In case you need permission
So many well-meaning people make broad proclamations, thinking that if they repeat something enough, people will believe it. Maybe that works for some people. But—always a little rebellious at heart, and unwilling to be limited by rules I didn’t believe—I gave myself permission a long time ago to tackle this life of faith my own way. The more people I talk to, the more I realize how many people (and their faith) are hindered by some unwritten rules. So today I’d like to give you permission to do things a new way. Kind of upside down, you might say.
It’s OK to pray for yourself.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I know you aren’t supposed to pray for yourself.” But I don’t think that’s true. We’re to pray about everything. To pray without ceasing. To ask for whatever we need. But sometimes that feels selfish. Please, don’t feel guilty about it. But just try not to pray exclusively for yourself. God gave us lives within a community and told us to love our neighbors. One of the best ways to love someone is to pray for him. So do both. Pray for what you need, and notice what others need. Ask God to be in all of our lives. Just pray—wherever your prayers take you.
It’s OK not to blindly believe everything your pastor says.
Listen with an open mind. Then research, study. Buy a concordance or find one online. Read articles by other spiritual leaders. Discuss concepts with people from another church (or from outside the church). If your goal is to find fault with your pastor’s teachings or to trip him (or her) up, then I do not endorse this approach. But if your goal is to find truth, to fortify your beliefs, to deepen your knowledge or wrestle through questions yourself in an effort to draw closer to God, then by all means, go for it. Do me a favor, though. If your private study leads you to different conclusions than one of your leaders holds, don’t whisper to others or accuse of false teachings. Approach your pastor and ask to discuss it. And keep your mind open. You might learn something—or they might. Which leads perfectly into my next point…
It’s OK to disagree.
What ever happened to people agreeing to disagree? Now, it seems, if two people hold different opinions, the common assumption is that they can no longer be friends. Or that one of them needs to beat the other one over the head until opinions are changed. My husband (of 24 years) and I vote every year, and we support different political parties. We joke that we cancel each other out. We know we don’t agree on so many things, but we respect each other’s right to hold their own opinions. God didn’t make us all alike. We don’t have to like the same candidates or music or styles of worship, we don’t have to be attracted to the same sex for our life-partners, we don’t have to come from identical races or share the same culture—or even the same gods. We don’t have to be identical to find common connections. To share our lives. To show our love. In fact, I think diversity is sometimes better, richer, more stimulating and inspiring. By all means, make friends who have similar beliefs and circumstances. But don’t limit yourself to those.
It’s OK not to read the Bible every day.
I think the Bible is immensely valuable, unfathomably wise. There is great benefit in reading it. But it’s like this: I’ve always said that getting flowers from my husband is nice. But if I tell him, hey, stop by the grocery and buy me a dozen roses, and he does—well, truthfully, it doesn’t mean all that much to me. I want the inspiration to come from him. I want him to do it because he wants to. When we feel forced into reading something, once in a while some of it will sink in, but most of the time it doesn’t move us. It’s hard to take concepts to heart when you’re rushing to finish two chapters today so you can check the box on your Bible reading plan. I think that practicing the discipline of regular reading of God’s word will truly transform your life. I hope you give it a try and that God reveals Himself to you in that way. But don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Ask Him to help you love it. Ease into it slowly. Read a single verse or a paragraph at a time. Let it soak deep down into your soul. As insights are revealed to you, you will be more and more eager to go back to it. And you might surprise yourself at how much you enjoy it and how often you do it.
It’s OK to listen to music and read books that are not labeled as “Christian.”
There are very real and valid reasons for limiting what you see and hear. Avoiding temptation. Strengthening your faith. Preferring to focus on what is good and holy and right rather than witness violence and cruelty and hate. Probably only about 10 or 20 percent of the books I read are Christian. I love them—I like filling my mind with Biblical concepts and dwelling on who God is—but I like other books and music, too. I do listen to Christian music probably 90 percent of the time—if I have lyrics running through my mind all day, I want them to be uplifting, not senseless. But what many people seem to forget is that God does not reside only within the words of Christian music and literature. When we fail to recognize that God is everywhere, that He can inhabit and inspire and reveal through other situations, we’re not believing in His fullness. We’re pretending He’s not the omnipotent, omniscient God. Some of the most inspiring messages I’ve found have been in books that did not have an overtly spiritual message. Some mainstream music has given me deep spiritual insights. If we did not impose arbitrary limits for the places and ways in which God will work, I bet we’d see a whole lot more of Him.
Are there other “rules” you feel stifle your faith? Hinder your growth? Create resentment you don’t want to feel? What are they? Let’s work through these things together. Let’s find a way—one that is still Godly, still loving and filled with truth and light, but not one that stifles or binds—together.