There’s a village near to us that is notoriously bad for traffic jams. It gets ridiculously congested thanks to narrow roads and way too many cars. It’s only a small village, so the traffic tends to back right up through the high street.
There’s a church there. They usually have some kind of quote on an information board outside, in big letters so you can read it from your car. They’re kind of cheesy but in a self-referential way. I always look out for it if we ever drive through there.
Today, we drove through the village. It said, against a neon background:
‘Found yourself in a jam (again)? Come to Jesus – He allows U-Turns!’
It made me smile. The bare-faced audacity of the cheesiness.
But it got me thinking.
There are Christians reading this that have drifted away from God.
This post is for you. Because I have been you, many times.
(Of course it goes without saying that if this isn’t you, you can still read it.)
When I first became a Christian I kind of drowned myself in the culture. It was a whole new world. A lot of my friends grew up in that culture. They knew what things were. ‘Soul Survivor’ and ‘WYWAM’ and ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ and ‘The Case for Christ’ and … so on and so forth. They had a lifetime’s worth of knowledge that I was completely baffled by. They had songs entrenched in their memories from week after week of Sunday School. They had a catalogue of worship songs that were attached to various years of their childhood. They actually remembered names and rough timelines of incomprehensible kingdoms that felt so overwhelming and huge and difficult to me.
I didn’t care because I had a fiery passion for God.
Anyway, people talked a lot about ‘drifting’. (There were a lot of new words I had to start using too. Like ‘seasons’ and ‘blessed’ and ‘journey’ and ‘interceding’ and things like that.) People warned me, even. ‘At some point you’ll feel yourself drifting.’
Drifting? From God? The God that just turned my life around? The God that I kept crying about randomly because I felt so relieved, like I’d been a stranger in a foreign land for a long time and finally returned home? That God? You’re telling me I’m going to drift away from that God?
Anyway, it turns out you shouldn’t ignore wisdom from people who know a lot more than you do.
At some point I drifted. And then came back again. And it startled me, the drift, because of it’s insideousness. It just kind of … happened. Right under my nose. Without me even realising.
And then I came back.
And then, at some point, I drifted again.
And then I came back.
I’m aware that some people’s spiritual journeys are not actually that interesting to read about, because some people don’t have glamorous, exciting stories to tell. Some people just kind of muddle along as best they can. Spiritual stuff is all tangled up in … life stuff. Periods of darkness, periods of light. Periods of grey. Moments of brilliance that occasionally peep through the clouds. That sort of thing.
What am I even talking about right now?
Oh yes. Drifting.
Sometimes, you drift so impossibly far away from God that you feel almost like an astronaut who has been launched out into space. You’re just floating gradually away from earth, powerless to stop yourself.
Sometimes our actions and thoughts and words build upon each other, layer after layer, until they start to cement together. A thick brick wall between you and God.
You become a bit hardened. You become a bit bitter. You become a bit hopeless. You become a bit fragile. And so you cocoon yourself in something, anything, to help you feel a bit safer out in the world. Jesus was your safety net, and now you’re going it alone. So you layer yourself in stuff. Noise. Just anything to distract you from the impossibly horrible problem that has happened, somehow, over time.
You’re alone, and you’ve floated so far, that your perspective on Home has changed.
You start to forget who He is.
Christians sometimes get this confused, but we’re not good because we belong to a religion. We’re good because we’ve suddenly become aware of our own weakness and utterly dependent on the strength of someone else. And while that sounds terrifyingly vulnerable, it’s actually freeing. Suddenly, obstacles that were insurmountable before don’t seem quite as awful to contemplate.
Because we’re not hanging onto any old thing here. We’re hanging onto God.
The same God that can craft an infinitely complex universe. That can create man from dust.
The same God that listens when we talk to Him.
We have an identity crisis when we drift, not because we need to discover our true selves, but because we’ve forgotten how brilliant God is. We’ve forgotten that we belong to Him. We start to question His character. Because when you say things like:
‘I’ve gone too far from God now.’
‘I’ve done too many awful things.’
‘I think too many awful thoughts.’
‘I’m a terrible person. No, seriously, a terrible person, you don’t know. If you knew, you’d understand. I’m messed up. I’m too messed up for God. I’m not worth it.’
You are not just doubting your own worth (and, for the record, you are worth a lot). You are doubting God’s ability to love you. You are assessing what ‘forgiveness’ really means and you have decided that His ability to forgive and forget is pretty extensive, but not quite enough to forgive you.
You think, ‘I have ruined it. I have ruined myself.’
I do this myself, mind. Sometimes. I convince myself that I am so not worth bothering with that I must be the one exception to the (‘God so loved the world …’) thing. I start thinking that, my attitude is so awful and my bad habits are so ridiculous and I have turned away from Him so many times, that surely at some point God said ‘meh, I’ve tried. I’m not going to take her back this time.’
That’s not true though, and somewhere deep down, you know it’s not.
There’s no sin greater than the other. Sadly, Christian culture has a reputation for organising sins into categories according to their severity and then punishing people accordingly. (I just read that back. Ouch. True though.)
When I first decided Jesus might actually be real I was a hot. mess.
Seriously, I can’t even tell you. (Maybe I will sometime, but not now.) I’d done some bad things, and I’d had some bad things done to me. And I had a very low view of myself.
Yet, still – I was forgiven.
I knew love in a way I hadn’t known before.
And it turned my life upside down.
God doesn’t change. He’s the same now as He was then. So it stands to reason that He feels the same way about me as He did back then.
I know this, right now. But when I’m drifting, I don’t always remember it.
Cast your mind back. Remember. Remember your life pre-God. For some people, this will be harder because you were raised a Christian. You learned the Lord’s Prayer before you learned your times tables. I don’t understand what this is like. To try and think through a lifetime’s worth of faith that you’ve had for as long as your memories stretch back.
But there will have been a time when you felt unforgiveable and then, suddenly, you were. Forgiven.
There will be times when you thought, ‘oh no, that’s it, I’ve blown it forever.’ and Jesus has just said, with the patience of well, Jesus, ‘Er, nope.’
Cast off the noise and distraction. Take off your security blanket. It doesn’t matter how busy you are. I know how it is. I’ve only got two children, and I often feel like I’m constantly playing catch-up, my mind darting from one thing to the next without a break. (Parents of three or more children: I seriously don’t know how you do it.) But even without the distraction of children, life is just so chaotic and relentless nowadays.
I understand how loud it all is.
I understand how cosy it is in there. In your comfortable nest of distractions.
Still. You need to step out. Not because God needs you. He doesn’t. He is perfectly capable of coping without us.
He wants us.
Can you just switch off the noise and sound and concentrate on that for a moment?
Sit down and read the story of the prodigal son. Sit down and read your own past. Remember it. Remember Him.
Remember who He actually is.
I don’t care what you’ve done. I don’t care how cynical you’ve become. I don’t care how stubborn you are. I don’t care how old and past it you think you might be. I don’t care how worthless you feel (oh gosh that sounds heartless. But you understand what I mean!). I don’t care how badly you’ve treated anyone else or yourself or even God.
Go and sit with Him.
Take an evening, be alone for a while, and pray.
It’s not easy. It’s painful, stepping out of that blanket. It’s vulnerable and it hurts to be vulnerable. It hurts to look at yourself and the things you have done. It hurts.
But with God is where you belong.
So go to Him.