I’ve been in church all of my life. My mother went into labor with me while she was teaching a children’s Vacation Bible School class. So I guess you can say that if there was anyone who was predestined to be a church kid, it would be me.
I was the church kid who stayed on the straight and narrow – the really straight and the really narrow. I was the one who took most of what was taught to me in church to heart and I made it my business to try my hardest to do everything correctly so as not to miss heaven (or get church folk talkin’ and gossipin’). Basically, I was the one who could be scared into compliance.
But then I hit my mid 20s and life happened. I began confiding in some people I trusted that fear was no longer strong enough to keep me from making certain decisions. I didn’t know what to do with the temptation. I didn’t know know how to properly cope with things. And slowly many of those badges of honor that I had racked up over the years in the “who’s the holiest amongst you” contest that the church can be faded away.
So what was left? Shame. Tons of shame. Ironically, the shame never kept me from the “wrong” but it did a number on my psyche that kept me from the “right” thing. I struggled with my concept of the God who I was taught loves good and hates evil. I struggled with the concept with still being worth something in God’s eyes, even when I didn’t get it right. I struggled with submitting myself to my fellow Christians for accountability, love, and “spurring on to good works” for fear of that really being condemnation and “you know how them PKs are, chile” behind-the-back conversations. I struggled with talking to pastor/father and mentor/mother because…who wants to really tell their parents all the crazy things they do in their 20s? I couldn’t bear the disappointment in their eyes, even as love would have, I’m sure, overcome the disappointment.
My Dad asked me to teach the Adult Bible Study class at church last night and I about had a fit. How could I teach and I’m still trying to figure out what I believe?
I struggled with still feeling like I’m fit for use, even in my broken state. I was always taught that God didn’t use perfect people in the Bible but I saw how people treat you in the Church when you fall. I struggled with being that person that people still wanted to come to when they wanted help straightening their lives out when all I really wanted was someone who I trusted to know all of my mess and help me out too.
For all of the good theological tidbits I was given over the years, no one ever taught me how to deal with the shame. In fact, no place teaches shame like the Church. I think what’s telling is that how much of our theology is based in shame-inducing approaches, forgetting that the Gospel is sufficient enough to convict without us adding any extra “umph” to the message. So much of my time growing up was spent doing the right thing in order to not disappoint people; if love of God was a factor in my behavior, it was definitely second to not wanting people to talk.
But I learned that people would talk either way. And I learned that I wouldn’t get struck down if I messed up. And I started becoming comfortable with some of the ways my faith walk was shifting from the hollow shell of the faith walk of my youth. And I decided that whether I decided to stick with the Church or walk away, God was big enough to still love me.
I wish I knew what to do with the shame though. I wish I could make the feeling of “not being saved enough” go away. I wish I knew what to do with all the ambivalence and the Kanye shrugs I want to throw at so much regarding the Church right now. I wish someone taught me it was OK to struggle with it all.
Because somewhere lost in all the well-meaning messages taught to me growing up was simple truth that theology – the study of God – can and most times does happen on a very personal level. And your theology can only go as far as your true knowledge of who God is, despite all the book you’ve read, conferences you’ve attended, and services you’ve gone to. To this end, whatever your journey looks like to get that knowledge, it really is OK.
So I’m hoping that someone reads this and can stop condemning themselves for not conforming (yes, even to the church way) or they can be OK with how their walk with God has grown/expanded/shifted. You’re safe in the arms of God who’s big enough to meet you wherever you end up.