I used to think my spiritual maturity was directly related to the amount of answers I had.
It was junior high when I walked down a green-carpeted center aisle to say “I do” to Jesus. I had invited a lot of my friends that night to the youth night revival at my church, knowing they really needed Jesus. I got ‘im instead.
I’m a learner by nature, and so the Bible quickly became my primary textbook for life. I learned that it was the ultimate handbook, and by golly, I never knew a handbook or textbook that I couldn’t master.
Teen Study Bible. Quest Study Bible. NIV. NLT. Message (okay, so I got into this version a little bit late because THIS WASNT THE BIBLE PEOPLE and DONT YOU KNOW ABOUT EUGENE PETERSON?). I just couldn’t get enough of the Scriptures.
Looking back, I can say that this was good. God met me- oh how He met me!- in those pages. His Holy Spirit formed me and comforted me and taught me. I was hungry for knowledge. I was hungry to be transformed.
I was also hungry to do and know all the right things.
The summer before college I discovered John Piper and all things Calvinism. I soaked up when and why and how we’re saved and learned the ins and outs of how God interacts with humanity. I learned so many answers, and that every question had an answer… we just needed to know the Scriptures and be in tune with the Spirit enough in order to figure it out. It’s funny how we would sometimes talk about the mystery of God, but quickly follow it up with a whole lot of answers.
Then I discovered that I absolutely wasn’t a Calvinist, so I had to learn a whole new set of answers. This was fun because I was learning a ton and seeing God in a brand new light. I had the TRUE answers now ;). I felt freer and more sure of His love for me. But sometimes I secretly looked longingly over my shoulder at my Calvinist friends. They seemed so happy and so sure and so… mature. Sometimes I felt like my lack of faith in TULIP indicated a lack of faith in God because what I was learning was a bit less systematic. The puzzle pieces didn’t work together quite so nicely as before.
Lots of life happened post college. Much of it was really life-giving: I got married. I served on staff at my beloved college campus ministry. I lived in community with other men and women who loved God and loved me and were committed to growing and encouraging and supporting me (and I them) through thick and thin. I traveled to Turkey to share the gospel and also lived in Kenya to learn about how others followed Jesus. I birthed babies. I eventually went to a seminary that opened up a new avenue of Christianity to me- one that not only loved the Scriptures but also ordained women as pastors and believed the Holy Spirit was alive and well and active right this minute. These were good years- a lot of give and take, growing and learning.
As is the human experience, some of life was also soul-wrenching. A miscarriage. Not really understanding how God had designed me and equipped me. Lots of chasing ideas and lots of dead ends. The first year of marriage I thought I was going to be spending the rest of my married life living outside of a military prison. I was disappointed with God at times, disappointed with life, and maybe even disappointed with myself.
I had the answers. I followed the rules. I KNEW the guidebook. So why wasn’t life working out how I thought it should or could or would if God loved me and was completely sovereign over ever detail of my life?
But now I think spiritual maturity is directly related to my trust in God, despite not having the answers.
Through a good spiritual director, some book companions, and a lot of prayer and talking and reflecting, I began to see that living the Kingdom life is not about getting more answers. Following God doesn’t guarantee an easy life. My relationship with God can thrive and bloom even among questions and messiness and contradictions and doubt. Faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin.
Oh don’t get me wrong. I’m still a learner — a type 1 of the Enneagram. I tend to see things black and white and adore things that make sense. I love discussing and really do tend to worship God more freely when I’m engaging my mind.
But my right answers no longer define me or my spiritual maturity. I’m a child of God– nothing can take that away. He is pleased with me, and I can trust Him to be with me through thick and thin, sickness and health. I no longer see Him as someone to be figured out, but as someone to be in relationship with. I can more easily say “I don’t know” and can admit, “Eh, maybe I’m wrong on this! Who knows?!” These days I don’t feel as afraid of having the wrong answer, knowing that God will not love me less.
Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey releases today in the U.S. I really do wish I would have had this book a couple years ago as I was walking through the fear of not having the answers. The fear that I was a fraud or a spiritual infant sometimes overwhelmed me (oh the horror! 1 Corinthians 3:2 was thrown around in my youth and college years to shame those who had questions about the most elemental things of faith like salvation and grace and atonement and the role of women in ministry- totally elemental and simple, right?). I felt alone in a tradition of people who knew all the answers. In this book Sarah Bessey makes for a great travel companion. She’s warm and funny and easy-going, but will also point out things that need to be pointed out because that’s what friends do. My prayer is for all of you who are reading this and wandering– maybe feeling alone or scared or uncertain of things you know good Christians are certain of. I invite you to read this book and ask a few other trusted friends to join you- because this kind of heart work is best done in community.
She’s also hosting a syncroblog on this topic of out-of-sortsness and how our believes or ideas have changed and grown over the years. Head on over to her corner of the internet to join the conversation.