Bi-Polar Religion

images-17I was initially reluctant, when asked to share my experience on such a public site but as I read the initial posts on this site, I thought the risk might just be worth it. Okay, I have been a Christian for thirty or more years, and my experience has been one of constantly vacillating between two “poles”: the two poles of faith and doubt, obedience and rebellion, performance and grace, hope and despair. Occasionally I have felt that tangible and reassuring presence of God in my life but for the most part faith has been more a matter of intellectual assent than life-transforming power.

My faith journey started when I was living in Southern California in the 80’s and early 90’s. I was trying to find myself, my purpose for living and what it all meant. I have always struggled with self-esteem issues, never quite feeling that I measured up . This frenetic search for friendship coupled with crippling  doubt as to whether I could ever be accepted for just being me, affected my relationships with others as well as with God. The preacher would tell us to trust in God’s grace and not in our own “good works” but if that was true, why did it seem like there were so many conditions that had to be met before one could experience God’s “blessings”?

I continued to go to church but I felt that I was pretending, not just with God but with my fellow believers. In those early years, I mostly attended charismatic churches and I was often asked, “Do you feel the power of Jesus, brother?” to which I answered, according to the script, “Yes, I feel his power, brother!” The painful truth was that I felt the same as I did before I entered the meeting. Secretly I was tormented by this question, which became a kind of “faith formula” for me: if God is active, moving and speaking in the midst of his people, why do I feel so unspiritual? My sense of spiritual inadequacy only reinforced my fear that perhaps God did not really love me, and why should he, given my weak and wavering faith? I could not seem to find rest in this message of God’s unmerited favor and so my faith became what I refer to as “bi-polar”.

“Bipolar faith” is where you seek to follow God, while trying to remain at a safe distance.
I suspect that I’m not alone in my “bi-polar” experience with faith. People of faith have historically been known as those who live between the rapturous highs, where God’s presence is real and reassuring, and the rock bottom lows of doubt and depression, where we are left wondering if we are actually talking to God or merely talking to the wind. The Church traditionally has a hard time acknowledging the second part, which is why we Christians often sound like we are escaping to a make-believe, “la-la land” where all is “good”, where we are all “good” Christians and where God is always and only so “good”! But God is not the God of “la-la-land” but the God of the “real.” This is a hard discovery, for it means that we can no longer pave over all our doubts and fears with “spiritual frosting.” It means that we must learn how to explore some of the deep caverns of our heart.

I’m digging deeper these days, below the surface, refusing to settle for the shallow “faith formulas” and “abracadabra” confessions. I have been digging into the “badlands” of my soul (doubts, fears, anger), the places I had previously believed to be “god forsaken.” Down, down I go, below the surface into the darkness but down in the dark, I saw something . . . I’m starting to make out a face. It’s the face of One who was already here waiting for me, down here in my pain, and my “darkness.” Could it be that God is not disappointed with me or disgusted with this “mess” called my life?

I was channel surfing recently and I heard this song playing, “He has been my God though all of this” and despite my dislike for most Christian music, the lyric rang true for me. I have lived as a “bi-polar Christian” for so long, caught between the subterranean darkness, and my desire to be one of the “happy shiny people”, and yet God has remained constant, apparently he is not “bi-polar.” In addition to being therapeutic, I hope my confession will resonate with others, those who have secretly been struggling with their own “bi-polar faith.”

2 comments

  1. celaird · October 17, 2015

    As I mentioned to you earlier, I really like this piece, and I can certainly relate to it! You are really hitting on something here that I suspect is a kind of outline for all of life, including (especially?) the life of faith. I think we need to accept the “bipolar” or what has been referred to as the “now and not yet” reality of the kingdom – life is always going to be somewhat “bi-polar.” As the mighty Zep sings, “good times, bad times, you know I’ve had my share . . .” The challenge, it would seem, is to simply be honest about it (no “spiritual frosting’), honest to God, ourselves and one another. Thank you for this invaluable contribution to our little congregation. You are a true comrade!

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  2. edwardalfred · October 17, 2015

    Thanks Chris i think the journey of understanding this God who we wrestle with in this bi-polar way is the way we come to also understand ourselves. In other words we are not just struggling to understand God but ourselves. I have found that i always want to know how the movie of life ends, but i believe the mystery, the journey, is where we are to grow and live. Yeah in a bi-polar existence

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