Dirk Willems. I’m just me and I’ve got a wobbly, fragile faith.
I used to really envy people who had an unshakable faith. It took a long time, but I’ve become gentler with myself and I’ve started to appreciate the gifts I do have. I might be running a faith deficit, but I can Christian mime the pants off any audience. (Miming is totally a spiritual gift.)
I’ve come back to Christianity, but I wouldn’t say that I have a lot of faith these days. I’m not sure about much of anything. I do have hope, though, and maybe that’s what faith really is.
I wrote this post because I don’t want to misrepresent myself. I’ve heard a lot of testimonies where the speaker claims God swooped in and fixed everything or, if he didn’t, that the person was totally okay with it and their faith in God was strengthened.
That’s not what happened with me at all. That’s not what happens with a lot of people, but we don’t like to admit it, do we?
Bad shit happened to me and my faith took some major hits. I went into full on meltdown mode, y’all. It wasn’t pretty. It took a long time for me to work through that (and I’m still working through some of it.)
Maybe you’ve gone through some bad shit too. Maybe you thought you had all the answers and now you’ve realized you don’t. Maybe your whole worldview has been turned upside down.
It’s okay if you feel like your faith has been shaken. It’s normal and sometimes it’s even healthy. It was hard, but in the end, that shaking loosened up a lot of junk beliefs I’d been carrying around. When your faith is shaken up, you wind up losing some of the toxic bits.
And maybe you’ll learn you’re super good at miming.