How I became part of The Way Station can be connected to my lists. My To-Do lists are slightly ridiculous. There are things on these lists such as “Start a Yoga Practice,” “Learn Latin” and “Plan Entire Summer,” as well as the mundane “Buy Coffee” and “Return Book To Library.” This should by no means indicate to you that I get things done. No, upon closer inspection, this will tell you that I have always been on a mission to live up to expectations.
Some of my most vivid happy memories from grade school are the times I was chosen to be Princess Leia during recess and when I was picked in the first round for the kickball team. In high school these best memories were when I was asked to three proms (high school fancy dress dances, for those who didn’t grow up in America) and when I got an A+ on my Senior English research paper (“Read Crime and Punishment” got checked off of the To-Do list). To me, these were sure signs that I was talented, fun and desirable, even though that was not how I felt most of the time. I needed constant evidence in order to breath a sigh of relief that I might just be okay.
When I began my university studies, it became apparent to me that my upbringing in my small community didn’t teach me as much as I had thought. A bigger, more frightening world opened up in front of me, and all of its inhabitants seemed to know so much more about life and the world around us than I did. Here, I found myself again working very hard to come across as talented, fun and desirable (added to the list was “Travel the World” and “Get a Tattoo”), and along the way I developed an annoying habit of assuming everyone was right while I was wrong. The sophisticated citizens of the Real World certainly had much to teach me. This scared little girl who needed validation to breathe then stumbled upon a conservative, evangelical campus ministry.
Campus ministry wielded a double-edged sword for me, in hindsight. On one hand I found a group of people who felt safe. They thought I was talented, fun and desirable for the cause of winning souls for Jesus; they wanted me on their team. We shared so much good conversation and cared for each other. On the other hand, this community immersed me in a Bible-centered culture where I was taught to see in every Bible verse absolute truth and a chance for me to apply it to my life. For someone with the low level of self-esteem that I carried around, the Bible was a minefield. How was I to live up to what I was finding on those pages? I was constantly wondering if God was going to “spit me out” of His mouth because of how “lukewarm” I was (Revelation 3:16). I knew what I should be doing, saying and feeling about Jesus, but I didn’t feel as “on fire for Jesus” as most of my friends did. I knew that I had to be the problem and that I must not get it or have read the right works or wasn’t praying enough. I also began feeling responsible for the eternal salvation of all of the souls around me, including those of my parents. I took in everything I was taught and didn’t question much, going back to that notion that I was the clueless girl who doesn’t know any better about spiritual matters (or anything else). These were years of highest highs and lowest lows, but all along the way there was a background noise of not living up to the standard.
I spent many post-college years wondering why I couldn’t seem to get my spiritual shit together. Once I was back home and away from my template Christian community, I had trouble capturing it again for myself (Added to the list was “Find a Bible Study”). What I found on my own confused me. I was plagued by questions such as follow:
- Why did I feel like a used car salesperson whenever I started talking about Jesus when I knew I should bring him up?
- Why did I like the what I was hearing at the Methodist church, when I had been warned about them before?
- Why do some of these liberal Bible scholars on the History channel seem so normal and insightful, when I was shown over and over again that they have an agenda, and it is not Jesus.
During this period I also spent much time with Europeans as I worked through my Master’s program in German. They were consistently not “believers” as I had learned to recognize them, yet I didn’t see them as less than whole and satisfied humans. This was extremely confusing because I was taught that everyone is looking to fill the “Jesus-shaped hole” in their hearts. I spent 15 years jumping into and out of churches and communities trying to reconcile what I thought I was supposed to think and feel and what actually—deep, deep down—resonated with me, the whole while carrying self-loathing, guilt and fear around with me.
Do you see you here at all?
I reached a point when I wrote down on my list “Find Therapist” because I was afraid if I didn’t, I had reached the end of my ability to cope with not living up to my own expectations and what I thought were those of God and Jesus. I could not live any longer with the background noise. Around this time, I began to encounter people of faith, friends, a therapist, artists and authors who gave me the permission to not fit in. Maybe I didn’t begin to encounter then all of a sudden, perhaps I finally began to listen to them instead of writing them off as another confusing perspective for my already muddled brain. They gave me the permission to pull on the threads I had been trying to ignore and not fear the “slippery slope.” I didn’t have to be ashamed of what I didn’t know for sure, instead, the fact that I realize how much I don’t know is a good sign that I am okay. Rob Bell gave me permission to not be responsible for the souls of everyone. Peter Rollins gave me permission to say out loud that I don’t know if I ever really believed some aspects of the God I had been presented with as the only God. I was given permission to give up God so that I might just find Him right where I thought I caught a glimpse of Him once or twice, but was afraid I was mistaken.
This phase is ongoing, but unlike earlier it is filled with more peace than despair. My To-Do lists over the last years have begun to document my process of stepping out from behind my self-consciousness about my faith (and, if I am being honest, about much more than that), such as when “Way Station video chat” is found there. Being a part of this community of template-shattering people is a step for me in finally trusting that I can think for myself. I can have an opinion that might feel like heresy, and God might just be there. I am learning that God dwells not just in the overt, evangelically-sanctioned knock-offs of living. I see God in grammar (“Finally become fluent in Spanish”); in how our minds process language. I don’t feel guilty any longer that “Witness to Mom and Dad” is not on the list. I see God in philosophy, and I am fine that my long-term To-Do list does not include “Become better at apologetics.”
Thank you for giving me a chance over and over again to say this out loud, and please excuse me now while I check “Write Heartfelt Blog Post” off of my To-Do list.