So whenever I touch on faith and my past church conflicts on the blog, I get a lot of e-mails—most of them really kind—from readers who are interested and/or concerned.
Some sound like: “What the hell happened in your faith past?”
Some sound like: “Honey, run to Jesus and stop pushing him away. You’re going to lose your chance.”
And most sound like: “My faith brings me so much peace in my life. I am praying for you. I’m so sorry your past has presented issues with God. I hope you figure it out. God loves you so much. Just the way you are.” These ones feel like a hug.
I will write more about my faith past. I am writing a lot about it off line. I realized after Bloom, many have conflicting faith pasts.
It is hard to write about because it involves people. People I love. People who read this blog. People who loved me and offered me a lot of good and support as well as their version of faith. But I was told a lot of things about God that I don’t think are true anymore, and not only do I think they’re not true, I think they are very damaging. I realize I have to fight tendencies that make me want to view myself and the rest of the world in a skewed way, due to ten years of input and reactive behavior to that input. And all the people who were involved in teaching me this—I still love them. We are human, we make mistakes.
The basis of what I believed for a very long time, along with a lot of weird stuff that went along with it, was that God commanded and demanded us to be PERFECT, no exceptions. “Examine yourself” was a phrase frequently thrown around, and I’m not talking a shower breast exam. If there was sin, sinful feelings, sin-like thoughts, anything that resembled sin (“even if you don’t sin but you’re thinking about sin,” we were told), you were going to hell. So, in order to please God, we were basically trained to become professional Sinbusters, constantly examining our thoughts and everything we did to make sure we weren’t sinning. It was exhausting. There was lots of repenting, might I add. For years, it was a completely normal thing for me to walk into the house, call “Is anybody home?” and if someone didn’t answer within twenty seconds, I was immediately paralyzed with fear that the rapture came and I didn’t go. Beginning around nine years old. I had countless nightmares that I was left after the rapture or that I died in a car accident and went to hell. Because of that one little feeling of resentment or jealousy or unkindness I felt.
A lady once stood up in our church and repented to the entire congregation, kids included, for her sin. You want to know what her sin was? Going to a garage sale, seeing a jar of buttons for a dollar and buying them. Why, do you ask that’s a sin? Because she saw another lady eyeing them and she bought them anyway. I guess it was unkind not to offer them to the other lady who wanted them. Not only unkind but SIN. Sin that sends you to hell. And when people heard this, they shook their heads and said “Amen” and applauded her for her stellar sin detection skills—a Class 1 Sinbuster (okay, we didn’t really call them that). And I remember even at twelve years old, listening to this story and thinking WHAT. THE. HELL. But then I repented later for thinking “What the Hell” because I didn’t want to go to hell. When hell was described in sermons where children were present, nothing was held back. “Gnashing of teeth” was a common phrase because somewhere in the Bible it says that about the people who burn there. And we were told that it’s so hot and miserable and tortuous that people BEG God to forgive them, but NEVER. They were already warned, it’s over. It was important that we knew that time never ends in hell. As a kid, I’d ask things like “even longer than 100 years?” and be answered with things like “100 times 100. Time NEVER ends in hell.” Imagine going there all over a jar of frickin’ buttons. In all fairness, we knew that heaven never ended either. This was supposed to be a really exciting fact, but A: the hell thing kind of took over, and B: heaven was described as endless sitting around listening to Jesus teach and singing for hours, and—well, that sounds kind of boring, even now.
This is one among hundreds of stories like it. Ten years of repenting, waking up with sweaty palms and a racing heart from rapture nightmares. I was never good enough for God, and I knew it. I couldn’t shut off sinful thoughts and while I smiled and told all the church people when they asked (and they did) that I was Tony-the-Tiger Grrreeeeeaaat with God, I knew inside that I was doomed for hell.
When we were feeling the energy to extend beyond our own heart examinations, we took it upon ourselves to do it for others too—telling people when they were in sin. Separating from them. Cutting off anyone who “called themself a Christian” but lived otherwise according to our superhuman standards. We cut my cousins out of my life. My grandparents. I didn’t see my dad for four years because he was gay, gay was wrong and 1 Corinthians says, “put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” It also says you couldn’t eat with these people. So we didn’t. One time, when we were still seeing my dad, we went to a restaurant and sat at a different table—just me and my siblings—while my dad sat alone in a booth behind us. I was nine.
All the things that could send you to hell—I realize now that they are the things that make us human. Imagine. Going to hell for being human. So you had to be something better than human, a perfect subspecies. I carry remnants of these feelings today. As if we don’t have enough guilt to deal with in motherhood and trying to do it all. It’s okay to be human, I say to myself a lot. It’s okay to be human. If you need to know this, I’m your girl.
I get hung up on wanting to know the answers to things I might never know, but I’m okay. Me and God? We’re good, we’re getting there, and sometimes, many times, we are beyond good–a peaceful, settling, oh-so-loving “so this is what it’s supposed to feel like.” As far as Jesus and the Bible and all that other stuff—well, I don’t know. Telling me to run to Jesus is like telling a beaten dog he should come out and trust people. I heard a song the other day that said “Get out of the box and come into the clear,” and I think that’s a good description for where I am. I don’t ever want to be in a box when it comes to anything in my life. There’s a giant clearing around it, and it’s full of daisies and sunflowers and grass as far as you can see. There are so many more experiences to learn and grow in the clearing than I could ever find in the claustrophobia trap of the box. I think God is in the clearing. And I know he wants me to run around and find him in the many places he exists. It’s a challenge.
Our old church has pretty much dissipated. I don’t see “church” now. I see humans. Humans who make mistakes and get confused sometimes. I may not have always felt that God loved me, but I did feel love from people. And I always felt loved and accepted by my parents.
I realize that my church past is a unique situation, and I’m so glad there are churches around the world that do so much good. Can you imagine a world without church? We’d lose a lot of comfort, a lot of good and a lot of love for people who need it. I’m so glad there are churches.
The thing about God that I hang on to the most? It’s being loved simply for existing. I think that’s a pretty powerful thing.
As for the rest, I’m going to take this broken glass and glue the shards together to make some amazing stained glass windows. I’m going to build a cathedral. Actually, I think I’ll just shoot for a little hillside chapel. With lots of love. And a nice mix of dandelions and daisies on the hill. So much better than a cathedral.
The regular blog will resume next week. It was ETST Deep Week. Kind of like Shark Week but with less blood.
Oh, and HAPPY FRIDAY! (confetti, confetti, confetti!!!)