Tuesday, August 27, 2013
A Journey From Legalism to Grace - From Legalism to Hedonism
I started this series last week by talking about how, despite my largely positive upbringing in the church, I became a legalist who began to view God as a genie rather than my Lord. In part two of my story, which follows, I'll share about how that legalistic view of God kept me from truly knowing Him as I might have and hurt me in the long run.
At 18 I went off to a Christian college 12 hours from home. Just close enough to visit my family during school breaks and summers, but far enough away to really stretch myself as an independent young woman. I fell in with a group of friends who I am still glad to call such within the first few weeks of freshman year. I enjoyed performing in choir, symphonic winds and in various productions put on by the theatre department each year. I'd hang out with my friends in the evenings and on weekends and we would have wonderful conversations about God and Jesus, wondered what it would be like to be married (and what it might be like to have sex, because my friends and I were proudly all virgins and planned to remain so until our wedding nights). School was wonderful in many ways. Until my junior year.
My junior year I lost my work study eligibility because my parents had made too much money the previous year when my grandfather passed away and left my mother with an inheritance. This meant I had to leave the job I loved, working as the assistant to one of my favorite professors in the music department, and instead find a campus employment job. I found two. In addition to taking 18 hours worth of classes, not including rehearsal time for my ensembles and theatre production, I worked 10+ hours each week in the cafeteria dish room and cleaning the student union. It was hard to make time for the friends I'd made in my previous two years and I began to feel isolated. It didn't help that I'd moved in with some girls off campus and most of my friends had chosen to stay in the dorms.
On top of all this, both of my parents lost their jobs within weeks of each other around Thanksgiving. When I went home at Christmas my parents broke the news that they were going to have to try selling the house. If they didn't get jobs soon we would definitely have to sell and then move in with family down in Texas. My parents, who had been helping to pay the rent for my off campus place (I'd been paying for utilities and groceries with my work money), would not be able to help me out with that any longer. Moving back into the dorms was not an option, since I'd signed the lease and made a commitment to the other girls that I would stay for the rest of the school year. So I picked up more hours at my jobs but I was running myself into the ground between work, ensembles and evening musical rehearsals. I emailed my school's student life office asking for prayer - I didn't know where else to turn. When they could offer no help or assistance beyond just praying for me I got signed up for a couple credit cards and used those to pay for my groceries so that I could use my work money to pay rent and utilities. I tried to reach out to my friends - but no one seemed to grasp just quite what I was going through. When I needed the support of my friends the most, few of them were there. I felt isolated and completely alone.
Around that same time my theatre department got in trouble for a play we had done earlier in the year which included drinking. Not glamorized drinking, but drinking nevertheless. Certain members of the trustees were now going to be reading and censoring all the plays we chose for content in the name of high morals. Thank heavens these people clearly never read the Bible, Lord knows what they'd have wanted to edit out of that! So while my personal life was falling apart my academic life was crumbling too. I couldn't keep up with my double major and had to drop the one to just a minor, my theatre professor and mentor was going to be leaving the school because of the censorship issue, the good life I thought I'd had was in shambles.
By the end of my junior year I had decided to graduate a semester early, since I could, hoping to be able to get a job and help out my family sooner rather than later. I also decided to spend my last semester abroad to get away from the environment I felt the school was becoming - which was the same kind of caustic legalism as the church my family had left 4 years previous. (Again, realizing the legalism in others, but not myself). With that I also realized that my hopes of finding and meeting my spouse while in college were essentially gone. No man had expressed much interest in my in my whole 3 years thus far and I wouldn't even be at the school for my last semester.
When I graduated I went to live with my family in the home of my great-aunt in Texas. She clearly didn't want us there, but felt obligated to us as family. She made our lives over those months as difficult as possible. I went to a college and singles group at a church full of nice middle class families who had no idea what my all but homeless family was going through. I tried to make friends, but I found myself just feeling bitter at them. And eventually at God. Why had my Christian college and now this church not been able to help me or my family? These good Christian people who claimed to love Jesus and care for the needy - I was in great need - but no one offered me a hand, not my school, not the church and not even most of my friends.
Now, not only did I feel abandoned by my friends and church, I reached the point where I felt abandoned by God too. I had done everything I was supposed to do! I had stayed a virgin, never even been kissed. I went to church - even served in the church. I read my Bible. I prayed. I led worship. I abstained from drinking and smoking. I did it all "right" so why was I being punished?! Why was I feeling so abandoned and alone. I'd been praying for my parents to get jobs for over a year, and still nothing. I'd prayed for a godly spouse, nothing. Why wasn't God keeping His promise to care for me and my family as he cares for the sparrows? Why wasn't God keeping His promise to give me the desires of my heart? If following the rules didn't make any difference at all, then why even try?
So I stopped. I stopped trying. I still believed in God, even though I was angry with Him and wasn't sure if I believed He was a loving God anymore. I still believed that Jesus was, if nothing else, a good moral teacher worth basing my life upon. I still believed in the value of the local church. But for all intents and purposes I was not living as a Christian - by choice - I no longer saw the point.
Never fear the story does not end there - because I still had much learning to do - more heartache and anger to deal with - but it is a happy ending - of that I can promise you! Because it took going through all of this to come out on the other side with a better understanding of grace and the true depth of Christ's love for me. For all of us.