Though I had experienced my first real encounter with God, my life didn’t just suddenly get better. But it was the first step of a long journey back to God. I had to realize that a relationship with God was something that slowly grew, not something you could bring to instant fulfillment by following the “Rules to Godliness”. I had to get to know God as a person, not a formula to follow. But these are really my thoughts in hindsight. In the moment, all I knew was that I had been given enough gas in the tank to keep going a little longer.
The next step on my journey was my discovery of G. K. Chesterton. I first read his Father Brown mysteries, and loved his funny little priest. Then I read some of his other fiction, and then…Orthodoxy. I was simultaneously attracted and perplexed by jolly Mr. Chesterton. Everything he said was simple and straightforward, and a genuine expression of his joy in his God. But how could he find such joy and beauty where I only felt dread? I decided he must know something I didn’t, and I delved into his books with the hunger of a starving man.
I found a different God there than the one I grew up with. This God was affectionate, happy, ridiculously pleased with the small antics of His earthly children. This God was a laughing God. Even in His solemnity, He still had a secret twinkle in His eye, like someone pretending to be stern but secretly holding a treat behind his back. I LIKED this God! I could conceive of not being afraid of Him. Chesterton taught about the Romance of Christendom, and I drank it in, because in his joyful God, I found just what I needed to combat the poison of my childhood. I found the same joy running through all of his books and his poems, which I fell in love in. This “joy without a cause”, as he once described it, fascinated and pulled me despite my misgivings. I desperately wanted to believe in this God who prompted such a joy.
In reading Chesterton, I found permission to start to enjoy the little things in life again. To experience the pleasure of a good book, a bowl of dessert, a solitary walk under the stars, without feeling God’s disapproval. Each moment of enjoyment was still couched in the context of my parents’ displeasure. But somehow, despite their rejection of everything I found joy in, despite their calling it “foolishness” and labeling me “irresponsible and immature” for pursuing such things, I continued to allow myself small pleasures. And in a way, they gave me back both my hope, and God.
Outwardly, over the next year or so, there were also some changes. I was happier. I made a few friends, including a best friend whose friendship I enjoyed for the next 5 years or so. I started college at a state university. I probably argued and debated with my parents even more than before. I no longer accepted their worldview, and the inevitable clash was often intense. I would have 6-hour arguments with my dad till the small hours of the morning, only ending when we were both so tired that our sleep-addled brains could no longer form meaningful sentences.
Inwardly, I came to a new crossroads. I was forced to the conclusion that there was one major thing holding me back from a relationship with God: I didn’t trust Him. At some point I heard or read somewhere a simple explanation of what Trust was. It was compared to a chair. You can SAY you trust a chair to hold your weight…you can look at it, and make all sorts of calculations to decide its load-bearing capacity…but ultimately none of it counts until you sit down in that chair. If you trust the chair, you’ll sit down in it. If you don’t trust the chair, you’ll stay standing.
I was definitely standing. All of my combined life experiences fought with desperate strength against even the idea of sitting down. I had more than enough proof that it wasn’t safe to trust anyone, especially not God. Not only had all the authority figures in my life either failed to protect me, or taken part in my abuse — but they told me they did so at the bidding of God. Even the thought of trusting God enough to let any control slip from my fingers was enough to produce gut-wrenching, nausea-inducing panic.
My mind rebelled and fought against it on one side, and God gently pulled me from the other. It took me weeks of wrestling with myself. But I did it. I took a mental catalogue of my fears – of everything God might ask me to do, or take away from me, and I went down the list, fear after fear, and chose to accept the possibility of every one. That was really the scariest thing. Once I won the battle in my mind, the rest was just a formality. I sat down in that figurative chair. And for the first time in my life, I chose to trust God.