I worry about telling the truth. What if I actually told you what the transition from external compliance to internal consent consists of–what it really looks like to move from religious exhaustion to the “rest of God”? What if I told you what it was really like for me to be a Christian kid growing up in a Pentecostal subculture–for better and for worse? (And it was both for me–insidiously kind.)
What if I told you what it’s like to feel the earth move under your feet when you find your sense of God to be exactly what you have come to know, in places you had come to believe God couldn’t possibly be found? What if my views on how to be and live have expanded to include more of what I think Jesus had in mind and less of what someone else told me Jesus had in mind? What if Love is not only tender and gracious and merciful and forgiving, but is also fierce and tenacious and just and fearless? What would I risk in overtly stating my rejection of tradition’s taboos? Would you leave? That’s my greatest fear.
But what if you discovered we had a lot in common? What if, like me, you had ticked every box on the spiritual checklist–as much as was within your power–only to find that what you had achieved was something other than what you understood was promised by the God you were trained to trust? What if god and trust mean something larger and closer and more real than you thought, and life is prayer, and prayer is given and is an adventure beyond anything you imagined taking place amongst sweetfaced, grayhaired spinsters huddled in a dank, outdated sanctuary at some godforsaken hour on a weekday? What if you discovered that nothing is outside of God’s creative redemption and that there is recovery from the religious exhaustion and that nothing is wasted? What if you could know that questions are healthy and invited, that God isn’t afraid of your ferocious outbursts or naive to your tightly-held, ticked-off restraint? What if you were could finally relax? I want to tell you the truth, but I’m afraid.
I want to tell you that there is more to God than any one stream of faith can adequately contain or express.
I don’t want to tell you about the shame and confusion I developed over being…
- a 50% introvert in a 90% extrovert tradition where worship was loud and long, and noise equalled freedom–and that I mostly loved it
- a learner and an observer in a culture that was suspect of formal education and you were “graded” on participation
- an unsuspecting pawn in the game of church politics–and I played
- a paradoxical amalgam of cheerful spontaneity and fearful perfectionism
- someone with no sense of belonging in my own life where…
…diversity was divisive; Other was Opposition; to register an opinon was to rebel.
…to acknowledge desire was to give “occasion to the flesh”
…to work to attain tangible objects, or as a means to an experience was “laying up treasures for yourself where moth and rust corrupts”…unless it’s for a mission trip
I want to tell you that you and I are enough, just as we are, the Beloved of God.
I don’t want to tell you how I came to believe…
- that to honor my impulse toward artistic achievement was frivolous and self-absorbed, so I didn’t
- that feeling free-spirited with a gift for improvisation is probably unredeemed ego and should be used only in church and never compensated; otherwise it is squandered, meaningless
- that productivity was a life’s prime value yet success was to be censured
- that God wanted to provide for my needs but working at a thing wholeheartedly was to somehow demonstrate a lack of faith
- that the only good and true work in the world had a Christian ministry label associated with it
I want to tell you that I’m full of hope that wherever God’s good intention is lived out, you and I and the world, whether seen or unseen, is better for it.
I don’t want to tell you I’m embarrassed by the message to “reach out” to your friends while being separate from the world as I came to understand it. And by the notion that we were to love everyone while ridiculing whatever didn’t look like us, moralizing whomever didn’t live like us, and railing or campaigning against, instead of conversing with, those that didn’t agree with us; that there is dead skin to shed with regard to the more-fear-than-love approach to social change and its politics.
I want to tell you that I am becoming freed from layers of a false self that has developed unloving and unlovely ways of coping; that I have begun to live more fully from a truer, less egocentric place; that I am finding freedom in respecting others’ journeys, trusting that God is capable of holding them as I am held. I care more and need less–except on the days when depression or despair tackles me, which it does occasionally. Then I’m quite sure God just hopes I’ll go to bed.
I really don’t want to tell you my rather recent discovery that I still have more than residual traces of codependency (thank God for spiritual direction and treatment!), and that I’m fairly lousy at maintaining close relationships; that, while I’ve been married to Mr. S for over 40 years, we’re just learning how to negotiate making plans; that we still can’t create a budget together; that I can’t get to bed on time; that my now-adult children have forgiven much.
I also don’t want to tell you that the reason it takes me forever to write a single blog post is because I work very hard at not telling the WHOLE truth. Well, that AND I’m a total tech disaster. But, that aside, I’m feeling called out. If I’m going to talk about authenticity, here or anywhere, my invitation is to be becoming consistently authentic, not just selectively so.
I want to tell you this and more because I think there is help along the way in the sharing of our stories, that in them we find God and goodness and hope.
It’s true that no matter my successes in life–and there are some–I am haunted by the ghost on my shoulder whispering that ,”If they follow the yellow brick road to your door, they will discover a cowardly wizard behind your carefully crafted curtain,” which as is so in Oz, may look good but the upkeep is costly and labor intensive, and that once in, you might discover…the truth.
So here’s to calling his bluff, opening the curtain. But not to worry.
- It doesn’t mean discarding discretion.
- There’s no telling of others’ stories without their permission.
- And it’s not a flying leap onto the “I hate church” bandwagon. I don’t. In fact, religious rehab has led me right back into the beautiful mess of community life. Oy!
However, pretending there is no dark side? Over it. I’d rather meet you at the door in sweats or whatever I happen to be wearing, and connect candidly over a glass/cup of something wonderful. (Well…not literally at the door, but here. ‘Cause I really don’t love interruptions that much, and I probably won’t have makeup on and my hair done and nobody needs that…)
Most of all, I want to tell you this: There is a “with-God life,” modeled in Jesus and empowered by the Spirit, that is real, raw, and really does deliver the rest Jesus promised in Matthew 11:28. It means
- Recovering from some junk,
- Uncovering your truest, God-designed self, and
- Discovering what it means to be fully and forever loved by God.
Let’s do it together. Do come in…and I sincerely hope you’ll stay.
Happy New Year, Gwen
Coming Clean: What about your life causes you to feel like a fraud, that if people really knew you, they would run for the hills screaming “Ichabod!”?