What Could Have Been

December 23, 2016

You hear a lot in Adventism about what could have been. “I had a football scholarship,” one of my Adventist friends said. “But I gave it up for God, because he wouldn’t want me to play football on the Sabbath.” Just as my friend was about to achieve his dream of going to college, he found God, and had to give it up.

Stories such as his are common. Rarely ever do you hear stories such as mine.

4 years ago, it was 2012. 4 years ago, I had a secret. A secret I only shared with one person (Hi Callie! I know you still read this.)  I told her that I wanted to be a CAMPUS missionary.

Yes, really. Can you imagine? Me? A CAMPUS missionary?

Yeah, me neither.

Maybe I should back up a bit. Even the Adventists who are reading this might not have heard of CAMPUS. CAMPUS is an acronym: Center for Adventist Ministry to Public University Students. It was started by the general conference because they felt the need to reach out to students in public universities. It is unclear, at the time of its inception, if they originally were meant to minister to Adventist students in public universities, or to try and win converts from the public universities. Perhaps a little bit of both.

CAMPUS has what they call a Missionary Training Program (MTP). Each year, up to 6 boys and 6 girls (give or take a few) take a year off from going to school, and come take classes at the CAMPUS house.

The CAMPUS missionaries did a lot. They had various Bible classes (Like regular school, only every single class is a Bible class), they gave Bible studies to those who were interested, and they held group Bible studies on various campuses. they also were responsible for CAMPUS church which was held at one of the buildings in the Local College.

What Callie did not know when I told her this is that I had already tried to go to a Bible College. SDA bible colleges aren’t like regular colleges. They’re special colleges that train people to be Bible workers or missionaries. Not pastors, mind you. Those people go to a proper seminary at an SDA college that still has regular classes. Google Immanuel Institute* and you’ll see what I mean.

In….I think this would have been the summer of 2011, I was attending a sermon at Campmeeting (I’ll explain that in a different post. For now, just think “church in tents.”) when I believed I felt that God was calling me to go to one of these Bible schools.

I applied to…. I think 5 different Bible colleges. I prayed that God would let me be accepted by the right one. My parents were against the idea at first. I had to persuade them that this was what I both wanted and needed. So they gave me the money to apply and said they’d pay for it if I went.

Weeks passed. I didn’t hear from anyone. Not an acceptance letter, not a rejection letter, nothing. I tried calling and emailing the schools. 2 of them just never even responded. One looked like it was for sure going to work out…. and then it didn’t. One by one the rejection letters came. Except for that one school out in Oregon, even though I called them like 5 times, they never answered the phone nor returned my calls.

What Callie didn’t know all those years ago was that the summer before I went to Local College, I had been rejected from all 5 Bible colleges. That summer, I developed mega bad depression. I stopped eating. I looked down at the scale one day and saw that I weighed 80 pounds. I thought for sure the scale was broken. I had to start wearing 2 layers of shirts, because my parents were noticing how thin I was. I just couldn’t eat. I felt so sick. I felt like I had gone out on a limb for God, and the branch broke. He had told me to do something, and I had gone forth and done everything I could, only for everything to fall through. It was like God had reached down and slapped me across the face.

God had rejected me.

I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about this. After all, most of my SDA friends had attended one of these Bible schools. God had chosen them. God had thought they were good enough.

What if god isn’t real?  Then this would all make sense.

I brushed that thought aside. Of course God existed. The problem was me. I wasn’t good enough. He didn’t want me.

It is hard to describe, in words, now, how painful all of this felt at the time.

So I went to a real college, and I made sure it was one with a CAMPUS program. Maybe I couldn’t be a missionary, but I could be with the missionaries and pretend I was one of them.

And I did. I stayed weekends at the CAMPUS house, I took every opportunity to help give a Bible study. Secretly, I wanted what the missionaries had. I wanted to be trusted to give Bible studies, to preach sermons. I wanted God to let me serve Him.

All this I kept a secret. I was scared to tell anybody I wanted that, for fear that they too would reject me. I was scared they’d think I only wanted these things for the wrong reasons. In fact, listening to everyone else’s stories, it almost seemed like a requirement that you don’t want to be a Bible worker in order to be a Bible worker. There were so many people who hadn’t wanted to go to those schools, but felt they had to anyway, because God. Why couldn’t I be one of them?

That summer, I applied to go canvassing. That’s when you go door to door selling religious books. A summer of canvassing is a requirement for MTP, but also, I was hoping that it would help me draw closer to God, that I would learn to really love Jesus. So I put aside my reservations (and boy did I have my reservations) and joined canvassing.

And that’s when it all went to shit.

At the end of the summer, God told me that I should never be involved in ministry. And I accepted that decision. I understood, then, why he had rejected me. I was nowhere near ready. I was nowhere near dedicated. And I was no longer sure if any of this was real. Hindsight being what it is, I realize now that the end of that summer was when I became an agnostic. But I didn’t know that, not then. I just knew that I wasn’t supposed to be a Bible worker or a missionary.

But I must have been really good at hiding it, because one of the canvassing leaders, we’ll call him J1, was really excited about me. He thought my summer in canvassing had been a great experience, and that I was now ready to take up the mantle of leadership. First, he decided, I was going to get rebaptized. (I had no idea why he felt I needed to do that.) Then I was gonna start giving Bible studies. I was also going to use my writing talents more, J1 said. J1 said that he was going to have it arranged for me to speak twice that semester at Bible study. Maybe I could even preach a sermon.

I was finally going to have it all. Everything I’d wanted since that summer of 2011. God had finally chosen me.

Unfortunately, that’s when it all really went to shit. My depression took a turn for the worst. I started using drugs again.  I stopped attending classes. I picked up a drinking habit after being sober for  2 years. I overdosed on my anti depressants. I wasn’t sure if I was even trying to kill myself. I just wanted to not feel so bad.

I preached a sermon once that semester. Everyone said I needed to speak more often. Everyone said that I had had good content and been a blessing. I should have felt happy that I was achieving my dream. Instead I felt empty and shallow.

By the time I was supposed to give the second sermon, I was too depressed. I could barely even function.

I could have avoided all this. I could have just shoved aside the questions I had that couldn’t be answered. I had what I wanted in my grasp, all I had to do was reach out and take it.

Maybe I should have. Maybe I should have stopped trying to figure it out and just given the bible studies, preached the sermons, offered to pray with people. Faked it until I could make it.

But I knew I couldn’t do that. I had opened Pandora’s box, and it was impossible to shut.

You hear a lot, in Adventism, about what could have been. People will say that just as they were about to get that promotion, just as they were about to get that football scholarship, just as they were about to have “it all,” they discovered God’s truth, and gave it all up.

Rarely ever do you hear the opposite. Rarely ever do you hear stories such as mine: Just as I was about to be able to finally do ministry, I found out that Christianity and Adventism are both utter bullshit.

I knew that one day this wouldn’t be so painful. I knew that one day I would look back on the summer of 2011 and not feel intense pain.

Unfortunately, that day is still not today. That experience hurt. Losing my faith hurt. Even though I now know that there is no God who did or didn’t choose me, what I went through still hurt.

But I am at a place where I can talk about it. I am at a place where enough time and distance and healing have occurred that I no longer do drugs habitually, I don’t really drink much, and I take anti depressants at a normal dosage. Atheism gave me a freedom that Christianity never could. Atheism gave me the freedom to say, “God never rejected nor chose me.” That’s not a reason I’m an atheist, mind you. That is merely one of the benefits of being an atheist. I have the freedom to say, “nothing was wrong with me.”

Truly, Jesus spoke the truth when he said, in John 8:32 “ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

Christians know that freedom has a cost. They tend to think, though, that the cost will be worldly gains like promotions and scholarships and shit. They never knew that freedom would cost me my Jesus.

And that I’m so thankful it did.

 

*Spelling error made on purpose in the hopes that search engines won’t find me.

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