Being a Christian is hard.
This post isn’t about the hard, social aspects of being a Christian; that’s for another time.
This is more vulnerable.
I’ve been in a spiritual rut recently, very prolonged and very deep. Even walking through cathedrals in Italy and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, I didn’t feel all that close to God. I think the closest I felt was probably walking through St. Francis’ Basilica in Assisi, and that may have been due to the incredibly intact frescoes and the tomb of St. Francis. I felt the holy atmosphere, but it didn’t reach my soul.
One of my last days in Italy, I was sitting by myself in the piazza, passing time between classes. I watched a woman push a stroller around the piazza, chasing pigeons for the child in the stroller. She would pause every now and then, bend down, and laugh with the child. She wasn’t aware of how ridiculous she made her self look, but I knew she was doing it because of the reaction of her child. She loved her child that much.
Watching her made me think of my dad, and how he would act and perform in vacation Bible school skits when my brothers and I were growing up. I know he enjoyed it in and of itself, but I think he enjoyed even more because he got to see our thrilled reactions. We loved watching Dad do handstands and walk on his hands down the church aisle or participate in cheesy skits.
And then I wondered if Dad would have still done those things as passionately as he had, if my brothers and I weren’t in the audience, laughing and smiling and cheering him on.
From there, I came face to face with the sobering realization that being a Christian is hard because we can’t see God’s reactions. We don’t truly know how He responds to what we do. Based on the Bible, we can theorize, hypothesize, inference, but as we aren’t ourselves gods, we can’t truly know.
Second Corinthians 5:7 reads “For we walk by faith and not by sight”. I always understood this verse to mean exactly what it says – we live through faith and not sight. But I don’t think I felt the magnitude of it until watching the woman in the piazza.
Walking by faith alone is hard. It becomes like psychological training, gearing your brain towards believing in the unseen, relying on a god we can’t observe, and blindly trusting that He’s proud of us.
It’s hard not being able to see God’s reactions. It’s hard not getting confirmation for our behaviors. One of the most basic psychological concepts is the automatic feedback loop. The premise is that we continue to do behavior for which we receive a desirable or pleasing response. But it’s hard to continue a behavior when the response can’t be observed.
And, because so much of a relationship with God is subjective, it becomes that much more difficult to know what is of God and what is of man, further muddling this feedback loop.
Being a Christian is hard, because does anyone truly talk about how difficult it is to walk by faith? I’m not talking about a statement or verse in passing in a sermon. I’m talking about a truly heart-felt conversation, recognition, and admission. I’m talking about one of those conversations that bring you to the edges of your faith and makes you take a step back, whispering “This is harder than I thought.”.
And I think, right now, I’m having such a difficult time trusting in a god I can’t see, because I’ve been deeply hurt by His plans in the past, and I don’t want to be hurt again. Sometimes, I feel safer trusting fate and my own control, than offering up my life to a god who I can’t see with plans I don’t know.
If I’m being very honest with myself, being a Christian is hard because the last few times I’ve trusted God with my life, He’s told me “no” to some things I really wanted, and made me walk away from relationships I really loved. I’m very happy with my life right now. I’m in a relationship with a guy who I want to become a permanent part of my life and family, and I’m very excited for the future I’ve crafted before me. I’m afraid to trust God with my life because I don’t want a repeat. It terrifies me.
Being a Christian is hard, because even though I know that God may have good things in store, perhaps better than anything I can fathom, it’s hard letting God have control of things I already think are incredible. But maybe that’s the burn of taking control of my own life for so long. Maybe that’s the tension of being a human believing in a spiritual deity. Maybe that’s the fear of relinquishing control.
That moment in the piazza has served as a catalyst for me, I think. I’m slowly working my way back. It’s becoming more and more apparent to me that I don’t want to only to go to God when things are going well, or when I need something. If that is truly when I go to Him, then I’m not a Christian. I’m beginning to have that really honest conversation with myself, that if my identity as a Christian and my relationship with the Lord and Jesus Christ is as important as I claim it to be, then I need to let God have control. And, as terrifying as it is to admit, I need to come to terms with the fact that if I’m not interested in living a hard spiritual life, then I need to walk away, because a surface level, superficial Christian, isn’t a Christian at all.
I need to feel-it-in-my-soul kind of understand that being a Christian is hard, and that spiritual journeys have deserts and valleys. I’m at a crossroads right now; I have to choose between my childhood church or a new church. My boyfriend likes to ask me which is more important to me, growth or comfort, and I’m stuck between them. I often feel that my childhood church isn’t beneficial or impactful to me like it once was, but at the same time, I love the people there, the memories in the halls, and the ministries. However, at the church that my boyfriend has been attending, I feel the intensity of worship and the contagious desire to follow Christ. Being a Christian is hard because I don’t want to make this decision. I don’t want to leave the people, and kids, I love, and I don’t want to be the new person in a new church. But at the same time, being a Christian should be an individual thing, shouldn’t it? We each face the consequences and reap the benefits of our personal relationships with Jesus Christ. And sometimes, that’s hard to wrestle with, especially when it requires serious change.