My God or Yours?
God has always been a part of my life. Growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist faith that is a given, but who he’s been to me has shifted. Until very recently, I haven’t really felt a connection to him as more than a powerful being that, due to my upbringing, I believed was out there.
God is still in my life, just now as a matter of personal choice and relationship as opposed to convenience of growing up religious. And the God in my life now is a different God than the one I grew up with. My God is Love. But he didn’t always feel that way to me as a kid, teenager, or young adult, though I did have glimpses.
There were these insidious teachings within the faith tradition, or at least the dialect (for lack of a better term), I grew up with. I felt that, sure, God was supposed to love you...but you needed to do a lot of legwork. You were required to suffer, if you were not suffering, were you even godly? Basically, if you were too happy, you were doing life wrong, there always needed to be some sort of underlying discomfort to know you were on the right path. The narrow path.
You couldn’t trust yourself, the world, especially your flesh; pleasure, well that was right out! But, oh, your pastor, or the elders, them you can, and should, trust. The Bible is a good start (being God-breathed and all, it is infallible) but have you read our prophets words, those are even holier (it felt like this with Ellen White on occasion). Everything else will try to lead you astray. Please note that trusting God, technically it was there but it felt shrouded amidst everything you had to distrust.
There was this focus, that seemed quite disingenuous, of needing to LOOK like you were doing it right, looking like a “good” Christian. Also, we, as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we had THE truth. No questions, no discussion, and a very holier than thou mentality that often bugged me.
And a deeply, weirdly foundational thing, those who worshipped on any day but Saturday, well, they were, maybe not evil, but they had done f*cked up. That was clear. And maybe they shouldn’t be trusted.... Some of my dearest friends are Sunday worshippers, and I’ve come face to face with the fact that they are truly God-fearing and good human beings. Also, let’s be honest, we’ve all done messed up, we are all human.
I may exaggerate a bit, but it was these things combined with many other aspects of my upbringing (both positive and negative) that navigated me towards distrust of myself and the pleasing of others above and before my own needs. The moment I started to take steps towards affirming myself and the importance of my mental and physical health, I really found God.
Not the God I was taught to believe in, though he shares some characteristics, but a God of Love and acceptance. A God that loved me for me and encouraged me to trust myself and to make my own decisions. It still feels weird to write these words because it runs so counter to years of teaching.
But here’s the thing. I read the entire Bible through myself for the very first time a few years back. Somehow that hadn’t been a priority or had fallen through the cracks of my religious education. I don’t know. Reading the words for myself and realizing that they tell a story of human history in a different time and culture, many, cultures, actually. I found that the God of the Bible was first a God of Love. Yes, in the Old Testament he is a very jealous one but the underlying threads pointed to it being because he loved humanity. Further, I don’t believe that the Bible can be infallible, it was inspired by God (God-breathed, if you must) but it is written by fallible humans.
It’s important to note here that I believe that loving someone isn’t all happiness and smooth sailing. The people you love are their own people who make their own decisions. Sometimes love looks like saying something that they don’t want to hear or maybe trying to keep them from hurt themselves. But it is also letting them do what you feel is the wrong thing, even while wishing they wouldn’t. Even while telling them not to do it. Free will comes at a price and, unfortunately, bad things happen to good people. To love someone is not to smother them into submission but allowing them their freedom.
In this I felt cheated by my faith tradition. I felt smothered and pushed into molds I never fit. Put off by strong beliefs that there was ONE way to God, ours. Desperately alone, feeling unable to fit or put on the right show. I was all at once too much and not enough. Never did it feel like I was good enough for the faith. I was pretending at being a devout Christian.
And how could I call myself a Christian when inside I felt no true connection to the God I was supposed to trust. Inside I was panicking at many turns, wondering why my faith was so small, so abstract. Feeling that if only I believed harder that then my faith would grow, if only I suffered just right, then I would become what they wanted me to be. But I didn’t want to be that, deep down, it felt so wrong, too legalistic, lacking in warmth, love and acceptance. I balked at the notion that I must be something I’m not, would never truly be to be accepted by a God that required some level of suffering, always, and happiness and pleasure in tiny, miniscule doses.
I’m still in full on deconstruction mode, and, guess what, I feel God here with me more than I’ve ever felt him. I still have a long way to go in both weeding out the bitter weeds that choke my life, my joy, my pleasure, and my relationship to a loving God and in connecting to this God in a meaningful and deep way. I am trusting myself and my body, something that the faith tradition robbed and cut me off from.
I don’t pretend that my relationship with God will or should look like anyone else's. I don’t go to Church and, frankly, don’t want to. I’d much rather have a small dedicated group of loving and God-fearing people with which I will do life and worship with. My relationship with God is my own and, in my opinion, it’s between me and God. Those beautiful few people in my life that can and do speak into my life have a right to do so but it’s still me and God first and foremost.
I’m trying, at least, and I think God’s got my back.
—A Recovering Design Imposter
PS. I’ve said this before and I do want to say, again, that despite all of the negatives that I’ve brought up in this post, I don’t, in fact, hate Christianity. I just dislike the legalism, rules lawyering and decentering of God that happens.
I still most closely associate my faith with that of my natal religion, but I am open to worshipping with and accepting other denominations and, gasp, other religions entirely. I am on a journey of many things, a big part of which is welcoming others in spite of my ingrained beliefs so I can grow and learn while bringing things back to God and my important values, reaffirming and/or readjusting.
Finally, I called this post “My God or Yours” to evoke the journey from learning about God to truly believing in God for myself. My God, or higher power, should be mine, not someone else's.