Monday, November 12, 2012

Running From a Pursuing God

"I fled Him down the nights and down the days 

I fled Him down the arches of the years 

I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways 

Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears 

I hid from him…."
“The Hound of Heaven”
Francis Thompson

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Romans 1:21 KJV

            I now reflect and wonder: Why did my parents allow me to devote my life to perfecting athletic skills only to abandon the most critical issue – the cultivation of my faith and spiritual life?
            Answer: They obviously didn’t think it was critical. For years my father and I argued about Christianity and faith, and he made it clear that he found organized religion a waste of time. Late one night while I sat alone on the living room couch watching a televised Billy Graham Crusade, my father entered to inspect what I eagerly watched. His eyebrows shot up in surprise, he shook his head in that, “Boy, you can’t be serious, and I’m about to burst out laughing at you,” kind of way and returned to bed. I was crushed because I felt – I knew – that my father thought I wasted my time.
            At the age of eleven, a nun at the Catholic girls school I attended opened my heart and eyes to the fact that I – everyone – is a sinner in need of a Savior, and that Savior is Jesus Christ. Accepting that, I suddenly possessed a burning desire to know Him, share Him with others and pray often. I opened my Bible, but reading it alone – minus proper discipleship – became a monumental effort I soon abandoned. Because I am a Protestant who didn’t convert to Catholicism, the meager discipling I’d been receiving from the nuns soon evaporated. I was on my own.
            My friends recoiled from my two-by-four-over-the-head evangelism, and I became alienated and isolated. They already considered me a bona fide square who spent too much time in a gym walking on a four-inch piece of wood, and they readily, and often, openly expressed their beliefs that I was a geek. Only now I was a geek with a heavy dose of pious pretense. I eagerly desired to share the source of my joy, and I didn’t hesitate to beat them over the head with their shortcomings. They made it clear they didn’t need, or want my prayers and often ridiculed me ruthlessly. Years later, one of these friends, who also happened to attend the same college as I, sat in my dormitory room, reminiscing about how much of a freak they all thought I used to be.
            No support from my parents, no support from school, no support from friends, no support from a church family. Consequently, my conviction soon sputtered and withered.
            Being an eleven-year-old geek is difficult to handle; it was easier to keep quiet or go along with the crowd than be alienated from everyone. I groped and floundered, even though I continued to pray for strength and survival, eager to hang onto the tiny, planted seed. Without mentoring or discipleship, I lost much of what I gained, the fate of my soul lay discarded as I continued to primarily devote after-school hours to homework, perfecting athletic skills, and competition. My spiritual life settled into a stagnant holding pattern.  
            During my junior year in high school, while living in California for a year in order to compete on a nationally recognized gymnastics team, my born-again uncle encouraged my faith in Christ, spoke often of God’s mercy, grace and love, and the power of His word. I’d call him for spiritual guidance and once met him at his office in a moment’s notice to talk and pray. He encouraged me to read the Bible, which I once again hungered for. The hibernating seed was once again watered and nourished.
            Eventually, instead of attending the early afternoon practice, I preferred to spend time reading through the pages of my contemporary Good News Bible he gave me. The flame was rekindled, but this time I didn’t make the mistake of trying to share my faith with my classmates or teammates – except for one girl my age who joined our team late in the competitive season. She made it clear – in subtle, loving, nonjudgmental ways – that she was a follower of Jesus Christ. I was drawn to her demeanor, her quiet sense of security, hope and joy. One night we sat talking and praying in my car after an intense practice session. She amazed me when she confessed how little value she placed in her medals and put them in a box in her closet rather than on display. Aside from my shear love of the sport, and addiction to it, accolades and awards were the reason I competed. I was trained to do so. Hungering for Christian friendships, I spent more time with my high school chemistry lab partner, Maggie.*
            Maggie was a Pentecostal Christian who tried to guide me into a more grounded faith. One night she took me to one of Chuck Smith’s Southern California tent meetings, where she appeared eager to see me traverse the aisle to make a public commitment in front of the cheering, hyped-up crowd. I remained nervous about public confessions of faith. Since I’d already done that years earlier – and received ridicule for it – I didn’t think it necessary to walk an aisle to do it again. How would another decision change my relationship with the Lord? Besides, if I did go up, everyone would think I hadn’t known the Lord before my arrival. And I couldn’t have that.
            Despite a longing for a deeper faith, my pride remained resistant to making drastic life changes. Because my early church years gave me the knowledge Jesus was the resurrected Son of God, the world’s Savior, I didn’t feel a need to do anything further with my faith, although I knew in my heart that something was missing. In retrospect, I probably feared what a deeper commitment meant, that I might really become weird, a marked outcast. I bore the scars of ridicule and inherited the stiff-necked tendencies of my ancestors, which I was perfecting. I continued to pray, read the Bible sporadically and “search.” Singing old, classic hymns of praise to God also worked as a cathartic for me; they served as a thread to my spiritual past. Yet, without the consistency and guidance I needed, I floundered and traversed highs and lows in my faith – and life.
            Through it all, it remained impossible to flee the annoying, persistent awareness that God – the hound of heaven – always peered over my shoulder, approving or disapproving my choices. He seemed persistently present, hovering close enough to gently whisper into my conscience His opinion of my actions or words. I knew when my decisions were risky, contrary to His will, plain old-fashioned good judgment, or good character, but I was growing up in an era where morality was vociferously questioned. As I aged, I deliberately, arrogantly, rebelliously ignored that voice more frequently and walked farther and farther from His merciful, protective arms.
            Eventually, it became easy to outright reject His gentle, loving touch of caution.

~  ~  ~
Next week: I continue my self-destruction on a liberal college campus in the late 70’s, and God gets my attention in a miraculous way.

Thanks for joining me!



*name changed to protect privacy