In the True Spirit of the Season

“Oh man, this chick isn’t going to go all Jesus-Freak on us, is she?”

Yes. Yes she is.

On my list of Goals for the year I’d placed “attend church” and “get into the Word regularly” right at the top. Faith is something I’ve wrestled with my whole life. I spent the first decade of my life going to Sunday School mostly because I was forced to. After that came a decade of exploring other faiths, Wicca in particular. In my twenties I earned a degree in religious studies with a focus on early Christianity from a secular university simply because I found the subject academically fascinating.

Right around my twenty-fifth birthday I felt called to go to church. There’s no better way to put it than that; I simply felt a need, apropos of nothing, to hear about God from a source other than a textbook. I had a childhood friend whose faith I had long respected, and I asked her if I could go to church with her. She quite literally bounced with excitement.

I cried my way through a lot of sermons. I heard the Truth and deep inside I felt convicted, because in my heart of hearts I knew it was true and yet I’d spent so much time distracting myself with whatever shiny thing claimed to be that week’s path to happiness. I fought an internal war between what I thought I wanted and what I knew I needed, and eventually I realized I wanted God to win. And so He did.

In January 2010 I was baptized. I studied my Bible, attended a small group, sang in the Christmas choir, and helped out with tech where I could. Of course, none of these things made me a “good Christian”, but being active in the church and surrounded by other Christians helped keep me focused on what mattered most: God.

Then I moved to Toronto.

I believe God wanted me in Toronto. It was an opportunity I’d prayed about, and when things finally started to happen, so many needs that seemed completely unreachable simply fell into my lap. I believe God moved to get me to the city. It was a huge blessing, but also perhaps the beginning of an equally huge trial.

My church of choice was not an easy commute away, so all too often I shrugged it off, telling myself I’d listen to the sermon online and make it out next week. There wasn’t a small group meeting anywhere near me, and the prospect of another four hour round trip each week made me reluctant even to try. I would ignore my Bible study for days or even weeks on end, and then catch up in a single afternoon blitz, my eyes just scanning the lines and hardly taking anything in. I had a few good months of heavy involvement, but the weight of the effort combined with everyday stresses felt like too much, so I crumbled. I didn’t fall away completely, but in my laziness I came all too close.

In the midst of my spiritual apathy, I also struggled with an unhappy living situation, career uncertainty, financial difficulty, and an eating disorder. About sixteen months ago I fell apart. I had good moments, but I was basically just “getting by”. I’d get through the hours, do the basic requirements, commit to just enough social activities to convince myself I had a life, and wait desperately for each day to end.

At some point last fall I realized I had nothing left. I was exhausted. I was done. A lot of unhealthy thoughts sifted through my head: self-harm, relapse, suicide… To the outside world I was more or less fine, if a little burned out. Inside I was hoping a bus would come out of nowhere and do the dirty work for me.

Somewhere at the bottom of that barrel I realized there was only one thing I had left: God. I couldn’t pull myself out, nor could any distraction or personal overhaul. Truth be told I didn’t turn to God because I thought He would make everything better; there is no “health, wealth, and prosperity” Gospel, just ask Paul. But as a myriad of other things deserted me, God never did. I’d pushed Him aside, but He’d never gone anywhere. So with nothing else to cling to, I clung to Him.

I went back to church and ten feet in the door Pastor Ed found me and welcomed me back. He told me I’d been on his mind, and that they were starting a ministry to pick up university students downtown the very next week, making my commute easier. Small group signup started, and I found one that wasn’t exactly close, but wasn’t really that hard to get to. I got an iPhone with my income tax money and was able to easily do my Bible study on the subway, because there was an app for that.

Life didn’t get easier. If anything, parts of it got harder, and I still struggled to attend church and my small group, but I’d admitted to myself that I didn’t have the strength to endure, and I asked God for His. He provided, and I got through the days. I persisted in situations I hated, knowing that God had brought me to Toronto for a reason, and recognizing that maybe He knew how hard this city would be for me, and maybe He knew I needed to be pushed that hard to get me to listen to what He was trying to tell me.

Faith had been easier in London, with ready access to Christian friends and lots of support from a strong spiritual community, I’d had regular reminders of God’s role in my life. Toronto had been spiritually isolating, and with minimal accountability I’d buckled. I’d needed to find a well of faith inside myself to get through it all, but once I found it, I was able to reconnect to outside sources which reinforced my faith and helped me grow in it.

So what has all this been leading up to? Well, things are getting better. It isn’t that my faith has “earned” me a reward — it doesn’t work like that. But perhaps the lesson God had for me has finally been learned, and so the trial put in place to teach it to me is coming to an end. Lately God has been pouring out blessings into my life. My finances, home life, career, spiritual life… so many things about which I’ve desperately prayed are approaching resolution, and I find myself praying even more! I walk to work giving thanks. I lay in bed and praise God’s greatness. I have been overwhelmed by the love of His church in its efforts to glorify Him.

And now I have a new prayer: that as things improve, I would not fall into complacency with my faith. I turned to God when I felt I had nothing else, and I pray that as I rise from the bottom of this barrel, I won’t leave Him behind. God has been my sure footing these past few months, and even though things around me are changing, I hope my feet never move an inch.

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