I left the church in order to listen

For the first twenty or so years of my life as a committed evangelical Christian, I thought of intimacy with God in terms of my closeness to Him. Everything I did, I did for God. My pursuit of God’s direction, approval, confirmation, and love was an almost constant, conscious, and sometimes exhausting job. God was high maintenance but worth it. To have His stamp of approval was synonymous with being assured that my life was on course and fulfillment right around the corner.

I readily admit that my drive to please God was due in part, to a deep, painful craving to belong – to feel there was a niche with my name on it. I don’t mean to suggest that my relationship with God was entirely driven by the need to compensate for a deficit in my life, though there were many – especially when it came to “fitting in” or being part of a group.

I have never “fit in” very well without having to hide huge dimensions of my humor, thought, and way of seeing the world. This hiding began when I was very young – probably by the first grade. I mostly felt ashamed for not fitting in and needing to edit myself in order to belong. I believed, and still do, that God was the first “being” to bear witness to my deepest, unedited longings, the first true confessor who did not make me feel self-conscious and awkward. It’s on the basis of that fact alone that I could never dismiss God intellectually – though the older I get, the harder it becomes to wrap my mind around the “idea” that God is someone I could ever know, the way I know Kellie, my parents, or my best friend.

It was God’s listening, more than His intervention, which made me love Him. In fact, I had a hard time believing that God would or should intervene on my behalf when there were so many dire situations in the world that appeared to be going on without the slightest appearance of God’s being there to save the day.

It’s more accurate to say I resorted to wishing God would intervene but not really expecting Him to. I’ve never felt enormously lucky – like those people who seem to win things at every turn, get the right jobs, connect with the right people, be in the right place at the right time…you know the type I’m talking about. Usually (but with some exceptions), by the time I arrive at the right place, the room is empty. I don’t attribute this to fate, bad Karma, or a lack of effort. I’m a late bloomer – it takes me longer to find my way than it does for most people.

I have an incessant need to understand the “why” of everything – I’m one of those people who have a million questions cued up for those leaders who assert that life is simpler when we walk by faith. This has been a bone of contention for me since day one of becoming a Christian, more with people than with God. Once again, I found God to be a patient listener. I used to say, “I never had a “why” God didn’t take an interest in.”

It has been only in the last decade or so that I realized what an intervention God’s listening has been. At least, I made the connection that God was, by the very act of listening, intervening on my behalf – bridging the gap between my voluminous, uncensored inner world and the Cliff Notes version that I distributed to the real world as the story of “me”.

From this I began to understand that listening, when active and real, is extraordinarily powerful. While I could not easily relate to God the evangelist, God the warrior, God the King, God the judge, I could imagine myself in the company of God the listener. And, over time, my self-consciousness began to wane. When that happened, I was truly born again. I also left the church and set out to love my world by listening to it.

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