I entered college as a religion major, but the major didn’t fit well. I was more interested in street evangelism and Christian coffee houses than how to be the traditional pastor. And in 1972 most training for the ministry was very traditional. I took a number of Bible classes and a great course on hermeneutics, but didn’t want to preach or be “preachy.” I liked dialogue more than monologue. After becoming an English major, I took a lot of philosophy and history and exercised my limited powers of critical thinking by attacking the college administration and posturing as a rebel and intellectual.
Spiritually, I simply drifted. At my Christian college nothing challenged my faith deeply. Instead of reading my Bible for personal growth, I took Bible and theology classes and occasionally engaged in a theological argument. I bounced around to a number of different churches, but never committed to any group of Christians. Although I owe a huge debt to my college for a quality education and the ability to think clearly, my time at a Christian college is not one of the reasons I am still a Christian. This may have more to do with how I approached my time in college than with any failing of the college. Indeed, there were people who would have spiritually mentored me if I had asked, but I was content to turn lazily in an eddy of spiritual boredom.
So I drifted out of college and into four years of graduate school at Washington State University where I had been awarded a teaching assistantship. I threw myself into my teaching and graduate courses, but became aware of a strong church holding meetings on campus. After tearing myself away from my books to attend a few of these meetings, I discovered there were several other Christians in the English graduate program. Rubbing elbows with some genuine followers of Jesus awoke me to my own spiritual barrenness. I had not rejected any orthodox Christian beliefs, but I was spiritually dead. Like a well-dressed corpse, I believed all the right things but had no spiritual pulse.
During the summer before my Master’s exams, the utter emptiness of my spiritual life became unbearable. Unlike many in spiritual crisis, I knew God loved me. What alarmed me was that I did not love Him. We had no relationship. I thought God a true concept, but the idea of God gave me neither joy nor purpose.
The weird thing–something difficult to explain–is that I was hungry for hunger. I desired to desire God, but I was paralyzed by my own apathy. Indifference toward God suffocated my heart with the dry stillness of a noon desert—nothing in me moved. Eventually, I found myself fasting. I’m still not sure why. I needed something in me to break. I could see all the emotions I should have—but they were a butterfly pinned in a box.
After several days of fasting, I wandered to a park in Pullman and sat beneath a tree. I prayed with no passion but absolute honesty, “God, I don’t love you, but I know I ought to. I need you, but I’m not hungry for you. I can’t make myself feel any love for you, but here I am. Change me. I feel like crap but I don’t know what to do.” Slowly joy broke loose within me along with a deep and personal love for God. I could actually say, “God, I love you,” and mean it. It wasn’t that God became real to me; I became real toward God. I became a worshipper.
Although I have no theological label to slap on this (dead noon of the soul?), I can’t overstate how important this experience has been in helping me stay in relationship with God. God met me in my honesty—not in the fervor of my love nor in the midst of a crisis. I came as I was from the place I was—and He breathed His life into mine.