It was about five years ago when I made preparations to leave The Salvation Army and my family in Millsboro, Delaware, bound on a Greyhound for the Swift Driving Academy in Millington, Tennessee, to learn to drive a truck. I was excited and scared, but I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to broaden my horizons and spy out the land. The whole experience, when I look back on it, was a kind of sweeping away of my old life and relationships, a kind of sifting, and what was left in my life after it was over was basically God and Jessica and the kids. My father was dead, I had less contact with my mother, Dinelle was gone (her exit from my life was like an extended bout with cancer) along with the workplace where everyone knew and respected me, my friendship with Scott was cold, and my sense of destiny and God’s plan was covered by the road-dirt of existence, which is mysterious and only leads to more questioning.
After returning home I attempted to foster deeper relationships at the church we’ve attended for most of our married life, with a shocking degree of failure. Which brings us to a day like yesterday, a Sunday, where I sat at home with the family and watched television all day.
Now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with watching television all day once in awhile. Jessica does a good job with schooling the kids and as far as I know when I’m at work things are busy around the household. The kids go outside and play; they have friends. There is more going on in our lives than just television. But at the same time you don’t gain much of value from watching TV, not even if you do it together.
Imagine all the people who will be watching television when the world ends. Imagine how that’s going to feel when we get to the other side.
The other side. That’s what’s missing right now in my family, in my own heart. I am crying out to God, but at the same time I’m angry at Him because I went through a lot of stuff and made a lot of hard choices to try and get closer to Him, to try and restore relationships and learn how a Christian man should function in his role in family and church, and — point blank — I don’t feel like God has blessed any of my efforts. I’m not even sure He cares much. I don’t sense His presence. I don’t see His help in my life. Me and Jessica are drowning in debt and uncertainty about what we should do: that’s why we watched television all day. I feel guilty and terrible because I ask myself, What I am giving my children by way of godly heritage — what am I teaching them about God, about life in God? Nothing.
An acquaintance I met about six years ago online — an atheist who influenced my writing and even my decision to become a truck driver — wrote me last week and, when surmising why we’d stopped corresponding said that the reason might be that “the god stuff doesn’t sit right” with him. We’d had an online debate about marriage in the past. I was on Team God, he was on Team Himself. But it didn’t even matter who was right. All that mattered is that I ended up losing his relationship, and for all the sense it makes I have more in common with him than anyone I’ve met in church.
This is where I’ve been stuck in the past decade or so…I don’t fit in with atheists and academia, but I don’t fit in with the plastic franchised religion that passes for Christianity. I’m a man without a purpose, without my old sense of destiny. I used to believe that somehow, someway, God was going to put me in a process where I grew and learned and matured and then I would be used for service in His kingdom. I had some kind of ministry in mind, maybe as a teacher.
Now I don’t even know what I would teach. I don’t feel like I’ve grown or matured much: I feel like I’ve been deconstructed. Teachers are made comfortable by formulas, by quantifying information, breaking it down and making it understandable to others. I used to be quite formulaic myself. Pray daily and you’ll be strong. Read the Bible and you’ll know God. Tithe and you’ll not lack for anything. Keep the Sabbath. Laws, laws, laws. This approach — not just by way of teaching but by way of living — hasn’t worked for me. I don’t think it’s worked for the church, either. When I look at Christian expressions, in church, in books, in music, so much of it seems false. Where is the real? Is it a difficult thing for the Almighty, Everlasting God to make His presence and life known to people who desire to know Him?
Going back to how I started this note, if God is stripping me down to essentials, peeling my life back like layers of an onion, what’s in the center after everything’s peeled away?
It feels like nothing. Nothing. That’s how I feel, like there is nothing of substance, nothing that can be counted on, nothing that’s undoubtedly real. I hate it. For my wife and children’s sake I hate it. I want answers. I want something concrete, something that can be counted on to provide meaning and depth to this life.