Game-Changers

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When I was younger, I had a lot of answers. Now I’m older, and I have a lot of questions. The few things I feel like I know, I know with more confidence than before. Here are things I know from experiences I have had that have radically changed my view of God over the years — my real game-changers.

Most people who get diagnosed with terminal cancer are almost certainly going to die.

No matter how much you pray.

If you’re not aware of this on some level, I’m so, so sorry to bear the bad news. But it’s critical that you know this.

There will be exceptions, of course, and I’ll pray as hard as anyone, but if your theology depends on God healing some particular person, this is probably going to get harder.

Most people who are diagnosed with other terrible chronic diseases are not going to get better either. 

Prayer is valuable and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s even fine to pray for healing. But it’s usually not going to happen.

It can be extremely difficult to know if we have a relationship with God or if we are deluding ourselves.

However bad we may be at this, we are probably still far worse commenting accurately on the actual spiritual condition of another person than that person him or herself. This is true no matter what religion you follow or what it says.

Nearly everything religion tells you about other people is none of your business.

It makes absolutely no difference to your own life, spiritual pursuits, or the kind of person you are becoming.

You cannot serve God if you do not love God, and you cannot love a God you fear and think intends bad things for you, for those you love, for humanity.

I understand the scriptural/theological questions this may raise, I really do. But you must make peace with the idea that God loves you and you have nothing to fear from the person who loves you most. Do whatever is required with your theology to come to this place.

I have no control over the things I care most about.

I cannot keep my friends healthy or alive. I cannot keep from being diagnosed with (another) disease. I cannot keep my children from being sad or discouraged or unhappy. I cannot keep the economy moving. I cannot make my clients better or my students do well in class. I cannot make my parishioners grow. I cannot even expect that, in writing these posts, I can make much of a difference in the world.

The more my happiness, peace, and stability in this world depend on my need to control things I cannot control, the more unhappy I will be.

The less space there usually is your heart between something happening to you and you feeling a strong negative emotion, the more you are a slave to your circumstances. 

Mindfulness and meditation are the only way out of this. Sometimes medication can help a little. Other things can help slightly, but only meditation gets at the root of the issue and helps us learn to stop being so reactive.

You will never, ever have a consistent theology.

If you think your current theology (way of understanding God) is consistent, you are deluded. The harder you feel you must work to convince yourself or anyone else that your theology is consistent, the less your religion is ultimately about God.

By the way, the only reason it’s not completely wrong and judgmental for me to write this right now is because I’m using a plural, non-specific “you.” I have no business (nor do you) telling any particular individual any of this. The beauty of writing is you can address things that way that you could and should never tell an individual, and each reader gets to decide for him/herself whether it applies.

If you believe in an afterlife, the person you will be in that life is almost nothing at all like the person you are now.

Most of what you currently understand to be you is connected to your body and/or brain, and neither your body or your brain are going to survive death, we know this for sure. Your sense of yourself as a professional, as someone educated to a certain level, someone who feels and thinks strongly about certain things, even someone who takes pride in believing good and moral and right things — all of that will be gone.

The funny thing is, this may sound like heresy, but it may be the most orthodox point I’ve made in this post.

Colossians 3:3-4 (MSG)
3 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life.
4 When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

The real you? That is, you, but REAL.

All of these have been game-changers for me. They are discoveries that, as I came to them, I realized I could not continue believing what I believed about God up to that point. They each forced me to completely reevaluate my faith.

Because these things have happened so often, I know they will keep happening. This means I know that in a few years there will be things I no longer believe about God that I deeply believe now.

This is the root of humility — the realization that, as the Buddha said, life is impermanence. My whole life has been an unfolding journey and I have never remained in one place for long. In my  humble moments I live from this core reality. In the others, I  start thinking my beliefs, opinions, theology, ego needs, and accomplishments have substantive reality.

What are the experiences and insights that have been game-changers for you?

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  • Ame

    I completely struggle with my own thoughts. If there’s a way to think myself into or out of my own thoughts I will find it. Sometimes I just feel trapped there. I can think for hours about things that most wouldn’t give a second thought. Game changer for me was realizing that everything I thought about God was wrong. Trust me, there were and are lots of thoughts. I’m sure I still sift through a lot of wrongness. I’m in my own way always. Game changer is God has been with me in my thoughts on how to search for him. I’ve made my journey complicated. I still make a lot of things complicated…

    • Ame, I think everything most of us think about God is wrong, and almost has to be. 🙂

  • Ruth Jackson

    One major game changer for me was when my husband died from cancer back in 2007. The why part of it isn’t what I struggled with although others around me did. What changed is I started being so much more aware of the goodness of God in my life. I started blogging and in the process of writing and processing what was going on in my life I started looking for God and what He was doing on my behalf everywhere and in everything and I found Him to be amazingly faithful and good. The most recent game changer for me has been getting married again after 7 and a half years of being a widow. I am in one of the most grateful, hope filled places that I have ever been in. Again…I am very aware of the goodness of God. Not because of anything on my part but simply because of who He is. I agree…my faith and what I believe are ever changing. I’ve let go of a lot of the rules and expectations I grew up with and instead am leaning more and more to grace and love. Maybe the reality of how much I need it causes me to want to readily extend it to others. My views of prayer have really changed too. It’s almost painful for me at times to be in church prayer times just because of how they are handled…We don’t control things…we release and trust and hang on to the hem of Jesus’ robe when we need to. Good post Dave…I shared it on Facebook for my friends to read 🙂 Not sure why it shows up as Ruth Jackson…that would be Ruth Spencer at this point 🙂

    • Your journey has been an inspiration to me, Ruth. I have so appreciated your openness and getting to know you better has been a great source of encouragement and beauty in my life.

      I am thankful for you, and so glad you are in this wonderful season of life. Thanks for reading and sharing my work.

  • Yes!!!! My game changer started when my husband got acute pancreatitis and was in intensive care, fighting for his life, for five weeks. And lots of people, mostly Christians, gave me platitudes and snippets of their theology of suffering. I was stunned because I don’t think I’d totally appreciated what so many people actually think and say when it comes to suffering. I felt like I was going against the flow within the church and that wasn’t something that I’d experienced to that extent before. It didn’t shake my faith in God but I did start to question our theology of Him and I began to question what part of Christianity I belong to. I had lots of questions and a lot less answers. I didn’t question WHY it had happened, I was just stunned to discover that so many had definite opionions on that and wanted to impose them on to me. As you know from my blog, since then I’ve had other challenges with MS, infertility and the death of my Mum from cancer two years ago. The whole subject of healing is one that I’m continuously confronted with. I believe like you. I’ll pray for it. I know it does happen sometimtes. I know it often doesn’t. I struggle when people proclaim thate it will happen and don’t allow the person suffering to be where they need to be in the grief process. Once things seemed more black and white to me. Once I thought I had lots of answers. Now I have more questions but my faith in God is strong. My theology is one of questions and I like that, but it scares some people and then I sometimes feel scared by them! In some ways it’s not that my views changed but rather that I was forced to confront them and start to express them.

    • Yes, Rachel, for sure — those who suffer often find their suffering compounded by the (usually) well-meaning people around them who have all of these suffering “policies” — well-developed ideas about suffering, faith, and prayer. “Do this, and this will happen.”

      In some of my darkest moments with MS, a few people have come along that have added substantially to my suffering by becoming judgmental of my suffering process. I have almost begged them for mercy. “Please, I’m hurting deeply right now. I’m lost right now. Please speak gently to me.” And even those words were not heeded.

      It’s stunning how cruel people can be, and I say this with shame, as I recall so many times I myself have been one of those people. God help us!

  • Jill

    Game changer of all time was the death of my 11 year old daughter to medulla blastoma. It forever changed my family and my heart was torn from my chest. It has been 21 years and yet it feels like it just happened.
    Game changer #2 was going into have a minor surgical procedure and waking up in ICU and my hearing is gone. As a musician, this was devastating! Testing shows no surgical procedure will fix it and the most sophisticated hearing aids with special musical programs in them still don’t allow me to enjoy what was an integral part of my life. A miracle from God is the only way that I will hear normally in the life ever again.
    I am not mad at God. I struggle with understanding why.My faith is not shaken to its core but it is fragile. Those are my 2 huge game changers.

    • Thanks so much for sharing these, Jill. Surely these are the kinds of things that would require a person to completely reevaluate their understanding of God, grace, prayer, mercy, love, suffering, faith — everything. I want to go on record as saying I’m so sorry these things have happened to you. That’s awful. Anytime I hear someone has lost a child my faith feels immediately rocked on the spot. Bless you.