I woke up this morning thinking about the clear blue sky and how it was a good weather for a run. 15 years ago, not worrying about keeping my heart healthy, I was very focused on my spiritual wellbeing—mind over matter. Placing my life and existence in God’s hands was of paramount importance. Every first breath was expelled in the morning with thanks to the Almighty for the gift of life.
Memories of that time form a very interesting part of a life I once lived—gone now as my daily first thoughts vary, based on whatever is going on in my life at the time.
I simply lost faith.
For many years, I used the word “faith” interchangeably with Christianity. Anyone who was not a Christian was outside of the faith and grossly in need of redemption, or at least an invitation to join our esteemed clique of the chosen and saved. So, I was one of the privileged few—born into the light of Christ. I wasn’t supposed to work very hard for this grace that was bestowed upon me. Freely was it given? All I had to do was abide by the tenets of the Bible, under the unction of the Men of God.
The only problem was that the weight of this grace left me with a million unanswered questions. There was also the responsibility that came from having to live up to the sacrifices of the cross.
First there was the unfailing attendance at morning devotion. Sing a hymn. Read the prescribed Bible text. Explain the text. Reflect upon the depth of those words. Read the summary in the Bible commentary book. The taking of prayer points then followed our family’s version of Scriptural Roulette. We repeated the process in the night; this time, the hymns were in Yoruba, and we took turns reciting chunks of Bible passages that we had committed to memory, the week before.
In our house, saying “No comments” was forbidden. “No prayer points” was not an option either. How can you not have something to pray to God for? If nothing readily came to mind, then you could at least show gratitude for the grace to see another day. So, for many years, this is what I did.
“Let us thank God for today.”
With the dawn of new light, I was closer to the grave and the promise of eternal life with my Savior who shed his blood on the Cross. The one for which I went to Church—every Sunday: morning and evening.
Like everything that was forbidden in our household, opting out of evening service was not on the cards. And like with everything I was banned from, I found a coping mechanism—either sit in the car and cram the bulletin or go visit a friend who lived near the church.
Cramming of the bulletin became necessary because Daddy debriefed us every Sunday evening. Knowing what to say wasn’t difficult after decades of hearing the same pastor preach the same topics in as many different possible ways as he can.
Visiting a friend to pass time meant I had to be on the mark with my timing: too early, and I have to listen to the altar call, and recessional hymn; too late and everyone is standing by the car wondering where you were.
“I was in the bathroom.” This response was ridiculous once when ours was the only car left in the car park and everyone, except my Dad (luckily) saw me strolling in through the gates.
In all of this, God’s mercy kept me in the fold. Unmerited grace it was called. But as I grew older, it appeared there were just too many requirements to fulfil to earn this special place in the body of Christ.
This body, consisted of people who lied, cheated, bickered, stole, said hateful/spiteful things, and were really mean to one another. One day as I tried to leave Church, after a really spiritually uplifting service, I was unable to drive out of the car park. My ‘Brothers & Sisters’ in the faith had resorted to a shouting match about who ought to have been allowed out before the others.
Make love, not war.
My heart dropped.
The more I searched for answers, something to help me hold on to this underserving place that Christ prepared for me, the more I found myself drifting away.
I realized I didn’t want a promise of heaven if I wasn’t going to make the best of my time here. I was tired of trying to hold my place in paradise. So tired and weary that my time on this side of the vale became hell.
My idea of faith has evolved, and I like my version a lot better. It does not involve having to worry about the contradictions in a prescribed text, written thousands of years ago, within a context that had absolutely no bearing on my realities. Slowly, I started to embrace qualities of life that I believed made for good human co-existence: love, kindness, compassion, generosity, patience, remorse, selflessness, and a purity of heart. I just wanted to live—one day, then the next, and the next, till I die.
Because, I am not afraid of death: either physical or spiritual.
Que Sera Sera.
Death used to be one of the bargaining chips in my past walk with the supernatural Christian deity.
“I shall not die but live to declare the goodness of God.”
My Uncle, who I loved with all my heart, died in very mysterious circumstances. One minute he was alive—declaring the goodness of God, and next thing he was dead. Gone.
“The Lord didn’t promise us that our lives would be free from sorrow and pain. He only said, if we walk with him, he will walk with us through the fire.”
My brother died at 38—in a fire. His burns still haunt me : peeled back , exposed flesh , white against charred calluses.
“God’s will be done. His ways are not our ways. Neither are his thoughts, our thoughts.”
These mysteries leave me confused: more questions than answers. And then, the sun rises, bold and gold surrounded by beautiful blue hues. Maybe. Just maybe there’s another side to all this.
Thus, in my long journey , I have come to the conclusion that faith is where my heart feels mostly at peace. My faith is in my quest to live a fulfilling life and leave a lasting legacy. I have no fear of what lies after I take my last breath. I am no longer trying to earn points by following a prescribed text.
I just want to live, breathe and love.
– See more at: http://brittlepaper.com/2015/11/faith-fight-fire-atoke-essay#sthash.BQQ0oD0c.dpuf
Thoughtful piece Atoke. I can’t imagine how you deal with the memory of your brother’s death. How many years ago did he pass away? I hope you find peace.
Regarding Christianity how have your feelings evolved a year since writing this article? Do you still feel the same way? I’m also curious about how your new approach to life is perceived in a highly religious country like Nigeria. I truly wonder what God thinks of the way christians have widely interpreted the Bible.
I believe that if “love your neighbor as yourself” is the only commandment that is followed in Nigeria it would be the best place in the world. Instead there are millions of religious establishments and vices in, arguably, equal measure.