I want to be more fully immersed in my faith. I don’t know whether it is a feature of my bipolar but I am very much an all-or-nothing sort of person. I either want to spend all my time doing something, or not do it at all; the idea of having a faith but doing nothing with it doesn’t appeal to me. Which is one of the reasons that, purely on a personal level, I think becoming a priest would suit me – that is quite aside from what other people have said re: calling. But that is by the by because what I really want to say here is that I have started a course for new(ish) Christians run by the Baptists.
In lots of ways I envy the Baptists. They have a large, young congregation, they do things in the community (street pastoring on a Saturday night, debt management counselling, etc) and they bring people to Christ. Unlike most churches they have an equal number of men and women in them! I made the decision to join the Church of England for various reasons, and I am happy with my denomination, but I do wish my church would follow the lead of the Baptists and get out into the world and do things and not just sit about waiting for people to come to the church!
Anyway, I had been hoping my church did house groups or something like that where I could go during the week to talk about God, and worship and whatnot. However my church doesn’t do anything except on a Sunday it seems. However, on looking on the Baptists’ website I discovered that, among other things, they do a range of courses, from Alpha to Christianity Explored and follow-on courses for people who become Christians. So I rang them up and said, could I come? They said yes and my first session was on Thursday, in a coffeeshop in the evening.
Well, first things first I was surprised by the number of men! There were about ten of us, and I was the only woman! (Actually it was quite refreshing) They were all roughly my age, ranging from about 25 to about 45 I would say (also rather refreshing, my church is quite elderly). We were doing a course called Life: The Journey for New Christians by Jeff Lucas.
I have never actually been on one of these Christian courses before and it wasn’t what I was expecting. Firstly we all got given coffees, then we sat and watched a short DVD of Jeff Lucas, talking about how he came to faith, and the gift of God, and love and repentance. Sounds a lot, but it was quite short. What I liked about it is that it wasn’t some slick, American-style preacher who you’d struggle to believe had ever had a problem in his life, but Lucas seems like an ordinary bloke, who doesn’t have a dramatic conversion story, and who has faced trials in his faith much like the sort of trials everyone has. That, for me, was more effective. (When I say it wasn’t slick, I don’t mean it was amateur either).
After watching the clip we had a discussion. We talked about why we struggle with the truth that God loves us, for instance, and my comment to that is that I have trouble with this. I know it is true, but the idea of God is so vast, he who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Creator of the Universe, that I have trouble thinking he could possibly love someone as insignificant as me, and if he loves me at all it is some sort of impersonal “well I love everyone” generality sort of love. I know this isn’t true but it is how it feels to me. I also said that that is the reason why that Adrian Plass quote means a lot to me, the “God is nice and he likes you” because I find that helps me ‘see’, comprehend God better. I can get so awed by the magnificence of God that I cannot see his closeness to me, and to others.
We also talked about repentance, about what it means to turn our failures over to God. I made the point that repenting means not just feeling sad, but doing something about it, giving it to God and resolving not to do that thing again. I also remembered when I was small, and I scribbled on the wall of the place my nana cleaned in one day (I must have been about 4) and I “repented” and prayed about how sorry I was for that incident, for a good ten years after. What I said to the group was that sometimes we hang on to our sins when we don’t need to – they have been repented, they have been forgiven, they are done and dusted and we don’t need to beat ourselves up about them any more.
Certainly I am aware of just how often I say “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” for the same thing. Either because it is a sin that I am not willing to give up, or because I cannot let go and give it to God, instead hanging onto it and letting it poison me. I am also aware that I probably repent of things that are not sins, or magnify misdeeds far beyond how bad they actually are. That may be the depressive in me – certainly when I am depressed I have prayed and prayed to be a better person, have often said how awful I am, and have engaged in a desperate search for the sin that, if repented of, would cure me of my illness. It is only after years of suffering that I have identified that I become ill when exposed to stress, not after any particular sin. Of course, I still sin and I still fail all the time, but I do not believe that my illness is the direct result of particular sins. I have searched my heart on this one and I simply do not see what it is I have done to deserve a life-long, unpleasant illness like bipolar disorder. I think that it is the voice of illness which says to me “You are awful and you need to repent, God is punishing you” – God is not punishing me, but he is with me when I suffer, because he knows what it is like to suffer unjustly. Sometimes bad things happen for no good reason, although I do believe that God can and does bring good things out of bad.
Anyway, I enjoyed the course and I am looking forward to going again tomorrow. The booklet we were given has some thoughts and readings to do in the time before the next meeting. That’ll be fun!