The past few blog posts have been personal. Describing the changes that I’m going through, the new people who have come into my life, etc. With this, I have been making an effort to de-clutter/de-drama/de-stress my life, and in the process, I have begun to do the same with my faith. I suppose this all began when I got into seminary back in the fall, but has come to a head more recently as the days tick down to the time when I have to pack everything up and move down to NJ. My faith has undergone many changes and transformations as I have slowly shed the unnecessary distractions that I thought were strengthening my faith; instead, these things acted as extraneous matter, things that prevented me from focusing on the big picture – the true direction and development of my faith.
One of the ministers at my church gave the most amazing sermon last Sunday about coming back to the tried and true, the proven methods and aspects of faith and Christianity. She used the metaphor of the water bottle, and how like the concept of the water bottle, faith has moved forward and changed constantly, but as followers of the teachings of Jesus, we always find ourselves coming back to the same time-proven methods – aka the glass water bottle as opposed to its metal and Nalgene siblings. This minister knows her stuff – after all, she went to Princeton Theological Seminary! But the thing I loved most about the whole sermon is that she stressed that in faith, and especially in our prayer lives, it is important to come back to the basics, to the things that have worked throughout time, rather than the modernized and complicated ways that often act as a distraction for our intentions. What I love most about this is here I am, sitting in the pews, and all of a sudden, she says precisely what I’ve been needing to hear for the last 6 months practically.
…HUGE AMEN/THANK THE LORD moment right there…
I’ve come to realize that 21st century faith/college faith is so complicated. What is believed is complicated, what is done is complicated, and what they preach at church is complicated. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that – hey, it might work for some people, but after everything that has happened in the last 6 months, I’ve decided that it is definitely not for me. I can’t deal with needing to perform certain rituals and do certain things to be thought of as a “good Christian” or rather simply for fear of being seen as a “bad Christian.” I’ve had enough of teetering the line between good and bad, hugely faithful and not faithful enough. Enough is enough, I have decided. Why can’t I just believe in God the father and the power of His son, Jesus? Does it need to be more complicated than that? Faith and belief isn’t supposed to be about the practices, doing all the right stuff or believing precisely what everyone else does. Ultimately, at least for me, faith is about faith, about believing in what I know and feel, rather than what everyone else knows or feels, or even more/worse, what everyone else expects me to believe and know.
What am I saying? What is the point of this anyway? I guess what I want to get across is that a faith and belief in God and Jesus isn’t supposed to be complicated. It is supposed to be simple and pure, not cluttered. It should be basic, like the glass water bottle. As the minister at my church said so eloquently, all the other water bottles seemed so great, but as time passed, the truth came out that there were problems with both the plastic and metal water bottles. What works best is the glass, which existed and succeeded long before the competition. Fancy faith may seem interesting and exciting, but it without a doubt isn’t sustainable. For a while, the words, phrases, songs and dances are all fun and brighten faith. But in the end, isn’t it true that we always find ourselves crawling back to what we started with, what existed in our lives before we got distracted? Don’t believe me, I’ll give an example.
Before I came to college, I was raised with one style of prayer – praying silently to God. I honestly can’t tell you why I was raised with that particular style, I don’t know theologically why, but it doesn’t matter for the sake of my argument. Or rather, I’ll explain later. But when I came to college, I was exposed to an entirely new and “exciting” form of prayer – PRAYING OUT LOUD! WOAHHHH! This was like speaking a new language. It was weird, hard, strange, scary – all those emotions bundled into one. I was freaked out because it was an outward expression of emotion and faith, which I hadn’t ever been exposed to in my very serious and traditional church. At first, I thought it was amazing, eye opening in fact. It was as though someone opened a previously locked door within my faith journey, and held it open wide for me to walk through to the other side. It was a struggle to get the right words out, to pray out loud without sounding like an idiot. But no matter how stupid I might have sounded on occasion, I was repeatedly reminded that “God could hear my words because I was saying them out loud for all to hear, and it didn’t matter what they sounded like.” Ok, this was great, I’m not going to deny it. But as I became more exposed to this side of faith, to this new genre if you will of prayer, I found myself dissatisfied, uncomfortable even. The worst part about it was that honeymoon phase had worn off and I didn’t feel as though I was connecting to God as much as I had with my old (tried and true) style of prayer. So, over the last few months, I have avoided praying out loud entirely, not because I don’t feel that it is a worthy style of worshiping God, but rather simply because it just doesn’t help me connect to God. It clutters the way that I chat with God; instead of focusing on what I’m saying to God through prayer, the worry over how I am saying it takes over. So, here is the moral of my story. Prayer is about connecting with God, faith is about believing in God. It is imperative that it be at its most basic form, free of clutter and distraction, as then, we will be able to date God, marry God for life, rather than just flirting with God from across the bar. Doing things in their most pure form is far more renewing and rewarding in the end than getting frustrated or over-excited about the complicated side. Pray the way that works best for you – that is the least complicated and free of concerns and strings. Pray in the way that allows you to just sit down and have a cup of metaphorical coffee with God, instead of approaching God as though He is the king of any given country and you only have 5 minutes to get His attention/get an audience with Him. God wants to be friends with you, He wants to come to you at your level, but you need to be focused too. That is where prayer comes in – simple, uncomplicated, clean prayer, without the pressure to do all the right things and say all the right things.
That is faith made simple, prayer made simple. Keep it simple…it is the only thing that we can keep simple in a world that loves to complicate everything that we do. You have the power to keep it clean and simple – DO THAT and everything else will follow in its footsteps.