This last March I celebrated 10 years of marked pursuit of God.
Perhaps it could be argued that my heart was being prepared for a conversion experience long before my awareness (Ephesians 1:4, John 15:16, Romans 8:29, 2 Peter 3:9) but in as far as an active response to that calling is concerned, my personal relationship with Christ began one decade ago.
A lot happened during this time.
Since the very beginning of my identification with Christian Theism, I have never ceased to think of myself as any other "kind" of Christian than an Evangelical. I realize that word means different things to different people, so for the sake of clarity what I really mean here by "Evangelical" is firstly, a person who believes the doctrines laid out in the Apostles Creed, secondly, a person who holds a high view of Scripture, and thirdly, a person who maintains that salvation comes by being consciously involved with a living, resurrected Jesus.
This being said, the vast majority of my time as an Evangelical has also consisted of subscribing to a lot of other ideas that extended outside the essentials of the faith, including but not limited to upholding gender hierarchy, rejecting my sexual orientation and holding fast to a certain set of political ideologies. I believed that these were all part of what it meant to live a life shaped by the gospel, and as a result, I also bought into the idea that there is one, single narrative for "true" Christians to live into -- a single narrative that looks a lot like a Nicholas Sparks novel.
As most know, inside Sparks' novels (and film adaptations) there are two people (always white and always heterosexual), a conflict that stifles the aforementioned couples' increasing love for one another, a bizarre and shocking tragedy that strikes and by the end, everything falls together in a way that all the hard and horrible questions are somehow demystified and settled for all people for all time.
Although not explicitly encouraged in such a way, this too seems like the story much of the contemporary Evangelical Church has implicitly called prescriptive. Stories that are communicated so clear, so sure of their moral and how to live into it, and if we're really honest, just so very safe and pedestrian.
I would love it if this narrative were, in fact, true for me. It would be rather convenient if the experience of every person who claimed rebirth did, in fact, fit into this plot line. Or even just most people...
But, the problem is that I and so many others have just wrestled with too much doubt, inter-psyche conflict, anxiety, selfishness and cynicism to make sense of our journey with God in a way where the loose ends are tied on this side of glory. We've made more than enough mistakes, had the perfect amount of sleepless nights, and lived in the right depth of disappointment and loss for the overwhelming majority of scenes of our lives to totally miss this ideal.
It's not that I don't appreciate the love stories Sparks attempts to market as hopeful realism, it's just that I've had too many "Walks" I'd rather not "Remember," there was no "Last Song" completed before my dad passed away, and to date all of my "Notebooks" have ended far before we could share a life together and slip away into eternity in the same bed holding hands.
I should pause to say that I do agree with the posit of writers like J.R.R. Tolkien in response to the gospel following this dramatic narrative arc, hence making it the reason we are in fact moved by these types of stories in the first place. But what is not being accounted for in either Sparks' or the Evangelical Church's version of our present reality is that the gospel is at its heart an eschatological message, meaning that until the end, our understanding of life, the human condition, and especially our ability to navigate a spiritual identity is going to be marked by limitations (1 Corinthians 13:12; Romans 8:18-24). In other words, our faith is one that is both now and not yet, and trying to force life into a narrative that excludes the possibility of failure, pain, doubt and entirely unresolved quandary is at best is futile and at worst, traumatizing.
All things considered, my faith started to breathe again once I accepted that the story God has positioned me in is chock full of blood, guts, and poorly bandaged wounds. It started to breathe again once I understood that my tragedy is yet to be fully spoken for. It started to breathe again when I was able to own the experiences I have actually had and integrate them into my faith. It started to breathe again when I finally learned that I don't ever need to feel any less hopeful or any less Evangelical because my story is not the "Lucky One," the "Guardian," and/or certainly not "Dear John"'s.