I’m sure there are foods you are convinced you don’t like. Me? Beets, cilantro, Brussels sprouts, squash, and horseradish are a few on my list. But I am committed to try new things at least once. Sometimes, more than once.
For example, my first encounter with pho (pronounced like “fun” with no “n”) was not a good one. While still living in Ohio we were visiting relatives here in Pennsylvania. One evening, deciding to go out to eat, the majority voted for a favorite pho restaurant. I had no idea what pho was and did not like the sound of it.
Okay, okay, okay, I'll try it
When I travel, it’s not unusual for me to get out of sorts. Rhythms are off, beds are uncomfortable, and my curmudgeon amps up. It was cold, my sinuses were blocked, and my intestines were unhappy. To be honest, nothing really sounded good, but something new and strange was certainly unappealing.
But, I love my family and, like I said, am willing to try new things. Plus, I was significantly outnumbered. So pho it was.
I wasn’t impressed. I was already annoyed so nothing about the restaurant was appealing and the pho was far less than phenomenal. Based on that experience, I decided pho was not for me.
Then we moved to Pennsylvania where we are around these folks called family a lot. Who like to go out. And who all like pho. Eventually all my efforts to deflect the inevitable failed and back to pho we went.
The upside was that this time I felt good, was hungry, and put myself in a receptive frame of mind, willing to give this strange pho dish a second try.
Now? When it comes to pho, leave out the tendon but load in other meats and it’s all good. Very good.
I like pho. I like pho a lot. I would even go so far to say that I love pho. If it weren’t for the high sodium content, I’d consider having pho every day. Pho is good. Yay pho!
If at first you don’t like pho, try religion again
For many, my initial pho experience is how they have experienced religion, more specifically Christianity. After a bad experience, often when they were young, they decided it’s bad and walk away. Then, through life, they warn others away, casting religion in the image of their own limited past bad experience without a second glance.
The thing is, life is full of hard knocks. Not everything goes well the first time. Or the second time. Or the third time.
Let me ask you a question: How many things in your life that you enjoy would be in your life had you pushed them away the first time they weren’t good or pleasant or instantly gratifying? In other words, how many people, places, or things did you at first not like but now do like?
How many friends? How many foods? How many books or TV shows or ideas or musicians or whatever -- fill-in-the-blank -- would be dead to you had you not given them a another go?
And yet, when it comes to faith, the church, the Gospel of Christ, Christians -- well, it’s often once and done baby! One strike, you’re out.
Encountering the timeless sometimes takes time
What’s ironic and intensely sad is that for the vast majority who walk away from God after one bad bump, they’re left empty and searching for “something” or “someone” to fill a perceived gaping hole in their hearts and souls. They keep searching for some timeless thing.
They turn to career, marriage, music, drugs, sex, food, travel, school, sports, tattoos, politics, hobbies, activities, cults, ideologies -- anything else hoping to find “the” answer to their pestering need.
A few settle into one of these things to the point they can sort of drown out and kind of tamp down the sense of “something’s missing.” Others shift and search from one experience to another, one idea to another, one group of friends to another. Just one more kiss. Just one more tat. Endlessly restless. Always longing.
The one thing they refuse to turn to for one more try is faith, religion, Christianity, the church, Jesus, God. Nope. No way. No how. But why?
Flying can be a hassle. They first time I flew I was 29 years old and I was a little afraid. But all went well. Since then, until recently, I’ve flown on average at least once a year. My longest flight was from New Jersey to Hong Kong and back.
Most times the experiences were fine. But not always. There were boarding delays, sitting in hot planes on the tarmac for hours, and even being stranded overnight in airports. But I knew these bad experiences were not the sum total of flying. The good usually outweighed the bad. So I kept getting on planes.
The same is true when it comes to church and God and religion. There will be bumps.
Still haven’t found what you’re misinformation misled you to expect
One reason I was turned off to pho initially is that I really didn’t know what it was. I didn’t have good information. In other words, even if I’d not been out of sorts that first time I had pho, I’d still have been uncertain.
Often, those who had bad experiences in a church were young and not really aware of what being a Christian really meant. They weren’t fully familiar with the Bible or its basic tenets or what a proper biblical Christian worldview entails.
It’s very possible that the first church encounter was a bad one because that first church encountered was not a good church. It happens. Not all churches are equal, not all pastors are qualified, not all congregations are friendly, not all encounters are worth repeating.
Here’s where a little fair and honest assessment can go a long way toward correcting misconceptions. In others, you may need to re-open your prejudiced mind to take a second and third look. Claiming to be tolerant with an open mind yet refusing to re-look at faith is a contradiction.
If at first you don’t connect, try another outlet
When your electronic device runs low on power, you search for an outlet. If the first outlet you try doesn’t work, you’ll keep trying others until you find one that does. The search for faith -- for the timeless -- should be the same.
Don’t be a quitter. How you believe isn’t the same as picking your favorite flavor of milkshake or deciding you don’t like cilantro. Rather, when it comes to faith, you’re talking about your life’s purpose, your eternal destiny, you’re whole reason for being and doing. These are big ticket issues that deserve to be carefully considered. And reconsidered.
And here’s a little insight: If you were “burned” by religion and now (1) you are nagged by a relentless longing for “something” and (2) you get quickly “turned off” or “angry” when someone starts talking about God or faith or religion, then God and faith and religion are the very areas you need to give a second chance to.
That nagging is the Holy Spirit trying to get your attention. The anger is Satan working to keep you his and headed to hell. God loves you and will be relentless in His pursuit of you. One writer referred to it as being pursued by “the hound of heaven.” Satan tends to be persistent as well, but a lot more subtle, because if you’re not God’s, you’re Satan’s.
The bottom-line is, as Bob Dylan once sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” And there’s only one Somebody who can satisfy that timeless itch for deep true meaning in life. Even pho won’t fill that eternal need.
Did you have a bad church experience? Did you get over it or not? If so, how long did it take? If not, what would it take to give God another try? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!