I write this article aware that I’m yet another white, generally privileged person from a Mennonite background talking about my journey thus far with “the Christian faith.”Both David Jantz and Joelle Friesen had important, thought-provoking things to say in their honest, well-written articles over the last couple weeks, and much of what they said resonated with me. I very much appreciated what they so graciously shared.
From my perspective as a person who is deeply committed to the Christian faith (acknowledging all its negative baggage) and who may pursue faith vocationally, I have done considerable thinking on the topic, and it was tough to decide what to say, knowing that too much will have to remain unsaid. What follows is a bit of how I got to where I am, and this is what makes the most sense to me at this point in my life.
I grew up in a Mennonite church that valued its youth for our thoughts and viewpoints, not just to balance the average age demographic. We were given the opportunity to get involved in almost every area of church life and Sunday morning services.
Youth group was a place to bring questions and discuss current events in depth. It was a sacred, soul-forming space that shaped my faith in profound ways.
In high school, however, I also began running around in Pentecostal circles, and my Mennonite Sunday school version of Jesus started to show a few cracks. Because of this charismatic influence, my eyes began to open to Mennonites’ blind spots. Right as I was starting to chafe at my Mennonite roots, my wise dad said, “Monica, it’s alright if you don’t stay a Mennonite.”
With the explicit permission to question my religious upbringing down to its foundations, I started an ongoing process of deconstruction my senior year of high school. That process seriously ramped up during the following two years when I served in Germany with Eastern Mennonite Missions where a portion of my time was spent bridging the gap between German Mennonites and American, Pentecostal U.S. Air Force personnel stationed at a nearby U.S. military base.
In a nutshell, I had two full years in Germany to focus on nothing else but faith, and my theological re-examination was balanced by the opportunity to test it out in practical ways every day. It was a greenhouse for spiritual growth.
In many ways, my years in Germany were profoundly formative, but one event there decisively changed my life’s trajectory. I had originally only signed on for an 8-month stint, and even after receiving a 2-month extension, I still felt uneasy about returning stateside and moving on to college right away. I had a gut-feeling that whatever I decided to do would seriously impact my future, so I wanted to take my time reaching a decision that I felt at peace about.
After weeks of inconclusive discernment and prayer, I finally reached clarity after a few days of fasting, and I decided to take a month at home before returning to Germany for a second year. That second year was when, you might say, “Things got real.”
The first year in Germany had been great. I had learned a lot. I had started to slowly heal from high school wounds, and it had been an overwhelmingly positive experience.
Two months into the second year, though, I was greeted by the worst days of my life. Like an earthquake, they brought with them recurring tremors in the following months. In this case, those tremors were paralyzing anxiety.
One minute I was fine, the next I couldn’t get my feet to physically cross the threshold out of my bedroom, and I was stuck there for a few hours, an anxious mess. Three intervening years to the day have improved things quite a bit, but the anxiety is still there under the surface.
“God, I thought You wanted me to come back to Germany, then all this happens…? Hello?”
In the decision to return a second year, I took God seriously, and it seemed at first to have backfired on me, but I stuck it out. I was in a safe faith community that comforted and supported me as I navigated my newly altered emotional landscape, and the next few months were marked by the humility of truly, actually needing God every day.
In God, I didn’t find a fountain of energy, but I found enough strength for one moment at a time. In God, I didn’t find answers, but I found unshakeable peace and patience in questions. In God, I didn’t find a promise that the rest of my life would get better, but I found a soul-quieting depth and the sublime stillness of God never moving from the innermost recesses of my being.
I’ve amassed more than a few impactful but very disparate experiences over the course of my life so far, and the only common thread tying them together is God. It’s a personable God that brings coherence to my life so that God and I can weave it into a path forward that is meaningful for me and restorative for the world.
Keep listening, keep thinking and don’t shy away from hard questions. I would love the chance to hear from you wherever you are in your thoughts on faith and life, and I hope this can help encourage thoughtful dialogue and introspection.