If faith were a circus, I'd be in the high-flying act right now, caught in the moment of motion from one trapeze to the other.
Back when I first agreed to join this circus, I thought I had already crossed this turnover point. Other Christians told me, and I believed them, that the world would look at me and know that I was a Christian. It was something palpable, almost as visible in the physical world as in the spiritual. I thought this transformation had coincided with my conversion. Later, I was told it would come through a gradual process called sanctification that would make me steadily more Christlike in tiny steps until the very air around me would smell like heaven.
Like many other things, this belief has proved to be one of many comforting lies and half-truths I told myself as I climbed ever higher toward the trapeze and as the ground moved step by excruciating step away from my feet.
I haven't become any holier, I've just become more wretched. As others around me in church talk of one victory after another, I've developed a sense of my own sin that eclipses what first drove me to Christ. Grace, not sanctification, is what I'm looking for now.
Here at the turning point, my stomach tightens with anticipation and dread, and I no longer can tell up from down. Vertigo has taken my perspective from me, and I'm amazed at how many other half-truths I've dropped along the way. I wonder if I would have had the courage to start the climb without them, and I wonder if I might have made it farther than this by now if they hadn't been weighing me down.
I can see them, dropped on my way past the high wire, or careening through space as I hang here in midair, suspended for an eternal instant between places. Some of them are side doctrines I used to hold onto so fervently, like my discarded belief in the Rapture. Some were once so important that I'm sure the younger me would be appalled at what I've become. The person I am today would have been written off as a backslider or as a pretender to the faith, someone who was never a "real Christian."
I haven't stopped believing these articles of the faith, but I am gaining a more mature understanding of them. God is love, but that does not mean he is merely kind as we understand kindness, or that things will be easy for those who love him back. The Bible is inspired, but that does not mean it is inerrant. Christ is the only way to the Father, but that does not mean the Kingdom of God is confined to the church.
Here at the turning point, I've lost my pride. When I was younger, I insisted on my point of view on virtually everything. Sometimes I only wanted to explain it, and sometimes I wanted to defend it. Often I wanted everyone to agree with me. That need no longer drives me as it once did. My core beliefs remain unshaken, and it no longer bothers me if someone disagrees or thinks I'm an idiot for believing the way I do.
Truth, I have found, is relational and not merely dogmatic. If a person could be changed through mere argument, the world would be a different place, but if the world ever was like that, it has changed. Today, everybody has an argument. Sometimes I'll have the better argument, and if I don't, then I know I can find someone else who does. The same is true for people on the other side of the argument, and nothing is settled. A strong argument is good only when we already agree on the basic underlying principles.
What I'm finding instead is the transforming power of compassion and basic decency. I'm realizing that Matthew left his job collecting taxes to follow Christ because he discovered that Christ just accepted him as he was, apparently without lecturing him about the evils of extortion and greed. Jesus was the sort of guy everyone could feel comfortable around, no matter how they earned their money, used their spare time, or where they came from. Except hypocrites and moralists. He always drove them to an insane fury, even as he welcomed everyone that they disapproved of.
One last thing I've been giving up: control. Throughout much of my life, I've pretended to be the master of my fate. I have been drawn upward, but every rung I have ascended has been by my choice. I was called out into the air, and I chose to obey.
Now I am in midair, hovering, just before the fall. All choice is gone from me, and even if I wanted to go back, I could not. Two options remain: oblivion, or rescue, and neither of them is a choice for me to make. The minute I let go, I yielded my ability to choose to another.
I'm at the turning point, and I can see a pair of hands coming my way, timed perfectly to catch me before I fall any further. Soon they'll lay hold of me, and the rest of this act will be completely beyond my control.
I can't wait.
Copyright © 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.