Wood Chips of Faith -- Part 2: The Cry for Help / by Michael Nichols

It was such a contradictory experience. I grew up knowing the stories, accepting the stories, but not believing the manI won't say I gained nothing from experience, but I gained a lot. Two of those things are the ability to admit skepticism and the ability to admit when I'm wrong.

Despite the solidarity of teachings as absolute and fundamental as those of Christianity, any sense of that was mixed with a sense of "but really?" When I was young, I understood the difference between rudimentary constructs of "good and bad." I knew I wasn't supposed to lie, steal, say mean things, or be violent towards people. That was the extent of it, and when you're young, it is good to not be burdened with the gravity of, well, the grave. I mean, how is a child supposed to deal with death or rationalise its purpose?

I'm glad, for this reason, that I had the Bible stories so that I would at least grow in the knowledge of bigger things to worry about than how much I hated my bedtime, washing dishes, and being away from a computer. I grew in the understanding that it isn't the end of the world if you can't play with your favorite toy til His kingdom comes, that if other people won't share it's their problem and not yours, that people's meanness isn't always your fault, that the soul is deeper than flesh and bone, and that the purpose of life is not to satisfy your every whim.

I didn't realise all these things at once, but over time, bit by bit, these truths began to set in. I can't say that seeing the collision of Christianity with agnosticism ruined my childhood, but it definitely acted as a barrier between me and learning to see the world through my own eyes. I didn't really deal with issues of faith much, but when I did, it wasn't really pretty. You know the traditional pre-invitational question at the end of the traditional church service: "If you were to die today, do you know where you would spend eternity?" I didn't know. For a long time, I didn't know.

Several times, I responded to invitations fully intending to walk away knowing, but it was never that simple. Maybe it's just me, but I've never been one to accept a set formula for doing things because people have experienced different things in different ways and must work through them on their own terms, not necessarily on the premise that if you walk away, you will never know. That, readers, is a concept I like to emotional-to-spiritual leverage, and even though it's great to offer answers and a helping hand to work through things, it doesn't always work for everyone because everyone is not always ready, and I am a prime example, so pay attention.

I don't fully blame everything in my life on agnostics, or the fact that one of my parents is agnostic, or anything like that, so don't misunderstand me when I say that growing up in that environment wasn't the best thing for me. The two worldviews conflict on a fundamental level. The Gospel of Jesus says that you can definitely know who God is and have a personal relationship because He is the very definition of love, which is a verb used to describe interaction in a relationship in which two or more parties value the other. Agnosticism (at large -- I do not generalise this) says that you don't know, and it sometimes says that you can't know. This one simple difference can create cracks in a family smaller than visible and larger than life. What one holds as a standard, the other may not, and that can create conflict miniscule to monumental. It can even change the dynamic of the relationship itself. One may treat the relationship one way, whereas the other treats it differently. What I really mean is that they treat each other differently.

Ultimately, though, what does that do to the kid? Well, it leaves his mind split, trying to figure out which part is right and which part is wrong... and when you have a split mind, that means that you're left with your heart, what you feel, and that is not always a good thing because that means that you are building yourself from the ground up. I had been to counsellors since I was 8-9 years old, off and on, and none of them helped me deal with what I experienced due to the behavioral schism at home, nor did they help me deal with any other part of my life. I already didn't trust anyone, so why should I go to a place to which people I didn't trust sent me?

It was all extremely confusing, and I'm still working through many trust issue. Thanks to an awesome few close friends, I can say that the sense of solidarity, which I mentioned at the beginning, has become more and more real daily, and the more I choose to trust, the more readily I do trust.

One great clump of those friends is my church family, the ConneXion. I've been to numerous churches in numerous denominations, but I've not found the same depth of friendship, capacity for understanding, and willingness to work with me as I have here. Even the people I've met through the ConneXion have been fantastic in the same ways. The great thing about them is that they don't try to make me into something I'm not. It's not that they don't have beliefs or require some level of respect. Everyone has beliefs, and everyone requires some level of respect. I'm not saying this place is somehow perfect or above any other church; I'm just saying that I saw a difference in the way they treat me, and that makes all the difference in me.

I came to them during a time in my life when I was trying to get away from it all. I was still dealing with emotional fallout from my first breakup, and I had just moved in with my grandparents because life at home was becoming too negatively charged for me to handle in the immature state I was in. Like I said last time, my faith hadn't yet grown past my doubts, and I was crying out for someone to save me. This extended family I had found, though, gave me so much to believe in -- themselves to begin with, but that wasn't their goal ultimately, nor was it their job to save me. They had so much love because of the one who is love, and in showing me the love they had, I began to see how much love He has, and that was when my doubts started to drop like Jericho's walls.

NEXT -- PART 3: THE CORINTHIANS