Making my faith my own
I love that phrase, my heart is warmed - and it is my prayer for all those little ones.
Because I remember that almost immediately after feeling God's presence in the stars, I felt the need to understand what had happened to me. Now I know it was my need to make my faith my own.
Scrolling through my life the way I am doing to uncover all the defining moments that led up to writing my last book, I know I need to outline the defining moments of my spiritual growth. At this point I have to admit that this isn't easy. I don't remember my spiritual journey in detail.
It wasn't because there weren't defining moments, but rather because they weren't all that dramatic. I think it was more because my spiritual path was composed more of baby steps than dramatic leaps. Remember I was immersed in a very spiritual, church-oriented family and community. We went to church every Sunday, morning and evening, attended prayer meetings on Wednesdays and Saturday morning German school which was also Bible-based. My father began every morning with a devotional scripture reading and lengthy prayer. We also talked about God at the table in informal discussions. I had lots of learning opportunities.
But I do remember one significant effort on my part to make my faith my own. It must have been around grade 5 or 6, when I remember reading the book of Romans and making copious notes. I having a strong memory of sitting in my bed writing them. I can feel the paper, the blankets around me -- and the ballpoint pen in my hand.
I have no idea why I chose that book. Even my mother, who discovered my notes one day, wondered why my obsession with Romans. "That's a real difficult book to read!" she said.
I remember thinking in response to my mother: "It's not that difficult. Just read it. It is all obvious."
Actually now when I look at it, I couldn't have picked a better book for me. I just reread it, trying to imagine myself as a very young girl.I didn't have to read far to understand the importance of the book to me at that time. In the first chapter, verse 19 it says, "For the truth about God is known to them instinctively: God has put this knowledge in their hearts. Since earliest times when men and women have seen the earth, and sky and all that God has made, they have known of his existence and great eternal power. " It is a Bible story that begins with my own spiritual birth story. No wonder I loved it -- and needed to read it back then to make sense of it all for myself.
Even now that verse grabbed me anew and I couldn't stop reading.
It is also the most in-depth, systematic, historical, and theological book in the New Testament. Here, then, are three big reasons you ought to give this great letter careful study.
Martin Luther called Romans “the chief part of the New Testament, and the very purest gospel.”
Another recognized church father, John Chrysostom, has said "that Romans is unquestionably the fullest, deepest compendium of all sacred foundation truths. It is one of the most clear and important books, rivaled only perhaps by Hebrews. Romans has an epic sweep and a panoramic scope. You don’t just get the gospel in Romans, you get gospel deeps."
The fact that I read it at such a young age -- made notes -- and felt that I understood it, leads me to believe that it was this book that gave me the basis for my faith understanding.
However my continuing emotional, doctrinal and spiritual battles are another story.
I remember three major battles... before the disappearance of Candace.
My first big question came in senior high -- when I started comparing the Old Testament with the New -- and realized the basic contradiction that has troubled man. The God of the Old Testament was a God of war and judgement, the God of the New was sacrificial. I remember thinking -- God you know how to create stars -- but you haven't a clue how to write a book -- if this is your book.
I was actually quite perturbed and remember withdrawing from my relationship with God at that time. It was my first spiritual desert -- which ended during my second year of Bible School. Our instructor in the class of Systematic Theology was Mr. Heidebrecht – a highly esteemed, beautifully humble man. I'm not sure what he said, but he gave some explanation of how the Old Testament and the New Testament were extensions of the same story. The two have two very different purposes -- and are born out of two very different times. Somehow he was able to make sense of that strange collection of disconnected stories and even bring harmony to the overall story. I was so happy, so thrilled. I could just feel my faith taking a huge leap forward -- not only because of the new answer to my question but the sense that God was right there...like the stars. "Here is your answer, Wilma."
I also learned another important lesson. It's okay to have a question -- and deposit it with God -- and then wait patiently for the answer. This lesson was invaluable to me -- years later -- when I waited over 30 years for another important question in my life.
My next spiritual battle came because of my interest in new age books. I have to admit that I love "new age books" which were considered quite heretical during those years. A missionary friend of mine had introduced me to Kahil Gibran when I was in grade 7 and I loved the book. I guess I've always liked those forbidden books.
During the second year of Bible School, I read Edgar Cayce -- considered to be the founder of the New Age Movement. His alleged prophetic abilities fascinated me. But after reading his book, I was astounded that his explanation of reincarnation actually inhabited me. Checking it out against the gospels, it was as if Jesus himself was preaching reincarnation.
I knew that if I believed in reincarnation I could not remain in Bible School. The intimacy of the school demanded integrity. So I was ready to pack my bags but my friends -- hearing about this, alarmed beyond reason -- decided to spend the night in prayer for me. For this we needed to hide away from the floor supervisors in the attic of the dorm. They prayed at one end while I read the Bible at the other end. It was their assignment for me.
Almost trembling with anxiety, I read through the Gospels -- more convinced than ever that Jesus taught reincarnation -- then I moved into the brilliant exposition in the letters of Paul. It was the book of Romans again that finally put it all into perspective. I understood life. Contrary to the beliefs in reincarnation, we aren't living in a dreadful cycle, forced to come back to this staggering planet of earth time and time again, but have been gifted with one intentional life, and with one death that is also a gift that will end this dreadful tension of good and evil.
Over the years, I learned to rely on this method of moving through a spiritual crisis. In the middle of the night, when life was in a dreadful muddle, I would sit and read the Bible -- not even comprehending what I read -- knowing that just sitting there, with the jumble of words before me, would somehow help me. Eventually -- often just as I was about to give up -- I would come across one verse -- one bit of a phrase that would feed my soul and give me the peace to fall asleep again -- and the courage to get up in the morning.
My next big battle came after a life/death experience caught in the middle of nowhere in freezing temperatures. We were going to die of hypothermia. We needed a miracle. We needed God to start the dead snowmobile so that we could get home to the safety of our little cabin. God was supposed to answer my prayers because I had been so good!!! Really good! I mean really, really good. I had not even sworn, smoked behind the barn, or kissed anyone who hadn't proposed to me first -- all those obvious merits.
Now, when facing real danger for the first time, I couldn't believe that God didn't answer my prayer.
But the snowmobile was dead -- and remained dead! We actually had to walk six miles back to our cabin on the frozen lake. I almost lost my toes.
I realize now that I had what I would consider a rather primitive faith -- a self-centered faith, based on the belief that if I sacrifice my first-born, God will be good to me. After reading the book of Job -- which is an excellent book on the suffering of this world -- I could see how insulting and impossible it is to think we can manipulate God. We are just fortunate that God still loves us -- and that he continues to remain involved in this mess we have created.
This is probably one of the biggest faith battles I've had to fight -- and have to continue to fight. Because even though I gained some initial understanding of it back then, I've had to revisit this existential dilemma many, many times. Each life situation seems to take me right back to that fundamental question: "Where is God when bad things happen to good people?"
Or even broader than that: "Where is God when anyone has to suffer?" "What is the purpose of this uncontrolled awful mess?" or... "How can I trust a God that allows this...?"
I'm sure there were many other battles -- growth spurts that I encountered. But these I have just listed are the main ones and those that solidified my faith enough -- so that by the time Candace disappeared I had a sense of God.
I kind of knew the path through....
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” ― C.S. Lewis