I know many, many people will disagree with me on this, but I think we all come into this world aware that there is a God. If we grow up with Christian parents, we come to know at an early age that it is God and who He is. If we don't (like me), then we cannot define who this "bigger than me" entity is, but we know there's someone or something out there.
I remember when I was probably 4 or 5, I was at daycare (not a Christian daycare) and I overheard someone...or maybe we were singing in a group, I can't really remember...singing "He's got the whole world in his hands...," and I remember imagining a giant someone holding the whole world in His hands. I look back now, and know that I had an awareness of God, even though my parents were agnostic at best, if not atheists. We didn't talk about God, I had no definition of God, and probably didn't until I was probably in junior high, or maybe even high school.
But somewhere along the way, I began to let go of the idea that there was a God. I was taught that praying was silly and unneccessary, and that God was a myth, or at least someone who didn't deserve a lot of acknowledgement or attention. And as a freshman in high school, I even had a friend introduce me to the concept of being an atheist, and I began toying with the idea that maybe God didn't exist at all, and it was all happenstance. I don't think I was ever fully convinced of that though, because I had a science class in high school, and as we were studying evolution, there were parts of it that I just couldn't fully embrace as true. It was introduced as a "theory" (although the other side was laughed at, ridiculed, and disregarded as pure hooey by our teacher), and that's all I could embrace it as - a theory, something with too many variables and holes in the story.
It took a huge act of divine intervention and one brave school counselor who risked her job to reach out and share the Lord with me, to ultimately make me face God, acknowledge his power, love, and goodness toward me, and make the decision to put my faith in Him. But I'm not going to lie - it hasn't been an easy road, and it certainly hasn't given me a "perfect" life. So far from it! And even since getting saved, I haven't always loved God, followed Him, or respected Him, and there have even been times when I have questioned Him to the point of almost giving up on my faith in Him.
I am speaking so openly about this because I think too many Christians act like everything is constantly perfect and nothing can ever go wrong if you're a Christian. I think more Christians should be more open and honest - both to themselves, other believers, and the unchurched. Sure, its hard to be openly honest and vulnerable, especially since being so is hard and we always aim to put our best foot forward, but if we preach honesty, shouldn't we live it?
Anyway, I was doing some introspection into some current circumstances in my life, and the struggle to keep my faith that God will get us through. And my life isn't even half as hard as a lot of people! I'm not living in the wake of the Haiti earthquake, still trying to rebuild my home and my life 5 years after Hurricane Katrina, my husband and I have secure jobs despite this terrible economy, we always have food on our table and a roof over our heads, our children are healthy and thriving.... But still, life is hard no matter who you are!
As I was pondering, I came to a theory about why some people walk away from God, whether it be at an early age for lack of being able to define God, an environment and culture that tries to explain Him away, or hard circumstances that leave us wondering where He is and why we feel like He doesn't care.
The issue is this. We extend ourselves to God and we get let down. But its not because of Him, its because of us. I know you're sitting back saying, "Say wha..?" right now. Hear me out.
Its not until we fully embrace and begin to understand God's ways and heart that we begin to recognize that God has three answers to everything in our life: yes, no, and not right now. I think too many of us - Christian and non-Christian alike - view God as one of two things: a wishing well or an ATM.
The wishing well view goes like this. We assume that we send up a prayer or a plea to God and that our "wish will come true." We forget that God's ways are not our ways, and that He knows better than we do what is best for us. We may not think that or believe that, but its true. And so in losing sight of the fact that God doesn't always say yes, when the answer is no, we assume He doesn't care, so we become embittered and often get the "why bother with God if He won't bother with me" attitude, and walk away from Him. We believe some highly perpetuated myth that God grants ALL prayers, not realizing that maybe our prayers are not in our own and/or someone else's best interest. So let me tell you straight up - God is NOT a wishing well! You don't throw in your "prayer penny" and all your dreams come true. But here's some encouraging news about that. Sometimes when he says no, its because He has an even better answer to that request coming than we even thought to ask for.
And here's the ATM view. We assume that God's answers are instantaneous. We assume (as I recently did) that if we pray for the "perfect" job that will relieve "all" our financial stress, that it will automatically happen, and in a month's time things will improve. Its like we push the "magic prayer button" and God spits out an instantaneous response. Even Christians I believe think like this sometimes. We Christians are more prepared for God's answer to be no, but we still have a tough time with the "not right now." Waiting on the Lord, especially when circumstances are extremely difficult, is hard. We want the intantaneous response. We are used to a culture of instant gratification, and so I think that sometimes spills over into our prayer life. When the answer is wait, I think our impatience turns to frustration, and we think that God is mean and unfair. But the Bible says differently.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4, NIV)
So after many years of scratching my head, wondering why people walk away from God when they're young, or Christians struggle to "keep the faith" during intensely difficult circumstances, I am left to believe that it may be in large part due to our inability to accept when God's answer is no, or when God's answer isn't instantaneous. It takes faith, it takes maturity, and it takes patience to weather the storms of life without losing heart. Its difficult to want things so badly and so instantly to accept when it doesn't go our way. The key phrase is "our way." We forget, or don't want to accept, that God is bigger, greater, and knows better than we do what is best for us. When our expectations aren't met, we lose faith. Some temporarily, some forever. We become embittered toward God because we don't get our way. We're like spoiled children.
On that note, I was reminded of Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (The kids and I just watched it a few weeks ago, so I guess its fresh in my mind.) Veruca is an exaggerated example, but I think she has both the "wishing well" and "ATM" mentalities going on. Maybe not in a faith sense, but nevertheless, I think she's a good example. She wants whatever she wants, and right now! And that's how we view our relationship with God. We ask of Him, and we want what we want, right now, and if we don't get our way, we throw a hissy fit and blame our Father - our mean, unfair Father who clearly doesn't love us, because if He did, He'd give us everything we want, right here and right now. He'd never say no, and he'd never make us wait for anything. Right?! (Rhetorical, sarcasm-laden question.)
I hope I have clearly explained my theory and that its some decent food for thought. And now its only appropriate I leave you with our favorite spoiled brat's little ditty: