“I’ve gotten strength from God in hard times, and I’ve gotten wisdom.”
I met Taylor because I was assigned to–she had just joined my sorority, and we were matched as “Alpha Buddies”, a chance for older girls to meet the new pledges and introduce them to sorority life. I picked her up and took her to lunch, and we hit it off immediately. She is kind, smart, and wickedly funny–her ability to say the most outrageous things in a deadpan manner has left me crying from laughter. Our mutual interests and overall similarities were obvious from the start, so she became my Little in the sorority (my little sister, essentially). I have now known her for five years, and my life is so much better for it.
One of the multitudes of things I appreciate about Taylor is her faith and her willingness to speak about it. Since faith is so central in her life, it was something I was curious about–and she was equally curious about my beliefs. We have had open and honest discourse, and so of course I thought of her when I started my interviews. I have watched Taylor go through college–a time of trials and tribulations–with her faith intact. And she’s had more than her fair share of awfulness. But her sense of humor and strength from her faith have served her well, and I feel privileged to call her my little sister.
“When I feel distant from God it’s because I am distancing myself. God’s always there.”
Interview 3: Taylor
Me: So to start, I’d like for you to describe your faith journey—how you were raised, and how your faith changed or grew.
Taylor: I was born to Christian parents; my dad is Catholic and my mom is Baptist, which are very opposite denominations within Christianity. I feel like I was raised [in a way] where Christianity was just a section of my life—school was a section, friends were a section, Christianity was a section. That went all the way up until middle school. I went to church on Sunday just because that’s what we did. When I got to middle school I started reading the Bible for myself, because that’s what they talked about at church, but it was still just a section of my life. I think when I got to high school I realized, ‘just because my parents are telling me to do this does not mean this is true, or that this is for me’, and I started making my own decisions, so I kind of went into a few years of searching and asking questions, and—just high level looking at other options, and seeing if this was for me. I think in Christianity a lot of Jesus’s teachings are calling you to dedicate your whole life to it, and I was just giving a section of my life, and I thought, “I need to go all or nothing with this. I need to give my whole life, or it needs to be nothing”. Just giving my Sundays is not what I think Christianity is really about. After searching, I found some answers to some of my questions, and some answers I didn’t find—but I kind of got to this point where I said, I’m going to make a commitment, this is going to be what my life is about. And that was in high school. I made it for myself, instead of just listening to what was around me. There have been some ups and downs since then, after I made that commitment I had to figure out how to dedicate my life—how the heck do you have this relationship with a God you can’t see or feel? I didn’t know how. I knew what Christianity was but I didn’t know how to have a relationship with God. I tried to figure that out for a few years. And when I got to college, after dedicating my life to it for a few years, I wondered, “Is there a difference here? What if I stopped today, would there be a difference?” and I took what I call my ‘Year Off From God’, I just tried to see what my life would be like without building my relationship with God. I took this year off, and I got to the end and realized there was a difference, and I wanted to go back to the way it was. Does that make sense?
Me: It does.
Taylor: I’ve always viewed my relationship with God as like a marriage—when you get married, hopefully you know it’s the right person, but are you a thousand percent sure? Maybe not. People have cold feet all the time. But you make that commitment that day, like “even if tomorrow, I think this was a mistake, we make our vows today.” I think you can ask a married couple—maybe you could ask your parents—and they could say “There’ve been times I didn’t know, but looking back I know this was the right choice. And I feel like that’s how my relationship with God is, there’s ups and downs, but I can look back and I believe it’s the truth now. Even if when I committed I was only 99% sure.
Me: So when you say you have dedicated yourself to God, how do you mean that? What in your daily life do you see as your relationship with God?
Taylor: I think there are the obvious answers—being involved in the church or reading the Bible—but I think the more mature I get in my relationship with God…that’s a tough question.
Me: For instance, I believe in a higher power but I don’t have a relationship with it. So for me, it’s a very distant kind of thing, but I feel like for you it’s very personal. Can you describe for me how it is personal?
Taylor: Yeah…I think there have been times that it felt distant to me and I’ve thought, if I believe God is good that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to have a relationship with him. This happened a few years ago when I had to realize, is he a personal god? Do I believe he is a personal God? That is what was taught to me, but do I believe God wants a relationship with me? I guess through different life experiences I’ve learned to trust him or to lean on him. I think it turns into this daily journey. Community is a huge aspect of it—talking with other people and learning with other people. The Bible—if I believe the Bible is God’s word, that’s one way that he speaks to me. It goes back to the marriage thing. You’re constantly working on this relationship. Husband and wife—that’s a hard relationship. You have to put work into it. And I put work into my relationship with God. Part of it is emotional, but there’s a huge part that’s not, that is knowledge based and trust based and faith based.
Me: Do you feel that your relationship with God has helped you get through tough times because it is so personal? Is it a support for you?
Taylor: Yeah, it definitely is. There’s a verse in the Bible that says “consider it pure joy” when you face trials, and I would always read that and think that was crazy. How the heck do you go into a hard moment and look at it and say, “I’m joyful about this”? But if I look at the trials I’ve been through, and look at how much I’ve grown through them, and how much closer I got to God because I was forced to rely on him, I can at least hope that the next trial or bad time I go through—before it starts I can say, this is gonna suck, but I’m joyful because I know how I’m going to grow closer to Him. I think he’s been my strength. I’ve gotten strength from God in hard times, and I’ve gotten wisdom. In high school when I started questioning a lot of things—people say “God gives you joy, God gives you peace”, all these fluffy things God gives you. When I was in high school, I was going through depression when I was going through this questioning period, I would sit there and think “I don’t feel the peace, I don’t feel the joy, I don’t feel all these things that Christians say you should feel”. I thought God was this big fluffy thing that made you feel nice all the time. And I realized that he doesn’t necessarily promise those feelings in the moment, but if you believe the underlying truth of God, there’s this constant peace and constant joy. It’s not like I’m always happy, but at the end of the day, if I believe God loves me, that should give me joy.
Me: When you say God gives you wisdom or strength—can you explain that to me?
Taylor: There obviously is a part of my faith that is reflected because I was raised by Christian parents, I don’t ever want to be ignorant of the fact that when you are raised being taught something, that obviously helps you believe it. I can even get bothered by stuff Christians say that is so out there that you can’t relate to it. I believe God is a very relatable being. If we’re [talking about] literal strength—there have been times that I thought there was no way I was going to be able to do something, and I did it, and I would say God gave me the strength in that moment. I thought “there’s no way I can do this” and I did it, and I attribute that to God’s strength. So there is that literal strength. And I’d also say [he gives me] emotional strength—maybe you wake up and you think you’re not going to make it through the day, but I pray or am constantly communing with God throughout the day, and that’s how I get my strength. And another type of strength is a strength from a knowledge. Like if you had a best friend, and you get strength from having security in that friendship. With strength, there’s the literal, the emotional, and then the security.
Me: So you always know he’s going to be there for you, basically.
Taylor: Yeah, exactly. And that looks different. It doesn’t mean nothing bad is going to happen to me at all. That’s not what it means. It goes back to the basis that if you knew someone was always there for you, always loved you, and through Jesus gave their life for you—I get security from that. So that’s the strength. Wisdom—one section of wisdom would be from the Bible. There are a lot of relatable circumstances in the Bible. I believe it is the Word of God, it’s actually living, it’s applicable to everyone’s life because it’s the word of God. I can get wisdom from that. It’s not going to directly say “Taylor, you should do this” in the Bible but it could say “love your neighbor”—that might be the wisdom you need in a moment. Or it could talk about forgiveness and that’s the wisdom you need. That’s a huge part—a practical way for wisdom. There’s also a less practical side—I guess I view most things, especially Christianity, as having the emotional and the practical sides. I’ve had issues being in churches that are all practical or all emotional. Both of those, without a balance, didn’t work for me as well.
Me: For you, what is more important, your identity as a Christian or your identity as an American?
Taylor: Definitely my identity as a Christian. But when I say “my identity as a Christian” it’s less my identity with the people-group of Christians, it’s more my identity as a follower of Jesus. As my relationship with God. I get my identity from that.
Me: What do you believe a soul is?
Taylor: I think a soul is the immortal part of us. The part that, when we die, will live on.
Me: What do you believe happens to our soul when we die?
Taylor: I think our soul will go to heaven or hell.
Me: How would you define heaven and hell? And how would you define how you get to either one?
Taylor: So my belief in this is very dependent on my view of the world and of humanity. I do believe we are innately evil. All of our souls, because we are evil, and sinful, would go to hell. But there is a way to go to heaven, and it’s because of Jesus.
Me: Because he died for us.
Taylor: Yes, and that gives us forgiveness for our sins. I believe we’re innately evil, and we wouldn’t make it to heaven because we’re evil, without Jesus being that sacrifice or that connection.
Me: So in order to get to heaven, you have to recognize that Jesus has made that sacrifice? Or is it a possibility for people who have devoted their lives to the principles Jesus taught?
Taylor: I believe you have to recognize it. I don’t like to put too much importance on what the person does, because I can’t say “I’m going to heaven because I chose Jesus”, it’s nothing I did. And I can’t point at someone and say “You’re going to hell.” I don’t have the authority to tell someone who is going to heaven or hell. But I do believe the only reason we can get to heaven is because of Jesus.
Me: When you were in your questioning phase, what was it that made you question? And I know since high school you’ve solidified your beliefs but have there been any moments since then that you felt God was distant?
Taylor: Definitely. I think that’s why the questioning started. Earlier I said I have the mix between the practical, or the tangible, and the emotional. I think in the beginning of high school I was really focused on the emotional side because I was going to a church that was really focused on the emotional, on God’s presence and feeling God. Then I felt distant from him and I stopped feeling those feelings, and I started wondering, “Maybe this isn’t real.” If someone says to you that God is this feeling you have, and that feeling goes away, what are you supposed to think? I think that’s what started that period. That’s when I had to decide, “Are you going to believe in God without that feeling?” I’m actually reading a book by Mother Theresa, it’s her diary and her life stories, and people say that Mother Theresa didn’t feel God, didn’t literally feel His presence for most of her life. When I heard that I thought, that’s fascinating. I have to read that. She served Him, she served people her whole life, endlessly, and did it without feeling God in her life, because she didn’t really need to feel anything. I think that’s where I’m focused more now. As I grow and gain more wisdom, I’m trusting more in that knowledge, in those beliefs as opposed to those feelings. And I forgot what the original question was. (laughs)
Me: (laughs) Well that’s because it was sort of a two-parter! I asked you to explain what made you feel that way, and if you’ve had any moments since you’ve devoted yourself after your first questioning phase when you felt that God was distant?
Taylor: Ok. Yes, I have. You know I had my year off from God when I distanced myself from Him, and I have had other times when I’ve kind of learned that, one, just like I said, it’s a relationship, it’s like a marriage, you might go through some years when you feel less close. The second thing I’ve also learned is that sometimes when I feel distant from God it’s because I am distancing myself. God’s always there. He’s never just leaving for a few years. I think maybe the emotional side is less active at times. I’ve learned that if I feel distant, maybe I need to spend more time with Him. I don’t wake up every day and say “God is here, I feel so great, I am so close to Him”, no, most days it’s not like that! Most days I wake up and I have to remind myself what I believe, and just live that way.
Me: Okay, final question. When do you most feel the presence of God?
Taylor: I feel His presence the most when I’m using a gift that I feel like He gave me. Does that make sense?
Taylor: I feel like he’s given us all gifts. In high school when I was going through that questioning phase, my church was going on a mission trip to Bolivia, and I signed up just because all my friends were going, originally. It was the thing to do. I was like, I don’t really know what I’m doing here, my friends are doing it. And I signed up to go on the mission trip. And before I left the mission trip I was like, “Alright God, I’m kind of desperate at this point. I’ve been searching for You, I’m trying to believe but I don’t really know what to believe. I’m going on this mission trip to see if something can happen.” And I remember that whole week, I felt His presence really strongly, and I think it’s because I was doing things to serve others. I just remember feeling it that weekend when I came home, and I was just like, “Wow, can I turn that feeling into my whole life, can I just turn that attitude into my daily life?” And I’m not very good at that sometimes!
Me: Well you’re human.
Taylor: Exactly. But I think that’s when I feel it the most, when I recognize the gifts that he’s given me. When I went to Bolivia, that was the first time I really felt alive in Jesus. It’s not this emotional, crying in church kind of feeling that I think had been sold to me early on in high school, but it was this… this just feels purposeful. That was a huge focus, when I was trying to decide what to believe. I said, “I need a purpose in life, I need meaning and where can I find that?” And I found that, here. So when I’m fulfilling that purpose or that meaning is when I feel closest to Him.