Actually, the real reason I went to seminary was to please God. And the real reason I left (besides becoming wholly convinced I was not gifted for that work) was because I did not feel seen or heard or like my story was safe in the community. It’s not all horrible and I did make some great connections, but after a particularly difficult incident in a (required) small group, the only questions/follow up I got were “are you running away?” and “is there anything you can think of that you would have differently?” – and this from a member of said group, in which I was – because we were encouraged to be – very vulnerable. When I needed to make up an Incomplete because of that situation, my assignment was to write about how great the exact thing I had a deeply negative experience with was (“by the way, we need a new write up on this topic for our website!”). My experience, my story, was not treated with any regard and my “gift” was exploited. When I left, I got zero questions/follow up (that I did not initiate myself). And this was at an institution that trains future leaders of the Church.
Maybe that’s why I wanted to please God – because I clearly don’t seem to be fitting in too well with humanity. Or maybe it’s because I’m not finding any place in the human family that, while I don’t struggle with doubting God’s existence like I used to, I am fairly convinced (to risk invalidating nearly a year’s worth of blog posts here), that God doesn’t – and couldn’t love me. I know, this is the part where people quote Bible verses at me or tell me how untrue it is. Save your breath: I’ve heard it all, tried it all, STOPPED trying it all and nothing’s broken through.
None of my reasons are particularly inventive: I haven’t done anything to earn God’s love (yes, I know that love earned is something other than love), I am not doing anything with my life and can’t figure out what to do (yes, I know that the kingdom of heaven isn’t a meritocracy) and I’m pretty sure that I’ll be revealed as a goat as opposed to a sheep on the last day (I, for example, ignore more homeless people than I talk to and I always feel bad about it but not enough to not freeze/clam up/avert my eyes when approached downtown, I do not give to everyone who asks, I’m not an awesome, world-changing Christian worker/speaker/pastor/author/evangelizer who rallies the troops for Christ). Reading Scripture is debilitating – the “you will have to give an account for your life” verses, the ones that say some will make it to be with God forever and others won’t (and give the impression that you won’t know until the very end when it’s too late to do anything about it) are the ones that feel and seem real; the ones about God’s unconditional love make me feel like if I believe them, I’m letting myself off the hook for some major responsibility God is waiting for me to take up. The longest I can focus in prayer is about three minutes, though I do pray for people who have deeply wounded me, haven’t apologized and likely won’t. So far, I have been unwilling to commit to a church or much of anything else in life, which is why I’m pushing 30 and woefully behind most of my age cohort in terms of career direction. I’ve got people who believe in me, of course, but I have a hard time believing them.
And the things I do manage to do “for God” are because I’m terrified. So really, they’re for me. I’m terrified of others and what they think (I come from a high-achieving family and I feel like the only one who’s not awesome); mostly, I’m terrified of God, of being rejected on the last day and thrown out (whether that’s into a literal lake of fire or not doesn’t decrease my terror). I know the verses about God’s love, mercy and reconciliation. I know that we do not and could not earn love, forgiveness, salvation. It’s just that, evidently, I don’t know it. Not really. And I’m pretty sure it’s not because I haven’t heard that God loves me. Pretty sure it’s not that I just haven’t prayed hard enough or received enough prayer. Pretty sure it’s not that I haven’t read the Bible enough.
No, the problem is healing – specially, a lack of it, the same lack that has always existed at the center of my being. Some people believe that my husband’s mother wasn’t healed because she didn’t have enough faith. I think I mentioned how completely disgusted I am by victim blaming. And really, I’m not all that enthralled with church, either. I firmly believe that the Christian life is impossible solitary and I do NOT want to be anymore. We have been isolated in terms of regular community engagement for a long time and it’s not for lack of trying. I know it’s partly my balk at commitment of any kind, but I’ve heard ad nauseum about how the church is a family, how it’s a home for the broken – is there REALLY room in the church for the broken? I don’t just mean “we’re all broken;” I mean in the SPECIFIC way that I am (that is, in part by the Church), the SPECIFIC way that my husband is broken, the SPECIFIC way that you are and that EACH person is broken. Caring about brokenness in THIS way means a lot of messy truth telling and that involves a lot of listening to stuff without trying to fix it and THAT involves a lot of inconvenience and discomfort and it’s just not American to do things that aren’t instant or custom-made.
When our church explosion happened, a very close friend of my husband’s and his wife didn’t want to hear the story because they wanted to “remain neutral.” That isn’t really how you “remain neutral” (that’s how you protect yourself) but even if it were, that’s not how you remain connected, remain WITH. The Church seems to value “non-judgment” to the point of gutting friendships (a large part of which involves standing up for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, weeping with those who weep), to say nothing of morality. If we can’t listen to each others’ stories (happy, sad, angry or otherwise), we cannot in truth and love rejoice with those who rejoice or weep with those who weep. If we can only weep with those who weep, we cannot carry the hope and joy of the promises of God. But if we canNOT weep with those who weep, we fade into an irrelevant, vapid social club that can offer people nothing more than a good time at a (monthly) potluck and deserves the rampant criticism we get in the wider culture. The Church is called to be more than that. So far, I’m still waiting.