As I grew up, though, my faith became something not just passed onto me through my parents, but alive and real and relevant to me. Jesus was not just some far off God I heard about week after week in Sunday school (or didn't really listen to my Dad talk about in his sermons... I don't recall what I did during his sermons, but I don't remember being terribly engaged in whatever he was talking about) - He was my friend. Sometimes, my only friend. I spent a lot of time alone as a kid, or at least it seems that way in my memory. Moving around every few years meant starting over every few years, having to break new ground and reintroduce myself into a new environment over and over again. I didn't mind so much. I got pretty comfortable with being the new kid, and pretty comfortable being by myself. I was blessed with the ability to be good at entertaining myself, coming up with elaborate stories and adventures in my mind that I would write about or act out in play on my own. During those times, I remember Jesus was a close companion, crouching beside me in the wheat fields pretending to be on safari, or fording a treacherous river (a.k.a., our creek) on our way to a new frontier, or creating a fort in the woods like it was our abandoned cottage we stumbled upon, something out of the Secret Garden.
And then, as I got older and experienced the not-so-fluffy realities of life - when I learned my family wasn't as perfect as it once seemed, that all families have their own pain and secrets - Jesus became more than just my closest companion. He showed me His Father. My own Dad was gone for awhile when I was a teenager, and I was in a lot of pain. It was just my Mom and I at the time, and I wasn't too good at sharing my emotions with her (not many teenagers are). You could say I closed up inside, and I also took a lot of my pain out on her. I just wanted my Dad, and I didn't know how to make sense of this new world I was experiencing. I think that's when I first got to know, to really know, my Father. I remember shutting myself in my room and having conversations with Him, through tears, and feeling as if He were holding me somehow. It didn't take the pain away, but it gave me peace, and that is what I wanted.
I guess I say all this stuff about my childhood as some roundabout way of saying, I grew up within some pretty clearly defined lines of Christianity. I grew up sheltered, but not entirely. I grew up in a home where I never knew what it was like to not know God, on some level, and yet thankfully, this did not stop me from knowing Him as more than a heritage passed onto me that I had no choice but to receive. I think I was destined to know God, but He's become progressively more real as a Person to me over the years. But all this is not really what I'm getting at in this particular blog. I keep trailing off my course of thought, and probably that's okay, but it doesn't make for the most organized reading.
So I'll try again. I'll just say it plainly this time: I grew up thinking within the lines. I don't view that as a "bad" thing, just as a thing to know about myself. Over my years in high school and college and grad school and life beyond school, I've encountered a lot of people and many of them have stories and beliefs and ideas that are outside the lines I grew up knowing. We hear a lot about "tolerance" in our culture, and in the church, it's kind of a bad word. I'm not sure I really know what tolerance is, except, I realize it messes with my black-and-white thinking.
There have been times I've fancied myself, quite honestly, to be an out-of-the-box thinker. Looking back, most of the times I've thought this, I've been surrounded by people who are simply further inside the lines than I am. When I'm around people who are closer to the edges of the lines of the box, or outside whatever "the box" is, that's when I see that I'm no more outside the box than a Jack-in-the-box. It's not being outside the lines or inside the lines that's the point; it's learning that thoughts are progressive, and when they're not, they risk becoming stagnant. I don't have to always be changing my beliefs, like some spiritual chameleon, nor do I want to be. But neither do I want to live in the world of black-and-white, where I think I have things figured out that none of us will ever fully figure out. Some things are black-and-white, like Jesus being God. And many things are not. The trick is learning to live in this tension, and as some have articulated, even enjoy it. I'm still working on that.