Another area of my life where I feel real optimism is my faith. My faith is at a point that, honestly I can say is greater than ever before. Or maybe a better word would be it is healthier than it has ever been. I believe in the Divine. I follow Jesus. I believe there is more to life than what I can observe with my five senses.
Many of you, who have followed my journey for awhile, will be aware that I separated my faith from my religion around fourteen years ago. That process of separation took a few years, but the two came apart officially back in 2005. Never shall they be rejoined. I do not hate religion, for some people it holds meaning and is useful, however it only harmed and hindered me. That is a story for another day, today's story is about hope in the future of my faith.
When Kate and I made the move out to this rural village on the outskirts of Nakuru I made a decision. That decision, which I believe was prompted by God, was to take a three year sabbatical from all things spiritual. I mean all things.
I had already ceased regular Bible study and ritualistic reading. (God asked me to put the Bible down a few years before the sabbatical. It seemed counter intuitive to my faith at the time, but after a few months I understood why He asked me to do that. The Bible had become a god to me. It was an idol. Plus having read and studied it for years I was familiar enough with it and God was saying that I should use my time more wisely.) I stopped reading books on Christianity or any other topic of faith. I attended no religious meetings and had few conversations on spiritual matters. I stopped praying. I took a break from all things spiritual.
Three years stretched into four. When it was time to break my spiritual fast I began to analyse what had happened to me during my four years of no spiritual (or very limited) activity. Not much had changed.
Certainly I had not grown spiritually. i did not feel more in tune with the spiritual side of life. I did not feel closer to God on a personal or intimate level. However I had not gone backwards. I was in the same place as I was when the sabbatical started. No spiritual or relational growth with the Divine had occurred, but I had not digressed either. Emotionally I was alright. I felt good about myself. I was still a good person rescuing orphans, pouring my life into them and the work here in Kenya. There was however one place in my life where massive growth had occurred during the sabbatical; my faith.
How could that be? That is the question that the old Johnny asked. That Johnny who fervently attended a charismatic/Pentecostal flavored church. That Johnny who prayed in tongues multiple hours each day. That Johnny who read the Bible religiously each morning and evening. He reared his head and asked, "How can by not doing the things that are meant to build faith actually end up building faith?"
The answer it turns out was quite simple. Those spiritual practices, at least the ones I was fond of, do not build faith, instead they tend to reinforce religious behavior. Praying in tongues, which by it's very nature is not understandable, cannot build faith. To my ears it was meaningless mumbo jumbo. It served to prove to me, and I thought to God, that I was faithful. Look at me pacing back and forth in the back yard praying in tongues for hours and hours. Look God at how faithful and spiritual I am. Look at me! Those practices were meant to show God how cool I was and how deserving I was of his attention. My religion had taught me that God hated me from the moment of my birth since I was born a sinner. God, I was instructed, could not even stand the sight of me. Naturally then I needed to find a way to show Him how worthy I was of his sacrifice of his only son because I was born a sinner.
That kind of spirituality only built in me layer upon layer of practices. Rituals meant either to please God or to make me more worthy of His love. What happens when you add more and more layers upon layers? The center, the core purpose, of those practices becomes smothered under all those layers and layers. Remember the Pharisees and their building of fences around the law? Eventually you cannot even see that core anymore, only the spiritual practices are visible. I had even begun to mistake some of the layers (practices) as the core. i.e. the Bible.
When I went cold turkey for my break from all things spiritual, I was able to peel back those layers one at a time. It took four years but eventually I arrived back at the core. That faith which bloomed in an eight year old Johnny in a little Assembly of God church in Splendora Texas was still there. Squished under years of religious obligation and sin management, but it was still there. That kernel of faith that is God's gift to all of mankind was uncovered and shown the light of day again.
I realized something right away, that kernel was huge. My faith had grown leaps and bounds during my sabbatical.
My emphasis on my spiritual practices had distracted me from the simple act of believing. Stopping them allowed my faith to once again grow. I believe more now than ever before. I am willing to trust God and take steps that before I would have to have spent months in prayer, Bible study, intercession, and the consulting of gurus known to us as prophets before deciding what to do and therefore missing the moment.
This growth in faith has filled me with optimism. God is with me and I am with Him. I, like the sheep, can hear His voice, and the road it is leading me on is very exciting.
I have returned some spiritual practices to my life. I pray, admittedly in very disorganized fashion, but it is semi regular. I meditate. My meditation is specific to me, and does not resemble any guided meditations I am familiar with. (I will still do a guided one from time to time, especially if recommended by a friend. ) Contemplation is a serious part of my spiritual life. Finally I have returned that spiritual practice of communing with God. Where I attempt to know just a little more of the unknowable. Futile perhaps, but it is a necessary part of my life.
I now keep these things in check and regularly examine them to make sure they are not becoming the thing my life is about.
Believing I have come to understand, really should not be that difficult.