Those for whom He is Real


Velveteen Rabbit Stencil

Image by England via Flickr

When I was in junior high, my best friend was a guy named Josh, who was the most emotional, honest, real guy I’ve ever known. In the midst of inescapable junior high pretense, he was the guy who taught me that it’s important to be a real person even when everyone around you is fake. He once wrote the following quote from The Velveteen Rabbit on a piece of paper and slid it through the holes of my locker: “Once you are real, you can never become unreal again.”

That quote is one of those small comforts I carried with me through the trials of high school and college, something I wrote into my personal mission statement, and an inextricable part of who I am today. It’s also a quote that’s been at the forefront of my heart since bible study last night.

I’ve been a part of a lot of Bible studies. I’ve led them and attended. I’ve loved and loathed them. I’ve learned in them and been frustrated to learn very little. Last night’s Bible study, however, was one of my favorites.

Have you ever talked about God with someone for whom God is real?

To me, it seems that most Christians believe in a God who isn’t real to them. They’ve read the bible. They know the debates and have thought a lot about which stance they take on the issues. Can you lose your salvation? How can God be good if there’s evil in the world? How old is the world? Is the Holy Spirit a person? Is baptism necessary for salvation? …

Answering those questions is important, but it doesn’t take a Christian to answer them correctly. It doesn’t take a Christian to serve in church every Sunday, and it doesn’t take a Christian to call herself a Christian. Therefore, what I’m trying to write about is intangible – it’s that thing that separates the fakers from those for whom God is real. I know about the fakers because I was one of them; I was doing all of the above for 3 years before God became real to me.

At Bible study last night, I was struck by the realization that I was surrounded by women for whom He is real.

You know, Titus 2 has never seemed to work out in my life. It’s frustrated the living heck out of me because churches and pastors are constantly pointing me to verses 3-5: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored,” (emphasis mine).

Pastors usually point out those verses for one of two reasons: they want me to find an older woman to teach and encourage me, or they want me to find a younger woman to teach and encourage. Of course there are always “younger” women for each of us to encourage – the struggle is finding the older woman. For most of my life, it’s felt like I’m in a room full of women who can answer the questions, but for whom God is not real. At 26, I’ve been the “spiritually mature” one who was to teach and encourage those younger in the faith, and I’ve tried my darnedest to be faithful to that command. I just wish my life was a little more like being in the middle of an encouragement sandwich. We should all be in the middle of encouragement sandwiches; unfortunately, it seems like that’s rarely the case.

Which is why last night was so good.

The women at my church are mostly my age; there are a few who are older and a few who are younger, but, for the most part, we’re pretty close in years and life stage. The difference I’m feeling, then, between past church communities and this one, isn’t a numerical indicator or even life experience. The difference is that I’m surrounded by women for whom God is real, and those kind of women are capable, available and willing to be Titus 2 for each other.

Last night, we talked about the differences in our lives from when we were alienated from God and now that we are reconciled by Christ’s death. We tried to answer the question: How do you personally experience “… the riches of the glory of Christ in you?” (Colossians 1:27) We talked about salvation, and how it’s not the point of Christianity because Christ is the point.

I thanked God last night for putting me into a group for whom He is real, and I thanked Him for making me into a real rabbit even though it made more sense to burn me up in the fire.

My church feels like exactly what I wanted and needed, but didn’t know to ask for. I’m always afraid to prematurely count my eggs, but maybe God will keep me here for awhile and maybe He’ll work on our little church plant to present to Himself, “holy and blameless and beyond reproach…”

Dare I settle into the Holy Cross community? I’ll let you know after I get a chance to evaluate their softball skillz 🙂

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7 thoughts on “Those for whom He is Real

  1. Great post! Encouragement sandwiches! Yes!!! Love that. And, love God for continuing to encourage us through each other. Thankful for the group of real Jesus-lovers God has put you in. All praises to Him!
    Lord, we beg to know you more…that you would become our reality, our Everything, and that you would be what we share with others!

  2. Is God real to me?

    What does “real” mean? Do things that don’t belong to “reality” exist? Is reality limited to what’s objective, or to what we know? What about those things that other people know that we don’t? Can it impact our faith in God?

    What I mean is, is it actually possible to define and distinguish between believers (and even non-believers)? Who owns the criteria that draw the line? Who’s in who else’s heart?

    I’ve never read the (entirety of the) Bible, let alone studied it. I was brought up in a fiercely atheist, anticlerical household. How would I have been drawn to God if He wasn’t real? For me, God is. That, which is, is God.

    I don’t like the term “faker”. It sounds too negative, especially when you say you had to go through this phase during three years before God became real to you. Could God have become real to you if you hadn’t been a “faker” first? It’s possible that as someone for whom “Christianity” primarily refers to Catholicism, I have this deeper attachment to rituals and actions, but I would also claim Zen Buddhism as a source of inspiration.

    According to D. T. Suzuki, Zen puts an emphasis on method over mysticism, meaning that higher levels of awareness are achieved through concrete practice rather than meditation. You won’t find answers by thinking hard about it, only by living the life. Doesn’t the sense of duty, and that of right and wrong, come to us while we do what we must (or maybe what we mustn’t)? I loved such koans as Suzuki relates, in which, upon the student asking the master some question about spiritual knowledge (for instance: what is Buddha?), the master says something like: “Have you washed your bowl?” And the student gets his answer. Washing his bowl.

    Washing one’s bowl is real. As God is real. But maybe that’s actually what you meant, defining “fakers” as people who can talk the right talk about God, and people for whom He is real as those who experience Him in the reality of everyday life.

    • Asia, you bring up some really important points, and of course I didn’t cover this completely at all. My point wasn’t to set forth criteria or to judge hearts; it was to describe the joy I’m finding in a new community and the admiration I have for this group of women.

      The term faker might be the wrong one – I’ve just seen how church culture can be something in which faking is all-too-common. I’m not saying that all people who serve are fakers or that people shouldn’t serve in every way they can. Both of those thoughts are absurd. I’m not even making a statement about what fakers do or how to identify them. I think my point is to present the joy of being in a culture where the norm is a reverence for a God who is real. Action should be the result when God is real to us, so action is included in that culture, but it isn’t the point of the culture… the point is the God who is real. Sometimes we use action to convince others that He is real to us when He isn’t. God commands us to help the widows and orphans, which can be accomplished without believing God is real. It’s still good to help, but when I think of what person should have in her encouragement sandwich, it isn’t necessarily the person who helps the most people… it’s a person for whom God is real.

      Now… how do I know there’s a difference between the women in my new Bible study and the “fakers”? I can’t know for sure. I’m writing about something intangible, unmeasurable, and mysterious… but I’m also writing about family. God tells us that we’re adopted as children in His family when He chooses us, so those for whom God is real are my brothers and sisters. Of course some of the people I’ve been SURE knew God have shocked the hell out of me by abandoning their faith completely, but that intangible, unmeasurable and mysterious thing still exists, and finding it in the person in front of you is a delight.

      I really like the last thing you wrote about people talking the right talk vs. people who experience Him in the reality of everyday life. That totally fits with what I’m thinking.

      • Thanks for your reply! I understand better where you were coming from… Sorry for sounding a little pushy, by the way (it was more directed at myself than at you; I think these issues trigger a lot of questions in me).

        In the brief period when I used to attend church mass, I developed a deep appreciation for this sort of collective, cultural ritual. But in relation with what you said, I now understand that because I was coming new to this rite, on my own, looking for something, then I was likely to receive it. It can be different for people who grew up in the religion and go to church simply because they are used to, or because they know they “must”. On the outside, it looks the same, but the intention and the heart you bring with you there make all the difference, I guess.

  3. Mmm, my spirit within me groans both with joy at your experience, and with sorrow for the truth that you talked about. So many don’t know Him for real. In fact, I’ve been wading through those treacherous waters lately- the enemy attempting to pull me in nearly every minute. But this morning.. oh this morning! God met with me, and I met with Him. It was so good and I got some great freedom!!! I would love to hear more about how He’s real to you. Miss you, friend!

  4. Asia Morela, I love your honest questions and your thoughts and insight. I just wanted to respond to your question: “How would I have been drawn to God if He wasn’t real?” I believe that God is pursuing us whether we think He is real or not. He made the whole world and everything in it, so all of creation speaks of Him, reveals Him…IS Him (as you said.) He cannot be boxed in to our perceptions of Him (including Christians!) and is not limited by our belief (or unbelief) in Him. He even tells Moses in the book of Exodus that His name is “I AM WHO I AM” which basically means I exist, I AM.
    (Hope I am not out of line to respond to this, Katie. Pls tell me if I’m overstepping.)

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