I didn’t realize other people didn’t believe in God. There was something more real than real about God to me. Special. God was special. I was special. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that he loved me; of course he did, he made me.
I remember talking to God in the back of my Dad’s pickup truck or during class. Wherever I was, whoever was around, I could find a space where it was just me and my friend Jesus. I’d tell him what scared me, what excited me, what I wondered about. I remember thinking I was so lucky to have someone with me all the time. I imagined him in the seat next to me or chilling in the outfield with me or sitting near my bed when I went to sleep to keep Dracula away.
When was the last time I scooted over for Jesus to sit down? When did I stretch my hand out to hold his invisible one for the final grip? When did I stop assuming he was there and begin to wonder?
I wanted to know more about God not unlike a child wants to know more about her parent. Our version of “tell me a story of when you were little” was opening up my cartoon book of bible stories over and over (it started a lot of sentences with “now” and I always found it strange). I soaked up whatever droplets offered at whichever Sunday School I attended that week. As an older kid I read my NIV and stuck passages or cut-out apologetic paragraphs on my binder so kids would ask me about Jesus. I deeply wanted to be a part of a community of people who also loved this God I knew so as a teenager, I joined an ultra-conservative religious organization.
Through all that time, my perspective broadened. Jesus became more internal. I stopped scooting over to make actual, physical space for him. And the more I sat myself down in the front rows of that sanctuary, God became more distant and less interested in my musings. As I took in the teachings of the faithful, so confident about their beliefs and so sure of their authority, God grew more concerned with my righteousness. I grew more afraid that I was not nearly enough for this used-to-be-friend. Perhaps I’d been foolish to believe the God of Creation cared at all that I was afraid of the dark or which boy I thought was cute. Perhaps all this time when I had enjoyed the imagination of a friend leaning in, smiling at my dumb stories, comforting me in my fear, always present at my best and worst as a gentle guide, God had really been rolling his eyes, waiting for me to stop talking, arms crossed, wondering when I was going to get serious and be the better person I was supposed to be. Wondering if he would be able to let me into heaven or not.
I never questioned my salvation before this; I didn’t even know that was a thing. I just knew God and loved him and I knew God knew me and loved me. Hell was cursory. It was on my radar, but I took for granted that I didn’t belong there; I belonged with Jesus, obviously. And there would be a giant table stacked high with donuts which were magic so they didn’t give you stomach aches and a huge grassy yard and lots of rooms…. (I’m realizing this was probably inserted into my subconscious by Audio Adrenaline).
But like Eve in the garden, once the undermining started, the first bite felt mandatory. “Did God really say he was your friend?”
The truth is that somewhere deep inside there was probably always a suspicion. Maybe this is the human condition, maybe it’s just me, but something in me was probably always softly curious whether or not I was safe. And if that’s true, it needed to be dealt with, had to be tested.
In so many ways I have gone on a journey to end up where I began. You can never just keep the simple understanding you came into as a child. Life is complicated. Black and whites are more gray the closer you look and sometimes you find marvelous colors you never saw before. It’s a good thing, but it’s… well, it’s the tree of knowledge isn’t it?
Maybe the Fall isn’t about disobedience, but insecurity. We are born into this gorgeous mess and it is inevitable we explore it, try to figure it out, test the boundaries. The problem is that the moment we do, we give up our simple understanding. We can’t go back to thinking Daddy is a superhero once we see him trip up or that all candy is delicious once we’ve popped a miniature Cookies N Cream Hershey’s bar into our mouths. Reality shatters. And now we have questions.
In so many other ways, you can never end up precisely where you began. There’s this old Buddhist saying about a mountain being a mountain and a river being a river: we accept the reality presented to us because that’s all we can do. Then the mountain is no longer a mountain and the river no longer a river: we wonder, we lean into our suspicions, we ask the questions we can’t unask and nothing seems reliable. Then the mountain is a mountain again and the river is a river again: but different. The path home takes us somewhere utterly familiar and divinely other.
I am not today the little girl in the back of the car with a seat belt buckled for Jesus, but I also am. I have perfectly rational, objective, psychological analyses of my faith and my relationship to God, demystified hypotheses about my thoughts and feelings surrounding the spiritual. At the same time, I experience something more and other when Gabe and I are talking and some point of theology rings truer than true in my spirit, more real than real. In those moments I could very well stretch my hand out next to me and feel the grip of a friend.
I’ll take it even if I do have questions.