Dear Twenty-year-old Self,
The ache you feel right now, that ache of not belonging in the church? That ache won’t ever go away. You’re going to get through this period of intense doubt. One day you’ll be able to believe in God again with most of your heart. But the believing will never be the same. I know how much you wish right now to return to your childhood faith. You will always wish that, but it won’t ever happen. And that’s okay. The faith you will stumble into and the faith you will stumble through will be different, yes, but it’ll also be good in ways that will make you stronger.
Don’t be afraid, my twenty-year-old self. God seems so distant now, but this distance will only make you more empathetic, wiser, and better able to deal with the reality of a life in which many times God is – for all intents and purposes, at least – distant. It’s life, self. God seems distant, if only because we refuse to acknowledge him, because we put up barriers between heaven and earth. But, really, if you will only pause long enough to listen, He is never very far off.
I want you to know that you will slowly become that which you now fear and despise. You’ll become more liberal, more uncertain about all of those nuts and bolts of faith, and you’ll lose your desire for easy answers. You’ll stop straining so hard for the answers at all; instead, you’ll learn to love questions. It’ll be scary and uncomfortable. It’ll put you at odds with nearly everyone sitting next to you in church and nearly everyone on your Facebook friends list, but it’ll bring you into a wide place of hope and peace.
There’s peace, self, in refusing easy answers. There’s hope in not knowing. There’s joy in admitting without reservation that your view of God is hopelessly skewed and so is your pastor’s. There’s freedom in knowing that the God you worship is the same God that your pastor worships, even if the two of you don’t agree on predestination or baptism or evangelism.
Go forward, twenty-year-old self. Don’t let the questions stop you from loving. Don’t allow yourself to become embittered or angry or lonely. Christians are not your enemy, even if they believe and do crazy things. They are your family, no matter what. Love them as such. Make the things that you say and the things that you think and the links that make it onto your Facebook profile things that will lift up rather than tear down. Build a new society with the people that surround you rather than focusing all your energy on tearing down the existing one.
Above all, my dear twenty-year-old self, love with abandon. Love God, love others, and love yourself.
The rest will take care of itself.