It wasn’t until I walked out into the fresh air that I became fully aware that the church service was over. The weekly routine of “stand, sit, kneel, the Apostles Creed, the Our Father, and dry communion wafer stuck to the top of my mouth” had yet again lulled me into a zombie-like state. As I exited through the massive wooden doors and the sun hit my face, I noticed a familiar sensation of emptiness hitting me like a frigid wind on a lovely summer’s day. I looked around to see if anyone else was having a similar experience, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The race to see who could first exit the parking lot had already begun, so there was no time to consider how one felt after the service. If those racing to leave felt any emotion at all, I expect it was relief—church: ☑️.
I would normally find myself among the racers, but on this particular day, I lingered at the top of the church steps. I could no longer ignore the emptiness and, quite frankly, the confusion I felt every time I attended church. I looked up at the sky and muttered what may have been my first heartfelt prayer ever: “I don’t get it! Is this all there is? Do I keep going to church just because I’m supposed to?”
I didn’t get an immediate answer to my prayer, but then again, I didn’t know I could expect one. I had no idea that prayer actually is two-way communication with God. Had I known the truth, I may have tried to do it more often and I may have even gotten better results! Silly me; I thought people prayed because they were supposed to. The “Hail Mary,” the “Our Father,” and the “Act of Contrition” were the Holy Grails of prayer, as far as I knew. Even if God wanted to respond back to my prayers, I have no idea how He would even respond to that mouthful👇🏻.
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
As I look back on my heartfelt but somewhat accidental prayer at the top of the church steps, I can see that God indeed answered my plea in the form of a cute Air Force pilot who had a habit of highlighting passages in his Bible. Weird. Although I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of this cool jet pilot who loved to read comic books and his Bible, it wasn’t until the guy bought me my own Bible that I knew God was up to something.
Although the highlighted Bible should have perhaps tipped me off, I didn’t grasp how “out there” this guy was until the day he confessed his love for me. With the sincerity of a car salesman trying to close the deal, the pilot decided to go all in: “Next to Jesus, I love you more than anyone.”
“Well, of course, Jesus is number one in my life, but besides Him, I have never loved anyone more than I love you.”
I wish I could say I was delighted, but in actual fact, I was indignant: “What do you mean you love Jesus more than me? What does that even mean?” I truly could not understand how Jesus—an invisible person? force? spirit? —could be more lovable than me. Sure, He’s the Savior of the world, but still…SHEESH!
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matt 22:37)
Despite being outraged by the pilot’s bizarre pledge of love, deep down, I had to admit I was intrigued. I wondered how he got to the point where he could say that he— no kidding—loved Jesus. “How is that even possible?” I wondered. Although I understood that Jesus died to save me from my sin (I’m pretty sure I got that question right on my catechism test), I honestly couldn’t say I loved Him because of it. I started to wonder if my lack of love had anything to do with my accidental prayer on top of the church steps. I also wondered if the highlighting in the pilot’s Bible could provide some answers.
As I set out on my own journey to figure out why my religious practices felt so empty compared to the pilot’s, I couldn’t help but notice that my faith was missing a key ingredient: love. Although I was grateful that Jesus came into the world to “save me from my sin,” I hadn’t quite tweaked that: 1) He didn’t have to do that despite his job title being “savior of the world;” and 2) He willingly subjected himself to the agony of the cross because of his love for me. I had no clue that the love Jesus had for me was personal, as in, He knew me even better than I knew myself. In fact, he knows all of the terrible and shameful things about me but loves me anyway. Weird. Although all of this information sounded like a fairytale to me, there was no denying that the pilot grasped something that I didn’t.
“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise, you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain…
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there, your hand will guide me; your right hand will hold me fast.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.
(Psalm 139:1-6; 9, 13-14)
I’m pretty sure the pilot must have had these passages highlighted in his Bible. As I read this passage, there’s no denying that I didn’t have a clue about the God who inspired these beautiful words. My God hung on a cross in the front of my church—a statue frozen in time to commemorate an event that happened a very long time ago. Maybe the pilot was onto something after all. I was determined to figure it out…
*For those of you who resonate with my wonderings and view God as a far-off and impersonal deity, stay tuned for next week’s post, in which I share how it is possible to love an invisible God.
I encourage you to reflect on what you experienced as you read this piece.
- If you aren’t sure, please re-read my words, but this time, tune into what is going on inside you as you engage with them.
- What emotions come up in you—do you feel angry, guilty, ashamed, hurt, sad, lonely, fearful, happy, or just confused?
- Do you identify with the confused me who knew something was missing but wasn’t sure what it was?
- Consider journaling about your experiences to help you process what’s happening inside.
- Write down questions you have for God
- Sit quietly and wait for Him to respond.
- Notice the memories that come up, or the feelings, or some random thought to do something.
- What are those things saying to you?
- Start writing about what comes up and what you think they mean—there’s a reasonably good chance you will learn something new.
- Read the whole of Psalm 139 for yourself in a physical or online Bible. Let the words move from your head into your heart.
- Ask God what he wants you to know about him. What does he want you to know about yourself? Journal about what you sense/hear him saying.
I believe God will speak to you through my story. My prayer is that you believe it, too.
I realize this post may generate varied reactions among my readers, but I’d like to hear what those reactions are—positive, negative, or neutral. Please will you leave a comment below by hitting the button and telling me what happened for you? 👇🏻