No Conditions Attached

“Unconditional love is an illogical notion, but such a great and powerful one.”

One of the  main struggles I had to deal with  daily when I left the church over 20 years ago was trying to figure out how much God loved me if he actually did.

The guilt and condemnation (a popular word for self judgement) was unbearable at times. Leaving the church was akin to leaving God behind as you can picture Him standing at the front door waving goodbye with a look on his face as if to say. Poor guy, he doesn’t know what he is in for.

Ironically its true, I didn’t know what I was in for. But in retrospect it wasn’t because I was leaving Gods will  nor was I forsaking my love for God. Metaphorically all I was doing was leaving home to find my own way in the world, not much different to leaving my parents home when old enough to go out on my own and explore my options and find my own way in life.

I had outgrown my place in the church and it was time to go from being a child of God (in Gods eyes we will always be his children) to becoming the man of God I was put on this earth to be.

My perception of Gods love for me came from my service for him and my loyalty to the church I served him through.

My belief system was pretty screwed up. Was I becoming a prodigal son, with the Father staying behind looking out the window of the church he supposedly worked so hard to establish waiting for my subsequent return while his brash and immature son left Him behind to find a “better life”?

These thoughts were directly linked to years of indoctrination. Sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant. Whenever anyone left our church, they were making a bad decision, turning their back on God. Like a “dog returning to his vomit.” Backsliding.

This is no more evident than when things start to go wrong. Every bump in the road, every child sickness, car breakdown, visit to the school principal, financial problem, has this undeniable presence reminding you that it’s all because of you leaving God’s will for your life.

My love for God was being tested, his love for me was arbitrary. Sometimes he loved me (when things were going well) sometimes he didn’t (when things went haywire).

I lost my ability to trust God because all the evidence in those early years pointed to me being out of Gods will. Therefore I was convinced that his love for me was more like a disappointed father waiting for his son to come to his senses and return home.

It wasn’t until we lost a son to suicide twelve years after leaving the church that a shift occurred in my life. I had something more important to worry about than my relationship with God. For a brief moment I hated Him.

All my time went into figuring out how to survive the grief that enveloped me. My sons’ death consumed all my energy for the good part of 6 and a half years. I did overcome grief and I allowed myself to move on.

Although life as I knew it would never be the same. I was also allowing God back into my life and this is when I started to actually believe that not only did God love me but he loved me in a way that I was meant to be loved. Unconditionally, with no conditions attached.

My understanding of Gods love up before my son’s death  was a God that loved me according to how I pleased him, served him and worked for him. Therefore I could only love others in the same way. Superficially.

God doesn’t love us according to any level we may or may not have attained. He doesn’t love one above another nor does he love according to our good works. I don’t believe that God is capable of loving any other way but unconditionally.

When I finally accepted that Gods love for me is unconditional, it opened the door for me to question the obvious. Why can I not love myself in the same way.

Unknowingly for many years because I concluded that God loved me according to my level of service then I was only capable of loving myself in the same way. I was never able to love myself in a way that would help me to love others any other way also.

It became a domino affect. Once I opened my heart to allow God to love me unconditionally, I was open to loving myself unconditionally. Then when I allowed myself to love me in this way I opened the door to loving others the same including my wife, children and all those that I came in contact with.

After this change of heart I was eventually set free from the clutches of my former belief system, my former Church, Christianity in general  and religion more specifically.

I didn’t say the broken road was a short cut to freedom. It does lead there if you stay on course and don’t turn back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Road To Freedom

“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.” If that is true then God is now my friend.

My name is Sammy. I am 69 years old. Recently my wife and I sold up and gave away pretty much everything we owned, we said goodbye to our grown independent children and hit the road. Our plan was simple. Go out without any expectations on our lives and just see what happens.

We decided the best way to do this was to house sit our way around the country. Rhonda says we are re-inventing ourselves. I say we are starting a new chapter in our lives. Although our future is unsure we have the unique opportunity to start over again, this time with the knowledge, experience and faith that God has no expectations on our lives.

Twenty years ago we left our church of 25 years.

This is where the we stops. Rhonda and I walked parallel roads to get to this phase of our lives. I will leave her here as the story I tell now is mine.

I was raised in a Jewish family. We were more cultural than religious although for some reason my parents felt a little religion in my life would be good for me. I was enrolled in a free orthodox Hebrew school. I attended each day after my public school from the age of 9 to 13.

Here I learned how to read and write Hebrew. I learned about the Torah, the holy book, history of my people. I even joined the choir.

I loved my Jewish heritage, I loved being an American more, so at the age of 13 after my Bar Mitzvah, the ceremony that recognizes that a boy becomes a man, my first adult decision was not to attend Hebrew school or synagogue again.

I didn’t reject Judaism, just the religious part wasn’t for me. In retrospect there was no personal connection to God.

After my discharge from the Army at 22 years of age I decided to travel.

During my travels a change was coming over me. God was revealing himself in little ways as I went from city to city. I was changing inside.  For the first time life I was aware of a part of me that was more than the five senses that I had grown to depend on for all my experiences.

A year later, hitch hiking across Canada, I found myself  camping under a loan oak tree on someones property in the middle of only God knows where. I fell asleep sitting up with my back braced against the trunk of the tree, I woke the next morning in the same position.  I had this miraculous experience. I was filled with this undeniable overwhelming feeling of love that I had never experienced before in my life.

I recognised right away that it was Jesus. Don’t ask me how I knew, since I grew up in the Jewish faith not knowing who this Jesus was, either historically or as the forefather of Christianity.

I just knew.

Not a month later I joined a church and became a christian.

(a footnote here: I am not going to name the church because its irrelevant to my story. It would also become too easy for others to make unfounded insinuations  or say “yes I can see why he was confused in his beliefs”. The Christian religion is so divided by denominations, or non-denominations, sects and cults. You have Baptists, Uniting Church, Quakers, Seventh Day Adventists or the Jehovah Witnesses. How about the Amish and Mennonites or Church of God, Catholics. Lets not forget the Evangelical Fundamentalists and the list goes on.

And what do they all have in common? Each profess they believe in God, Jesus & the Bible. Each declare they have just that little more truth than their christian counterparts. So you see, what difference does it make what church you come out of? It doesn’t.)

What you need to understand,  not only was Jesus new to me, Christianity was as foreign to me as becoming  Chinese.

It  was a new culture with a new language. I never heard or knew anything about salvation, baptism, the Trinity, eternal life, the heavenly city, communion, witnessing, end time, the great tribulation, gifts of the spirit, ministry, the last supper, miracles, the son of god, being born again, grace, the Crucifixion,  and the list goes on.

For the next twenty-five years I was a faithful loyal believer in Gods special little world called Christianity serving him the best I knew how. Doing everything that was required of me to be the child of God that I believed I was meant to be.

During these years of christian living I met my wife, had children and tried my best to pass on my christian faith with the knowledge that my children also would follow in my foot steps.

Trying to maintain my place in the church and subsequent service for God and being the best christian I could be for my family and those I came in contact with was a full-time job in itself.  But something was missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it and It didn’t come to me while still in the church. It was quite some time after I left the church that the void in my life became clear.

It was my personal relationship with God that suffered most or better said was non existent. I had replaced this with serving God and church.  Although Jesus was always at the forefront of my thoughts and prayers I never really developed the closeness with God that was necessary to grow spiritually.

Not by intention but what transpired is that my church and its teachings took the place of  God in my life.

I left the church not knowing the road that I was about to travel on. I just knew it was time to leave. With my wife (thankfully she was feeling the same) and children we set out to start over.

The next 20 years was the most difficult time in my life. My world fell apart around me. I knew I made the right decision no matter the outcome. Going forward was so difficult and if I was to judge my life and the decision to leave the church by how my life was unfolding it was evident I was a total failure.

Eventually my inner life stabilised. I knew what I needed to do. I set about creating a new life for myself from scratch. That included questioning everything I learned, the belief system I was taught and what I professed to be truth.

Everything became fair game. I put everything I had been taught as a christian under the microscope.Not according to biblical standards but as a mature human being who was more than capable of deciding for myself what was right and/or wrong.

This is when my relationship with God started to flourish.

What I had to learn was this. That God loved me unconditionally and that meant he put no conditions on his love for me.  “He accepted me for who I was not for who I was going to be.” My whole christian life was about service for God. Now it was about my relationship with Him.

It took almost 20 years for the broken road to smooth over but I made it.

If you are one that has left the church for whatever reason then this blog is for you. If you haven’t left the church but are thinking about it but have doubts then my advice to you is stay put.

This blog is not about winning people away from the church. The church has its place. But not for me.

You may wonder if I even consider myself a christian. I will answer that with a question for you. “Tell me what you believe a christian is and I will tell you whether I am one or not.”

I try to live each day by this one thought.  “To love God with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind and to love others as I love myself.” That is the best I can do. Also enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life.

This blog is about how the lessons I learned while walking the broken road after I left the church.

Cheers,

Sammy

(footnote: Where quotations are used I am either quoting someone or paraphrasing a quote. I am not giving credit to the author of the quote for this reason. Many quotes I could not possibly confirm where they came from although many are given credit for them. If you see  quotation marks know this, I am not the author of said quote.)