Mourning the End of Innocence

It was a normal Tuesday morning at work. As I went about a rather monotonous project, a deep feeling of nostalgia came over me. Without any conscious or tangible instigation, it suddenly occurred to me: I miss God.

It was a puzzling thought, because it was not as though I had moved away from God, per se. If anything my relationship with God had deepened over the years. After all, if God is omnipresent and unchanging, is it even possible to miss Him? So I looked back to ask my subconscious, what is it that you miss about God? Or rather, more in line with the answer I received, the question became, when is it that you miss?

I grew up in the church, more or less. After giving my life to Christ at the age of 14, I became enamored with church life. I immediately got involved in a small group, leading worship, and going on retreats and mission trips. I joined the choir, performed in church musicals, and participated in Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I grew in my knowledge of and love for God, and had intimate relationships with brothers and sisters in the Faith. It was a season of life when community was cultivated for me. Opportunities to grow and serve were presented to me on brightly colored fliers, and the upbeat worship music and positive environment fostered passion and vulnerability. It was an incredibly fun time of falling in love with Jesus.

Fast forward to my mundane day at work 15 years later, as I pondered what it was I missed about God. The person of God had not changed, but my life had changed dramatically. I had seen much more of the world. I had experienced monumental life changes, both exciting and devastating. I had experienced profound loneliness, addiction and depression. I had broken hearts and had my heart broken. Then it occurred to me: I did not miss God, Himself, but rather I missed the carefree passion of a relationship with Him and with my peers that took place on a mountaintop of innocence and wide-eyed hope. I missed the season when it felt like every circumstance brought me effortless joy and nearness to God. I missed the happy trajectory of a young man who had only experienced faith as a heavenly romance.

Then I was confronted by Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 (NRSV)

I began to think, perhaps this admonition to put aside childish things does not refer only to leaving behind worldly things in exchange for faith, but also to putting aside an innocent faith for one characterized by maturity. My spiritual honeymoon had certainly been an invaluable time in my life, but I had yet to experience a relationship with God that extended to the depths of my emotional capacity, or to the far reaches of the human experience. What is more, perhaps I had cultivated a faith in my youth based on my own experience that subconsciously taught me to consider negative emotions as counterintuitive to my faith.

It is like in a marriage relationship, after the honeymoon period, when the real nitty-gritty side of doing life together hits the fan. We miss the days of endless romance, yearning and happy feelings. Yet over the years together we receive a truly committed partner in life who knows our junk and whose junk we know, and we persevere to become more strongly connected than ever. It is necessary that relationships mature, even and especially our relationship with God. I miss those intoxicatingly romantic days of courting my wife just as much as I miss the happy-go-lucky experience I had with God at the beginning of our journey together. That season was a gift, designed to welcome us into a relationship that would mature and become infinitely more complicated than we ever imagined, while at the same time becoming more adept to encounter the complexities of life.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul reveals that our sinful eyes see reality dimly through a clouded mirror. I believe that as we pursue the Way, the Truth and the Life, we scrub the hell out of that mirror in order that we may see Jesus more clearly. While the haze never dissipates entirely in this lifetime, as we persist we catch glimpses of Christ’s unmatched ability to overcome. The irony is that we simultaneously reminisce about a time before life became so complicated.

Perhaps it wasn’t that I missed God at all, but rather that I missed the person I was at the beginning of our relationship: invincible, innocent, and blissfully ignorant of the challenges ahead. As I ponder my yearning for an uncomplicated past, I am struck by utter inadequacy of my former understanding of God. So while I mourn the loss of innocence, my gratitude is renewed for a relationship with God that has met me in the happiest and the most difficult seasons of life.

Thank you for reading. Check back in two weeks for Missing God, Part II – The Importance of Romance.

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