In Between

Credit: Creative Commons, Abdulsalam Haykal

Credit: Creative Commons, Abdulsalam Haykal

 

There are aspects of the Christian belief system that can seem downright morbid. We believe the dead are resurrected; in fact we follow a man who was crucified and raised from the dead (you know, Jesus as the first zombie and all of that). We believe in a Holy Spirit who lives inside the spirit of God’s children, which is not at all like being possessed. We believe that the torture and crucifixion of Jesus were necessary acts for the salvation of all people. It takes some interest in the back story of the Christian faith to really understand some of this stuff. As a sixteen year old convert with a heavy background in fantasy literature it was weirdly easy for me to slip into some of these beliefs. One particularly powerful idea was the idea of going to heaven when I died.

Now I attended the creepy “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames” plays like all the other good Christian teens. I was appropriately scared of hell. When I was twelve years old, long before I wandered into faith, I began to entertain suicidal thoughts pretty regularly and would often stay up late at night trying to will myself to cut my wrists with one of my mom’s over-sized kitchen knives. The only thought that effectively stayed my hand was this nagging memory I had of hearing once a detailed description of the horrors of hell, and that suicide was an “unforgivable sin” which meant that it was a one-way ticket. The only thing I could imagine that was worse than my life at that time was the thought that I would end up somewhere even worse and have to stay there forever. I could barely imagine six more years in my home, so eternity just seemed unreasonably long. This went on for several years, until I set my sights on college as my escape route and tried to keep my head down until then.

As a Christian I learned way more than I cared to about hell. But I also learned about heaven, a place where broken things are made whole and wounds are all healed up and people don’t hate or hit or cry anymore. I was never interested in myths describing streets of gold or mansions, but the picture of a tree that is fruitful all year with food that fills the nations and leaves that heal them growing alongside a river of living water – that sounded amazing.

I became a Christian because a young Mormon missionary described a beautiful man whose love for me surpassed anything I’d ever heard of before. I was like a husk lost in the desert; he brought the rains to me. The friend who introduced me to him, along with her parents, wrapped that love around themselves like a cloak and then draped it over my sagging shoulders as well. I learned what incarnation meant from them. Then I started going to charismatic church services where I began to have these spectacularly strange experiences of love. Those first years I absorbed the love of God like a sponge and I learned to long for the day when He would return to whisk me away to the place of setting things right.

I spent more than ten years that way, gritting my teeth through this life while dreaming of a future salvation from it all. Then my tumultuous life turned into a tornado. I wept more and more often during worship services, and would sometimes come to the church sanctuary late at night, sobbing at the altar, begging God to take me now. I wanted this life to be over. I was done with it, had failed miserably at it, and was so tired of my failings.  This went on for several years. The chaos building up inside finally drove me to seek counseling. I learned that I have something called dysthymia; if depression is the flu then dysthymia is a low-grade fever. I would always feel a little melancholy under the surface but as long as I was diligent in self-care I needn’t worry about slipping into full-on depressive episodes. Right. Because I’ve always been awesome at self-care. We worked through the circumstances that had led me to my therapist’s office, got a handle on the action steps I’d need to take, and things leveled out after a while.

When I decided to go back to school for a degree in Bible and theology (right around the same time I started going to therapy), my very first class was about approaching time management and priority setting based on the idea that we are already living out our eternal lives. Eternity doesn’t begin when we die; it begins the moment our spirits are awakened by the kiss of Christ. I spent weeks reading about, writing about, talking about the idea that God’s kingdom isn’t just somewhere I will be rescued to; it’s a reality I can start living in now. The choices I make about my relationships, my time, my body, my spirit, my sexuality, my work, my play – they are all part of that life I will live because I am already living it.

This perspective has changed so much about how I approach life. I will never, ever be perfect in this life. I will always fail, always be a little bit broken. But I am part of a kingdom that is about love and peace and reconciliation and justice and mercy and scandalous grace and beauty and creativity and joy and hope. Hope in what’s to come, and hope that I can already see and be part of it rolling out now. I still long for the day I see Christ face-to-face, know as I am known, and rest in a love that overwhelms. But I can know Him in so many ways already, through all He created and most importantly through knowing and serving and loving those made in His image all around me. Until that day of His return, then, I strive to live well in the in-between.

How shall I go in peace and without sorrow? Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city. Long were the days of pain I have spent within its wall, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?…It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands. Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heard made sweet with hunger and with thirst. ~Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet”

 

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