There are three stages in the "Fusing" stage of faith, said Kathy Escobar in her book, Faith Shift. The first, Believing, where I accidentally became a Christian by saying a bunch of words, passed by without much fanfare. It was the Learning stage that was the most tumultous for me.
Because I was utterly unprepared to be thrust into a war between culture, family and tradition.
I was 18. I should be thinking about boybands, for heaven's sakes.
When my family discovered what I had done, it didn't go down well. Our once well-ordered family was thrown into chaos as I became the challenge to how they lived and believed. Once-cherished traditions such as a visit to my ancestors' graves for Cheng Beng and the Chinese New Year ritual of honouring my ancestors by praying to them, became battlezones as I tried to honour God and family at the same time.
The Christians back then insisted that I had to "stand up for God", to say No when I was handed joss sticks to pray, and to refuse food that was served to the idols. Once, I disappeared while my family was setting up the prayer altar for my grandparents during Cheng Beng at the graveyard. I hid behind a bunch of grave stones while they called out my name, telling me it was my turn to pay my respects.
I laugh about it now, but back then, it was torturous to purposely dishonour my family by rejecting their way of life.
I felt torn apart by the demands of my birth family and my newfound faith family. I felt that in order to be accepted by both God and his children, I had to be brave enough to divorce my birth family and the tradition I grew up with.
I would never leave my family. Nor did I want to ditch God. So, in the end, I decided to keep the peace by keeping my faith a secret and by learning about Christianity quietly, away from the church. If I did attend a service, I would attend one of those evening ones. I would sneak away from home to sit in the pews with the other Christians in their Sunday best in my biking clothes. I made a point not to dress up lest I caused any suspicion! But I felt embarrassed for coming to the service late, hot and sweaty and looking like some kind of vagabond off the streets.
I felt like such a failure as a Christian back then for my inability to "stand up" for the faith, and I was quite certain that God wasn't pleased with me.
Being a voracious reader, I read as many Christian books as I could during this period. I read great thinkers like Philip Yancey, Catherine Marshall and Watchman Nee, but was quite confused by the more radical tomes - Benny Hinn, anyone?
I studied the bible on my own to my best ability (some would consider that very dangerous). I began to develop my own ideas about God.
Most of all, because I was free of the demands of the institutional church, (meaning, I couldn't immerse myself in "serving", and participate in its numerous activities and seminars), I had all the time to develop my relationship with God.
Conversations with God
It was during this time that I had many intimate conversations with God. Sure, it was a one-way dialogue most of the time. Half the time I thought Christians who said that God told them this or that were a little nuts.
But I persisted and was rewarded by the occasional glimmer of an intelligence beyond my own. It is difficult to describe the joy one feels when you make a connection like that. And for me, who had the mind of a scientist and a philosopher, I found it difficult to comprehend that I could "hear" God.
I came to know this God that I have been searching for, and sometimes His behaviour didn't seem to tally with what the Institutional church was telling me God should be.
For one, much to my surprise, I discovered that this God had an incredible sense of humour. He loved making me laugh and didn't think it undignified to pop into my dreams. In one dream, he hid under my blankets and yelled, "surprise!" as he popped out from beneath them like a Jack in a Box.
When I later told this to a Christian friend, he shook his head and said that it was probably just a dream. Because the God of the Universe was supposed to be, you know, dignified.
I have come to believe, after many years of knowing this Character, that it was most certainly Him.
He loved ribbing me. And I love being ribbed by Him.
What's more, he told me He cherished me and would never let me go.
The church told me that you have to do and believe certain things or lose his approval.
I honestly didn't know who to believe.
What I'm trying to say was, despite the immense confusion, the five years away from the Sunday church was a blessing because not only did I learn to come to my own conclusions about what I believed, but I learned to hear the voice of God.
This, I believe, was what helped me survive the tumultuous years of Faith Shifts without losing my relationship with God. Because to me, God and the institutional church were always separate. God, was never the church to me, nor was he a set of beliefs. God was a person. Everything else was garnishing.
The problem I had was trying to figure out how they all fit together.
Next in the My Shifting Faith series: Doing: Being Miss Good Christian. Do bookmark the blog series post schedule or subscribe to the blog to have the posts delivered to your inbox so that you do not miss a post. (You will also receive my posts outside the blog series.)