I worked in Montana for a summer at a camp in the mountains. My high school band director used to tell stories about his time working there and I was intrigued by his tales of camping and backpacking and working with students, so during my freshman year of college, I learned more about the camp, applied, and was accepted to work there that summer.
My struggles began on the drive out west. My brother and his best friend were my travel companions for the two day trek. I was scared and put great effort in trying not to cry during random hours in the car and in the hotel that first night because I didn’t want them to know I was struggling. I tried to rationalize my fears by reminding myself that I was going to work at a Christian camp and although I had every expectation of this community looking like the ones I had always been a part of, I couldn’t shake the impulse to cry at random moments.
That summer was hard. My initial feelings of fear and anxiety never let go of me as I entered into this unfamiliar space and culture. Although this camp was a Christian community, it operated differently than any place I had been a part of before. I was closely surrounded by people who viewed faith much differently than I did. They let themselves doubt and question and do things I didn’t think Christians were supposed to do. My 19-year-old self didn’t quite know how to handle this, so I spent a majority of my time arguing and fighting for what I had always known to be true about Christian faith and community. But, in the midst of my fight against unfamiliar practices, I found myself sitting and listening and wondering about the doubts and questions my co-workers expressed.
If you’ve grown up in the church, I’m sure you have one of these places. A place that made you redefine your faith, that made you question and doubt and wonder about what you grew up with. Is it stable? Can it be challenged? Are people who view faith and Jesus and doctrine differently than I do still Christians? Montana was my place of discovery and wonder, a place that has had me asking questions ever since the moment I left, even five years later.
I was brought back to my moments of difficulty and doubt and rediscovery as I dove into Andrea Lucado’s new book English Lessons: The Crooked Little Grace-Filled Path of Growing Up. Lucado reflects on her time studying for her Masters degree in English Literature at Oxford-Brookes where she encountered people who lived and viewed faith much differently than those she grew up with, most not believing in Jesus at all. She found herself envying their supposed free spirits, wondering how they could seem so at peace if they had never been touched by true grace, and asking important questions about people who had once experienced Jesus and later rejected him.
What I loved most about this book was Lucado’s raw honesty about her struggle living and interacting closely with people who did not share her same beliefs and consequently, her own struggle with faith. As a well-known pastor’s daughter and as someone who grew up in the arguably-sheltered American church, she realized how difficult and confusing it can be to learn that Christianity is much more resilient to doubts and questions than her upbringing led her to believe. And she also learned how freeing and beautiful it can be to live with this kind of faith- a faith that is strong enough for our questions and crooked paths and insecurities. Her honesty creates space for a needed kind of courage in the church today, the courage to wonder and ask and be open to receiving unexpected answers from the Lord. The courage to interact with people who look and act and believe differently than we do, to take risks and to learn over and over and over again what it looks like follow Jesus, especially in the midst of uncertainty.
Lucado’s ringing message to her reader is a beautiful reminder that when we inevitably encounter places of doubt and we allow ourselves to lean into our questions and into our searching, we find more of Jesus. We grow in Him, we allow our worlds and lives to be expanded by Him, and we experience His faithfulness. I needed a place like Montana to break the mold of what I always knew, to find a fuller Jesus, one who can be experienced through many denominations and cultures. I needed Montana to push me to ask questions, to search for truth, and to find it in His word and in unexpected places and paths.
I hope you read Lucado’s story too, allowing yourself to remember the place where you started to question and grow or to receive permission and grace to find that place to wonder and doubt and come to know Jesus more fully.