In some ways, faith came easy to me because I always wanted so desperately to believe in something, to belong.
The sacraments of my early faith journey included grape Koolaid and vanilla wafers, popsicle sticks formed into God’s eyes, and a painful game of Red Rover in the church parking lot. In other words, I first came to faith as an outsider. My family didn’t attend church when I was young, and because my parents worked, I was a frequent attender of Vacation Bible School, AWANA, and other children’s programs at the churches in our area.
My earliest faith memory is walking down the aisle of the Baptist church near our home during an afternoon VBS program. For some reason, my parents weren’t there, only my brother, though I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. My trip through the pews had very little to do with Jesus; I wanted to pet the caged bird on stage.
A few years later in junior high, one of the first boys I liked apparently knew Jesus. While we were figuring out the details of what it meant to “go together,” he asked me what church I attended. I didn’t understand the question. I did, however, ask my mom shortly after that if we could start attending a church. When Easter rolled around, my mom, brother, and I found ourselves back at the same little country church where I had petted the bird and discovered the upper room. Their new building was now on the other side of the street, but they still had an aisle. And after a few weeks, I marched right down it again. This time, there were no birds waiting for me. Just the preacher, and Jesus.
From that moment on, I was in. I belonged.
In some ways, it feels disingenuous to say that I am a spiritual misfit. Although I didn’t meet Jesus until age 13, I have had years and years to really get to know Him and work out what it means to be born again. If you looked up “evangelical Christian” in the dictionary, it’s possible you would find a picture of me.
I attended church youth group in high school; I started a prayer group in my school’s library; I was president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I was even in a traveling choir known as the “Christian Edition” and regularly gave inspirational testimonies before singing CCM songs to prerecorded accompaniment half an octave above my range. And then I went to a Christian university.
Over the years, I’ve added to my spiritual resume; I served on staff at a church, worked at a Bible college, traveled to foreign countries on short-term missions trips, and for years, have been a member of a giant mega-church that gives millions of dollars each year to preach the gospel to the whole world.
Just like I wanted so long ago as a child, I appear to be a spiritual insider, on the fast-track to upper-level discipleship. I am the opposite of a spiritual misfit, it seems.
And yet, there’s still this nagging feeling that I’m missing something, that I’m not really living the spiritual life I was handed when I took the walk down the aisle to “Just As I Am.” Part of it has to do with my changing sense of how I relate to people in the church; I’m still transitioning from over-involved single woman to barely-holding-my-own, married-with-children career woman. How do I love Jesus if I am not in a small group, teaching a Bible study, and volunteering at a missions conference?
A bigger part of my uneasiness lies squarely in the “seen too much” camp, however. Before cancer, before years of loneliness, before the early death of friends and family, before the war on terror, even, things used to be so black and white for me. My biggest struggles had to do with overscheduling my social calendar. I took for granted that God’s love for me meant he had important work for me to do for him. Big things. And hope looked a lot like optimism. Everything would work out the way we expected it to for people like me, the ones who loved Jesus.
Some people spend their whole lives looking for the kind of faith life I’ve had, and some people spend their whole lives trying to escape it. I imagine I’ll spend the rest of my life discovering that my faith isn’t what it seemed, and neither is Jesus.
I used to think that faith meant having everything figured out, and that a life of faith looked pretty much like my life. Now, if you look at my life, you’ll see as much doubt as faith. You’ll also see a step-mom struggling to answer questions about why we go to church. You’ll see a cancer survivor that nearly shrivels with fear before every check up. You’ll see a wife who finds the word submission confusing at best, and often hard to swallow.
But hopefully, you will also see Jesus in me, transforming me into his image, even if I’m not always certain what that should look like.
Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, bringing words to life through essays, stories, blog posts, and books. She has been published at various venues, including The Curator, where she is a staff writer. She also is a content editor at The High Calling and a contributing writer at TweetSpeak Poetry. She lives with her husband and three step-sons in rural Indiana. You can find her online at charitysingletoncraig.com, on Twitter @charityscraig, and on Facebook.