The weather is already cooling off in Northwest Arkansas and autumn here is more splendid than anything I’ve ever seen. The change in the seasons reminds me of another time, a different season of my life, one I sometimes forget. In a previous column I said that I would talk more about the dark times I went through on the way to where I am today. In this column, I will tell you how I got there, but you’ll have to tune in next month to see how I got out.
Ecclesiastes 3 says, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven… A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance…A time to search and a time to give up as lost… A time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace.”
It’s strange how sometimes I don’t know what “time” I am in until it is over. I didn’t know I was mourning or weeping until I was in the time of building up, looking back. You might not either, but here’s a tip: if you are not being obedient to God’s call on your life, you are not in the “time” you want to be in – the good times. And if you are not in a time of peace, then you’re probably also not in a time for laughter, dancing or love either.
When I left for college, I was full of certainty, conviction and confidence. I believed in Christ and that God had a plan for me. I believed I should be obedient to God’s commands and expect His promises. And I believed that I was where I was supposed to be. I tried to be everything that a good Christian girl should be. By the middle of my sophomore year, I didn’t know any of those things.
I had become friends with people who were different than me – Universalist Unitarians, agnostics, atheists and apathetics. It isn’t like I sought them out; we just had similar interests, similar senses of humor and liked doing things together. We watched the same TV shows, listened to the same music and ate the same food. I was never good at making friends, as I’ve mentioned before, and these people accepted me for all my quirks and eccentricities. They liked me the way I was, and it didn’t matter to us that we believed differently. I was so high on having a “regular group” that my standards and discernment faltered.
Although my best intention was to evangelize my new friends, it didn’t work out that way. Instead of infusing them with my beliefs, they impregnated my certainty with doubt. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure of everything I’d always believed. I wasn’t sure that God wanted a relationship with me, or that Jesus was divine or that heaven was real.
Can you believe what happened to me? A year prior, it would have been nearly impossible to make me doubt my faith; but in a matter of months away from school, there I was, questioning everything I’d ever believed. I didn’t realize how much my convictions defined me until I lost those convictions and then had no idea who I was. Maybe I’m not a super-Christian. Maybe I don’t want to be that girl. Maybe I don’t like going to church. Maybe Christians are out of touch with reality.
The worst part of it was that I had to live a lie. I thought that if I had talked about these doubts with my family or Christian friends, they would have judged me. (I don’t actually think that’s true, but I was convinced of it at the time.) I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was, or that I wasn’t as spiritually mature as they thought, or that my relationship with God wasn’t what it should be. But besides lying about my true feelings, I had to lie about my behavior. People without Christian convictions don’t act as Christians do; and since I didn’t have those convictions, I didn’t act as a Christian should. And I couldn’t let anyone know. So I lied, a lot.
I still have questions that I haven’t answered for myself, but I’m glad now to be able to see how I got to that place – it’s a first step in understanding how to get out of it. Although it might have been fun or exciting at first, abandoning my Christian convictions lead to a time of despair and loneliness – darker than I ever imagined. Fortunately for me, there is a time to remember, and a time to forget. I don’t remember a lot from that time. Even if I did, I wouldn’t want to talk about it.
For now, I want to leave you with this: you may not be the company you keep, as the adage declares, but the company you keep matters. No matter how strong you are, your friends will influence you. And most important, do not ever forsake your relationship with God for your relationship with anybody or anything else, for any reason.