16 years ago today, I wrote this in my journal:
What an emotionally and spiritually exhausting night! I was talking to Mom and Dad about a Sunday School lesson I was thinking of teaching, and I mentioned how in the book, The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges, he says, “Couldn’t we be holy for one hour? Then why not two?” They freaked out and said they couldn’t be holy for ten minutes, and I got upset and kept saying “why not?”
Well, we went in circles for a long time until Dad went to bed. After that Mom was very depressed thinking that I was just criticizing and condemning her, so we sat there silently for maybe half an hour saying nothing. I don’t know what was on her mind, but I was praying and there was spiritual tension there, but because of God’s love and grace He answered me.
We finally realized that she defines the word “holy” in the sense of the power, glory, perfection, and divinity of God and of course we could never be like that for a second! But when I said “holy” I was just thinking of not sinning at all for one hour. Then why not two? It was a huge misunderstanding! Once we realized this, we both laughed about it. Well, I’m still up. It’s 2am! I gotta work in 8 hours.
This was a good lesson, though. If I’m ever gonna teach a class I need to be extremely careful how I teach. If I’m really harsh without carefully speaking the truth in love, I’m bound to push people away. Thank you, Father, for teaching me this. Praise you!
[later] I’m trying to memorize the Sermon on the Mount so I can meditate on it while I work, but it may take a while. Today I got the beatitudes down. I also had the honor of counseling a coworker about his temper. I told him a lot, but my conclusion was that he needs to get closer to the Lord. Only He can help him. I prayed for him a lot.
I also talked to Melissa. She saw me reading a Bible and wanted my advice about her possibly dating a Muslim. I told her the truth (no way!) and she agreed. Praise God! I prayed for her a lot, too, and I know that only His Spirit can enable her to do what’s right. Well, there’s more, but it’s late. “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for such a calm, inspiring day. I promise that no matter how bad tomorrow may be I’ll keep this attitude, and I know you’ll never abandon me. Amen!”
— May 19th, 2015
Dear Former Self,
Once again, there’s a lot going on here. I’ll start by addressing this misunderstanding about the word “holy.” As I said in my last letter, “What a complete waste of mental and emotional energy all this is.”
The world is filled with countless interesting things to learn about and discuss, and you’re spending your time debating whether it’s possible to be holy. You may as well spend your time debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It would be just as much of a waste of time.
This is what I hate about theology. None of it is based on anything that can actually be observed in reality. Concepts like “sin” and “holy” are useless in the real world because they depend on the existence of a god, something for which there is no empirical evidence. You and your mom were arguing over literally nothing.
It’s okay to talk about things that aren’t real if it’s for artistic or entertainment value, or to practice critical thinking skills. But it’s not okay to live your life based on things that aren’t real. If you do, you’re only setting yourself up for more confusion and mental anguish.
I’m glad you and your mom figured out that it was just a misunderstanding, but if you would stop obsessing about being a better Christian and just live your life, you would be a lot happier.
Moving on… There’s not much I can say about you memorizing the Sermon on the Mount except to reiterate that you are wasting your time. Instead of memorizing Bible verses, you should be studying for the finals at the end of your first year of college. But right now you’re not bothering with college because you think the rapture will be soon, anyway. You’re going to regret this.
I should also point out that you are in no way qualified to counsel people about their tempers. You still have quite a temper yourself, you have very little life experience, and you’ve never even taken a psychology class (or even read a book on it). Right now your answer to everything is, “get closer to the Lord.” Well I got news for you: That doesn’t help!
How does one get closer to the Lord, anyway? In real relationships, people get closer by spending time together and sharing their thoughts. But since God apparently never says anything out loud, all you can do is pray and read the Bible. So theoretically, the more you pray and read the Bible, the “closer” you are to the Lord. But in the future you’ll find that no matter how close you think you are to the Lord, you’ll still get better advice from real people and greater emotional support from real relationships.
I also want to address this idea that God will never abandon you. How would you know if he did? Seriously, what would be different? You could argue that all the good things in your life are because of God and that without him they would all go away, but how do you know that? Nonbelievers have good things in their lives, too.
According to your belief system, God sometimes allows the worst possible things to happen to his followers (even rape and murder). If God never abandons his followers yet he allows the worst to happen, then what good is he? As I’ve said before, it sounds like a shitty relationship. At least real people try to help.
By the way, Melissa has a crush on you. How can you not see that? Put down the fucking Bible and look around.
— Matt, May 19th, 2015
This is part of an ongoing series called Letters to My Former Self.