How Do You Change Your Mind After You’ve Changed Your Mind

July 24, 2013 § 3 Comments

The year before my Great Depression my parents came to visit me in my community house in Grand Forks. I had just finished a book about a Charismatic revival in Wales during the early 20th century—a movement whose adherents claimed their prayers halted the progress of enemy armies during WWI. This appealed to my pacifist leanings. (Leanings that I can only explain as coming from the natural bent of my personality, and perhaps, from all the scripture memorization…Bible Quizzing, y’all.)

I remember saying to my dad, “Why do Christians fight in wars? If we believe in the power of prayer, why don’t we put our trust in it to bring peace to the world?”

“Who is putting these thoughts into your head?” he asked, incredulous.

Over the years since then I have encountered this same reaction from both men and women in response to my honest questions and what, to me, were thoughtful and compassionate interpretations of scripture. But in the evangelical culture, original thoughts are discredited as “rebellion,” “bitterness,” and “resisting conviction.”

All this is probably old news to anyone who reads my blog. Most of us have begun resisting the idea that doubt = sin. But what I want to talk about is the irresistible psychic draw back into those old ways of thinking—that God is in control of every detail, that he thwarts our plans because of sin, that he is the one crouching at the door waiting to expose our deepest shame. I just can’t shake it.

Backtracking a little—when I moved further into questioning the faith culture I grew up in, I began to feel more and more mentally unmoored. All of the scripts that had helped me make sense of the world were being unwritten, and I had no connections to others like me, who could help me replace the scripts with something new, healthy, and healing. This kicked me into the full-blown depression that had been percolating in the background of my life for years. But here’s the horrible thing: I knew that if I confessed my illness, and the shivery lock-jawed addiction that came with it, all my subversive thoughts, questions, convictions, and basic human agency would be credited as the cause of my troubles. The Christian authorities in my life were just waiting for the opportunity to put me in my place, and any admission of weakness would give them the excuse.

I feared them, I feared God, I feared myself. My new way of thinking suggested that maybe God was not in control of the sadness, maybe God was not thwarting me because of some inadvertent rebellion against a detail of The Holy Will that I missed because I hadn’t prayed enough. But then there came the authoritative “No,” the pull of my learned decision-making process that demanded a will outside my own to be in-charge—because I was, clearly, too weak to be making decisions for myself.

Oh. My brain. My soul. So completely without a place to rest its head.

If only I hadn’t been weak, I could have moved confidently in the direction of my convictions, but things didn’t work out that way. After the sadness subsided, I began to go to a young, hip church with a lot of rules and that helped for awhile—I got the rest from my own mind that I, perhaps, needed—until I got shunned for thinking and speaking, only confirming my deepest fears about what it takes to “do life” in a strong, vibrant Christian community.

Years later still, and I’m still figuring out how to make decisions without reverting to attempts at divining God’s Holy Will, sorting through signs like so many chicken innards or tea leaves. But thinking for myself still feels a bit dangerous, a bit like sin. And I don’t like living with that feeling, but still, it has to be right—owning my own agency—right?

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§ 3 Responses to How Do You Change Your Mind After You’ve Changed Your Mind

  • Darren Beem says:

    I could relate to some of what you experienced. As a young Christian, when I made my decision, I believed that the Holy Spirit, would come into me, transform me and “bang”, everything would change. No more sin. No more struggling.

    This lasted for several months then, eventually, I came to earth. Then I adapted a kind of legalism, at a church with a lot of rules. I thought that to live for God, I had to follow the rules. It was brutal. Eventually, I totally burned out.

    What ultimately helped me was to understand my place in the world that God loved me for me, not for fidelity to rule-following, not to some impossible to obtain perfection. Yes, I fail and often I screw up, it’s still okay.

    Some of my favorite books are Jerry Sitter’s “Will of God as a Way of Life” and Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel. Sitter also wrote a book “When God Doesn’t Answer Your Prayer” Much of Sitter’s book comes from his own story and the loss of his wife, child and mother in a tragic accident.

    • charityjill says:

      I really must read some Brennan Manning. I’ve heard people saying such good things about his writing for years and years. Thanks for stopping by the blog, Darren!

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