It feels impossible to write down how I got here, how I got to all of these bitter and hard places with God and the church. Because I know that if I were to say this to my sweet mama, her pure-intentioned heart would be broken, because it’s genuinely not how she and Dad meant for me to see it all, this business of faith.
But I know I have to. I know I have to learn to separate myself from that feeling of guilt in speaking the truth. I have to put it all down anyway, because regardless of intention, it’s my story. Everything I do and say and believe is tangled up with it, and it’s time to work out the knots.
I grew up with the suspicion that God’s love for me was directly related to my ability to perform well, to not screw up. To live a squeaky clean life on the outside, even if that meant my outside and inside couldn’t ever match. Even if it meant that, on some level, I spent 100% of my time lying. We never called it that, clearly. But the older I get, the more I am convinced that when your outside doesn’t match your insides, you are living smack in the middle of a lie of monstrous proportions.
Maybe that’s what this is, ultimately. Me learning to fight for truth. For my truth.
I remember waking up Sunday mornings, putting on a dress, a little makeup. Making sure I was perfectly presentable, but not pretty or alluring enough to be distracting. But always, that dress or skirt. Because God wanted my best, and for a teenage female in my world, that meant dressing up for church. For the longest time, it never struck me as strange, being the only version of reality and truth I’d ever encountered. It never struck me as strange that our pastor referenced the Scripture that talked about how God looks not on the outside but on the heart. It never struck me as strange that the same man who preached that sermon also shamed a woman for wearing a pant suit to our church; a woman who stopped coming.
And no one said anything. No one openly questioned it.
The more I think about that, the more angry I get. Mostly because I find it completely representative of that church culture, of my raising. That God wants our best, deserves our best, and when God says He wants and deserves our best, He mostly just meant that He wants us to look our best, needs our lives to look their best. He mostly cares about how things appear. Because essentially, we are God’s PR people, and it’s our job to paint a pretty picture, even if the canvas is rotting.
That’s why so many people don’t fit, I think. Why there is no place for anyone who doesn’t fit the mold, who lacks the desire or the ability to just fall in line. Because to some degree, it’s easier to worship the mold, to worship a cleaned-up appearance of God, than it is to actually worship a messy, wild God that none of us can even pin down.
And I’m smart enough to know it’s not that black and white. I know that this world has been home to billions of people who have experienced God in a billion unique ways, and I know these beautiful, maddening people who raised me really DO see God in this mold. I know the mold has helped them make sense of God and faith, and isn’t that what we’re all looking for in our own imperfect way, really? I know that hurt doesn’t cancel out grace, and I know there will be a day when the grace will feel weightier than the hurt does to me.
But for everything there is a season.
Today I’m in the middle of a season of hurt. On behalf of myself, a girl who spent decades trying to stuff a massive soul into a tiny frame. A spirit with sharp and fragmented edges simply does not fit in that world, and for years I lived with the hand-me-down philosophy that since the mold was one purely of God’s making, it had to be me that was broken and in need of fixing, so I could fit into it.
Today I’m in the middle of a season of hurt. On behalf of the wandering ones, the friends I grew up with who sensed the same things I do, felt the same skepticism and disillusionment, but weren’t ever found by someone able and willing to suggest a new approach to God and faith. The ones whose hurt whispered you don’t belong here…give it up one too many times, until they simply believed it, and did.
Today I’m in the middle of a season of hurt. On behalf of all the people who have missed out on precious people and precious experiences because those people and experiences didn’t fit the mold. The ones for whom fear won out, fear of what might happen if they let themselves really, truly Jesus-love someone who didn’t fit the mold. I know the beauty those people have missed out on, and my heart aches at their loss.
Today I’m in the middle of a season of hurt. On behalf of God Himself, for all the times His heart has been missed, so that we could water things down to a level we can understand and quantify for ourselves and others. For all the times we’ve forgotten that Jesus once said that whatever we do to the least of His kids, we do to Him. When we neglect them, we neglect Him. When we refuse to try to see their hearts, we refuse to try to see His. When we submit them to a system of scales and balances and find them wanting and therefore unworthy of our genuine love, we find Him wanting and therefore unworthy of our genuine love.
Which was the one thing He asked of us above every single other thing.