For a long time, I regarded April 9th as my spiritual birthday. That was the day I gave my life to Jesus at Youth Convention in Hershey, PA, and was “born again.” I guess you could say it still is, but lately, the thought of having a spiritual birthday/anniversary, or count out the number of years you’ve “been saved,” is very strange to me. Why? Let me tell you…
My wife and I are celebrating our third wedding anniversary today. Why do I celebrate that? Because it’s a challenge to endure that amount of time in a relationship with another person. Yeah, I said it. Being married is a CHALLENGE. Whoever the idiot was that said that the first couple years of marriage were all flowers and unicorns pooping rainbows was obviously never married themselves. I genuinely believe this is why we mark anniversaries: because every year you don’t break it off is a victory. Your love won out over the arguments over the cat peeing on the bed, or how well the other washes the dishes. That’s a win for the home team.
Let’s look at something a bit more serious: sobriety. Talk to someone who went through AA or Teen Challenge or any other rehab; they know the day they entered the program, and how long it’s been since they decided to get sober. That’s a freakin’ challenge right there: saying no every single day to your urges and cravings, shaking off the withdrawal you’re feeling for the first several weeks, then making sure you never find yourself in a situation where you’re going to be downing another drink. Every day is a win, every week a victory.
Faith, however, shouldn’t be marked by time endured.
This is one of those things in evangelical/fundamentalist culture that I’ve sworn off, this thought that “faith that has endured the test of time” is a good thing. What exactly has the faith in question endured?
- Scrutiny under a microscope. Those pesky atheists asking their questions couldn’t tear down your beliefs!
- Hard times. The death of your wife and daughter in that horrible car accident couldn’t shake your trust in God!
- The world. It’s changed its views on all kinds of things, but yours have stayed the same! In the world, not of the world!
These are the kinds of things that get celebrated in a long endured identity as a Christian. For me, though, these aren’t the signs of a healthy faith. As it is in any religion (or even without religion), you grow and mature as a human being. Your views on the world change. You develop. You evolve. An unchanged faith, to me, is actually a sign of immaturity. Even if you change your beliefs entirely, it’s not a loss. Say you went from being a Christian to being an atheist; it’s not a loss, in my mind. You simply grew differently than someone else did.
Faith is not a test of endurance, it is an experience. For some, that experience is always new; for others, a new experience is in order.
I am not the same Christian I was ten years ago when I was “born again.” Though I had given my life to Christ many times, I think I just marked that particular one as significant because of the power it had on me. I’m certainly not denying the impact it had on my life, but if I were to sit down with my 16-year-old self and talk faith with him, I don’t know if I’d be disgusted with myself or not. This is why you can’t mark your faith by endurance; for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t endure. It changes.
And that’s OK.