“The tyranny of hyper-spirituality our church culture had foisted on us set us up for disappointment because it held up religious experiences as the means of God’s grace, rather than the finished work of the cross.”
My friends tell me the story of a Christian sister from their church past who would agonize in the mornings over which shoe to tie first, for fear of violating the will of God.
This is serious business. So let me tell you a serious story from my own church past:
When I was in the ninth grade, some of my fellow youth group members and I were a part of something called the “student ministry team” at our Baptist church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One weekend, our youth pastor took us into the beautiful Sandia Mountains for a spiritual retreat, and on that Saturday our assignment after lunch was to get away by ourselves somewhere and listen for God and not return until we had heard from him.
Late that night we all sat around our cabin living room floor and shared what God had allegedly shared with each of us. I write “allegedly” there, because I wasn’t sure I’d heard anything from God. But that didn’t prevent me from coming up with something to say, the gist of which I’ve completely forgotten but which I’m sure was expressed in such a way as to demonstrate the exemplary quality of my “spirituality.” One by one, every member of the team shared the sweet nothings God had whispered in our ears. But one girl, just a sophomore at the time, became more and more visibly upset. By the time it was her turn to share, she was weeping.
“I didn’t hear anything from God!” she blurted out. “I never do.”
To the best of my recollection, we were all sympathetic, to our credit. Sometimes God just holds back, we assumed. Or sometimes we’re not listening well enough.
Our distraught teammate continued: “What’s wrong with me? I talk to God all the time. And I beg him to talk to me. But he never does. I really want to hear from him. Why won’t he answer me?”
I don’t remember what our youth pastor said in response to this startling honesty. But that moment has haunted me ever since. I don’t know if any of the other students actually heard something specific from God; I suspect more than a few just made things up, as I did. We were all afraid not to hear from God, not to fulfill the assignment. We didn’t know what that might mean for our personal faith and for our spiritual credibility within the group. We were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the youth group. Surely God would talk to us. But only this one girl had the courage not to care about her credibility, which of course is what made her all the more credible. She was hurting and desperate, and she was bold enough to clear the haze of our spiritual self-congratulation with her brokenness.