This is an account of personal experience. I‘m not saying this is how everyone is or has to be. I just thought it might be relatable to someone. And it felt good to write this down.
Growing up Christian, I definitely experienced different stages of my personal faith. Like a lot of church kids one of my first emotions towards God and thinking about God was fear. I remember knowing about hell from a young age and that it was a place where non-christians went as punishment for not believing in Jesus even if they had never heard of Jesus.
I knew I had to believe in Jesus from day one or I was fucked. And of course I didn’t use that terminology but you get what I mean. The thought of going to hell for all eternity scared the crap out of me and I remember making sure I prayed the prayer of salvation as often as possible just to make sure I was saved a bit like someone with OCD locks their front door at night seventy two times.
I grew up in a very monolithic mentality. In my perceived context, Christianity was the only truth and the sooner I accepted that the better. I’m not an overtly rebellious person so I accepted it. And why wouldn’t I? It held my world together. On that truth I could hang the position that my parents were in the most important work in the world: telling other people about Jesus Christ.
Soon I would grow up and be able to do the same in a country that God would call me to. Growing up I was taught that Evangelical Christianity was the only way. Even at this age I often wondered why God had revealed himself mostly to White Europeans or Americans and had chosen to pass on his crucial message to all cultures through people from a different culture. It was strange to me that you could wake up in hell and miss the biggest, most important memo of the universe. But i accepted this theology and life went on.
Anyway let’s get on to the stages. Over the course of writing this I have realised that the early stages of the life cycle of an eagle are a great metaphor for maturing as a Christian. At least it has been my journey.
The Nest : Living on spoon fed truth (Childhood)
So you’re in a Christian family. Life is great. Things are generally going well. Everything makes sense! You don’t step outside the boundaries because you don’t need to.
6 day creation is 100% true. Evolution is wrong. Gay people are wrong. Muslims are super wrong. Bhuddists are kind but wrong. Catholics are almost right and therefore very wrong. Everything is going well. You wear your nice church clothes to church. Your bedding of theology is soft and comfortable. Everything fits well together. People who are not like you are wrong and need to be corrected with your truth. THE Truth. This is God’s plan for the world : You bringing the answers for everyone to learn from. Your wings are short and stubby and have no feathers. You don’t see it this way, but you look rather cute and vulnerable.
The Test : Testing the boundaries. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t. (Adolescence)
You’re wondering why you’ve done things a certain way your whole life. You realise you don’t need to do things a certain way anymore. A sense of angst develops in you and you can’t quite figure out where it comes from or where it wants to go. Somewhere else. But where? You don’t know. You have one foot in the nest and one foot out. You keep wanting to leave but you also secretly want someone older to lead you in the way you know is right. It’s not the way everyone else seems to be going. You stop wearing church clothes on Sunday morning. And, eventually, you might even stop going to church. It doesn’t mean much anymore if nothing comes out of it and you are noticing that nothing is coming out of it. It just seems to be a lifestyle choice that some people make like going to the pub on a Friday evening or subscribing to Gardens Illustrated.
You wonder where to go from here. You love God but you are becoming aware of the choices you are needing to make that determine what kind of Christian you will be. You know you only get one shot at this life. You want to get it right. You don’t want to just go with the flow. You know the way is narrow. That not all find it.
This is the spiritual adolescent stage. This spiritual stage is not always synchronised with biological adolescence. This may be due to most churches not allowing much room for spiritual autonomy for individuals at the ages of 13-17 (or at all for that matter). This is the stage where the questions are as important as the answers. Not everything is as it seems anymore. Sometimes the sins of the church are exposed to you for the first time and you have awoken to the fact that christendom can be critiqued.
This is adolescence. This is the stage of the test. Your wings are growing but are not fully formed. You have been bumped out of the nest and exposed to new heights and depths and you are falling uncontrollably. You are flapping your wings with everything you have in you simply to avoid the crunch of death as you hit the ground. Secretly, Mother God is watching you and is close to you although trying to remain out of sight so that you learn what you need to learn in order to fly with her. She watches you fall with care and concern (but she is so excited as well).
Flight. Coming to a place of peace about Church and where we belong in it. (Maturity)
There comes a point where you stop flailing around. You stop fighting everyone and everything. A sense of peace envelopes your heart along with a growing exhilaration. You realise that not everyone is going to agree with you and that that is fine. You realise you don’t have all the answers, nor do you need them. You begin to realise that the size of God renders him big enough to be a place of refuge for all kinds of people with all different kinds of thinking. You begin to trust that God is more than theology. He is guiding you by his ever present Spirit to the place you were meant to be. You begin to find out things for yourself. You read books that you have found by yourself, that no one has recommended. You stop trying to give the answers people want and start thinking about the answers for yourself. You begin to spread your own wings. You face the coming currents with your face set. You identify the thermals of warm air that give you life and enable you to go higher. You know who God is to you. And you know who you are.
And suddenly you realise you are flying.
Finding a place to soar can take a very long time. It’s taken me a long time. So long that I’m not even fully there yet. I don’t know if anyone fully arrives at this stage throughout their life. However, I want to define the flying stage as a place where one feels that key parts of their Christian identity are formed enough for them to make life choices that are meaningful to them. It’s a place where one feels that enough meaningful and personal decisions and viewpoints have been put in place to build something meaningful and longstanding. For example, it’s a place a Christian comes to, when they, having sat a long time with a question, decide to live out the answer that they have found.