If you are struggling, it’s because you are doing the will of God and the devil is coming after you because you are doing the Lord’s work. If your circumstance is difficult, God ordained it. He is “stretching” and growing you. You are obviously on the right track, carrying out his will.
If you are doing what God wills, things will be easier. There will be a “flow” to it. That’s his way of letting you know you are abiding in his will. You won’t have to fight it. There will be a naturalness and ease, if you are operating in the will of God.
Well, which is it?
And please don’t tell me “the Bible is clear..” because it’s not. It’s actually contradictory on a lot of levels.
It’s a subject I’ve asked pastors about, only to be told to just keep reading the “word,” and God would make it clear. The implication of course being “you’re not spending enough time in the Bible.”
To which I say, how did the early church follow the example of Christ for the first four centuries? They did not have the benefit or encumbrance of a book to tell them how to live. Yet they set the world on fire with radical love. It’s all about the spirit, in my estimation.
Here’s the thing; This is life. Messy, wonderful, excruciating LIFE. Live it.
It is full of natural flow, impossible challenges, unexpected events, bursts of assurance, and waves of doubt. There is no one marker that determines if you are going against the will of the Almighty. In the process of deconstruction, I have learned that sometimes, I will avoid doing the “thing” at all, because all those years I NEEDED constant reassurance from Heaven and Earth alike that I was in his will. The paralysis of analysis, if you will.
If things were going great, the underlying sentiment is that God loves me and is pleased with me. But wait – when traumatic events happen, remember that he “chastens whom he loves,” (or if he just really has a cruel streak.)
And I have decided that my whole theology boils down to this: “Shit happens, but God is Love.”
Perhaps we can stop micromanaging the will of God. Perhaps we can marvel at it, wonder at the mystery of a grace so scandalous, we don’t even need to understand the whole plan to know it’s good. We people-please Abba because that’s how we win the approval of people.
Maybe God’s not testing us.
Maybe he isn’t “allowing” difficult, tragic things to happen in order to build up our strength as Christians.
Maybe the fact that everything is going smoothly just means that everything is just going smoothly.
He walks alongside us on the road to Damascus, and down Main Street at Disney World.
Over the fire and ice, both.
He stays near us when we feel robbed in this life, and when we have been given abundance.
Sometimes we get it wrong. But we will either succeed at what we endeavor, or we will learn from it.
A conversation between Fundamentalist Me and New Me:
FUNDIE ME: “Lord, if I ever stray from your will, please just take me home before I disappoint you.”
NEW ME: “Wow. That’s a little dramatic. You are asking God to let you die if you ever start asking questions of a spiritual nature? Isn’t that basically crossing all the “t”s and “i”s, so in case you ever DO stray you can get God on a technicality?”
“No. He’s a good, good father. I will walk each day by faith each day. Because Oh! how he loves me so...”
“He is. And he does love you so. But that prayer is literally the definition of ‘living by the letter of the law. I remember how much you love music. You’ll appreciate it even more in the future. Did you know, all music is worship, by virtue of being a creation of the Universe? Led Zepplin, Indigo Girls….”
“Deceived. Let’s change the subject. This country is going down the tubes! Jesus must be ready to return! Turn before you burn!”
“But ‘it is finished,’ I thought. “To me, that means that it’s a finished work.”
“Speaking of work, this nation was built on…”
“Yeah, in the future, you don’t support blind nationalism.”
“I know that’s not true, because God would have taken me home already if I stopped supporting the nationalist movement. I love my country!”
“Sweet girl, It won’t be the same country by the time you get here, trust me. Better in some ways and so much worse in others. You will care about social justice…”
“Gosh dang! NO.”
“And the death-wish-before-doubt prayer that God will take you right off this earth before he’d let you become liberal….er, um, I mean unholy fallen daughter of the Most High King. You’ll see how whack that is.”
“We are all born unholy. Did you just say ‘whack?'”
“We are all already holy. We are all redeemed. We are all saved. All means all.”
“WELL, I NEVER!”
“Actually, you do. You will ‘never.’ And your heart will be full, because you have no other motive than love. You’ll go to Pride rallies and pass out Free Mom Hugs…”
“No. There’s no way. You can love them without approving of their lifestyles.”
“… And the people there will sometimes dissolve into your arms and sob, because their own parents reject them just on the basis of their sexuality.”
“Well, they shouldn’t. BUT you’re playing fast and loose with ‘grace’ to ‘condone’ all that.”
“What’s to condone? As turns out, that’s not what loving unconditionally is supposed to look like; having ‘buts‘.”
“I mean, love the sinner, hate the sin. You keep saying ‘love.’ Love is discipline. So that’s not what God meant.”
“Isn’t it? Once I filtered the BS out that I feel like Jesus wouldn’t approve of, it made things so clear.”
“Did you just say ‘BS’?”
“Yes. And I say a lot of other potty words too. After repressed for so long. I now know that cussing is not what God meant about keeping our language and hearts pure. He meant don’t use your words – even scripture – as a weapon towards others. Using language for cruelty, exclusion…”
“You don’t say the ‘F word,’ Lord, please say ‘no.”
“Oh yes, you’re quite fond of that word. And the funny thing is, so are many of your ex-evangelical girlfriends who never swore because a Proverbs 31 woman wouldn’t say naughty words, and that was the standard for the godly faith of a woman.”
*Plugs ears* “LALALALALA…”
“Oh, you will learn that Eastern religions have a lot of truth. You’ll do yoga on occasion, and…”
“Listen. It’s perfectly effin’ okay.”
“You went and said the ‘F’ word.”
“Then let God correct, as he is far more persuasive and compassionate than we could ever be. Your job than we can be. Just love one another. He wasn’t just whistling Dixie when he said, ‘love is the greatest of these.”
“It can’t be that simple. You cannot go around willy-nilly approving of people the way they ARE, when they should…’
“Yeah, you’ll learn not to ‘should’ all over other people. And it IS that simple.”
“Well, that’s not ‘love.’ The BIBLE CLEARLY SAYS -“
“Yeah, about that…once you study Christ without 2,000 years of human dogma considered, you’ll learn the Bible ain’t too clear, period.”
“Lord, why am I still living? Oh the humanity!”
“Calm down, you’re going to love God more than ever when all is said and done. Not the concept of God you grew up with, though.”
“Well, I KNOW God, and…”
“You know the absent or spiteful god. God is incredible. So let him out of the box, sister girlfriend.”
“That’s scary. That’s gotta be the devil talking.”
“Yeah, that’s a whole other subject for another time. In the future, Fundie Jana, I’m going to love you, too. Because you strived so hard for a God to accept you, when your very existence proves that acceptance.”
“That’s New-Agey. Please repent. Before it’s too late.”
“I’m extending grace to you. The grace that you have deserved all along, but never claimed.”
“That’s prideful. We don’t ‘deserve’ anything.”
“And you’ll see the bigger picture and realize every single belief you practiced was necessary for you to be free in the end. And you will be free.”
“That doesn’t sound right.” *Wrings hands*
“You’re so afraid just to be. Please believe God is not trying to get you on a technicality.”
“But the ‘human heart is deceitful….”
“God wouldn’t have place a curious mind if you weren’t allowed to doubt and delve.”
“I’m so worried I’m going to lose the love of God if I open my mind.”
“Yes, that’s what kept you sick and stuck for a long time.Reconstructed You will be safe. You will be strong. It is truly for freedom that you have been set free.I love you just the way you are.”
As an adolescent, I was terrified of “making purple.”
Those of you in the evangelical world know that kids in youth group are warned on mission trips (lock-ins, religious rallies, the woods behind the church, etc. and so on) to not fool around with boys if you’re a girl, and girls if you were a boy. Blue + pink = purple (get it?) Many a time, a youth leader has been driving a bus full of kids and said, “SHOW OF HANDS!” and all the teens would have to lift their hands to show their hands were not in places they shouldn’t be. Purple places, I guess.
And of course, they weren’t in the wrong for monitoring the kids. They are liable and it is not the occasion for those kind of shenanigans. It’s the subversive idea that your sexual purity determines your worth as a young woman that bothers me.
The youth group I attended (religiously) as a teenager was quite the circus. I was a hand-wringing thinker of deep thoughts, and I wanted answers. At one point, I made an appointment with the senior pastor, (who was later revealed to be having affairs with three women in the congregation, Oh, the irony!) to talk about predestination. What I would later learn is severe anxiety propelled me to find answers, and I couldn’t let it go. I’ve always been a seeker. Plus also, I was scared to death of Hell, so I needed to know these things.
I also carried a Bible to high school with me every day, like an amulet. It served the dual purposes of making me feel holy, and keeping the “bad kids” away, lest I be tempted. I also wore a ring to signify my purity to remind me that I didn’t want to lose value as a woman by fooling around. How awful that is to me now.
All I knew was that the human heart is deceitful above all things – never trust it. And to love yourself? Sacrilege! That’s vanity and placing yourself over God, you dirty heretic. Jesus said to love everyone, but throughout 2,000 years of human dogma, a long litany of stipulations had been applied to loving self.
“That’s an awfully big question,” the pastor said at our appointment. And then he launched into a diatribe about how God chooses who will make the cut BEFORE you are even born. This was very disturbing information. Was I behaving for nothing? “But everyone gets a choice,” he continued. It made zero sense whatsoever but who was I to question? Questioning was especially egregious and rebellious.
I can tell you now, loving yourself is NOT a sin. In fact, it’s essential. You need to have the ability to be tender with yourself, which requires love. And these days, Love is quite literally my religion – I am learning to love myself and actively loving and accepting others.
I will say that I don’t believe “hooking up” habitually is good for the mind and spirit. But you do you, Boo. To each their own. It’s enough to take my own spiritual inventory; I surely cannot take yours.
But purity culture? I instilled that in my own daughters from an early age, as it was instilled in me. In retrospect, it’s janky. Not because teens having sex is a good thing, but because I basically taught my daughters without realizing it that a substantial part of their value hinged on being “pure” for your future husband. Not that I myself made it that far, I did not. (I discovered alcohol, which was a game changer, and is an entirely other story for another time.)
It’s the self-worth factor that ires me. You must stay pure, and none of my kids – all adults now – ended up that way, by the church’s standards.) The message that you are a commodity that has value, but your value can be reassessed if you do naughty things. Again, it seems so obviously wrong now.
The boys are told not to engage but are not held to the same standards at all. Where’s their purity rings? Where’s their chastisement? No bueno. Can you say “Patriarchy Jr?” (And yes, I have apologized to my daughters.)
I know this firsthand because in tenth grade, the youth leader for the church I attended – who had adamantly told us never to watch “The Breakfast Club,” because it was of the devil – had the idea to host a lock-in at the church that was also a TOGA PARTY. Yes, a toga party. We wore SHEETS to the lock-in, because what could possibly go wrong? Hoo boy. These kids definitely needed monitoring!
Animal House had nothing on our group.
I was so terrified of sinning, I sat in the sanctuary for most of the event. But many kids in the gathering space were a’sinnin’. The youth leader fell asleep around 11 pm, and (surprise!) the kids did not.
It ended up being a big scandal, because when parents found out what happened that night, they raised holy Hell. Lots of my friends got in trouble for doing things in the sheets IN THEIR SHEETS. We had a whole youth meeting to address the Purple and prayed the lust away for an hour. Or that was the idea.
And it was then that the seedlings of faith in the church started to grow in wonky. Because the way the church proper took on things was contradictory. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. Or worse, ‘do as I say because I have the inside skinny on God.’
Still, I would cling to the church for another 30 + years because FEAR. Oh my God I was so afraid to trip up. That people-pleasing follows me around still to this day, if I don’t do my shadow work.
Churches are just made of people – many well-intentioned. They are trying to save other souls from eternal conscious torment (that a “loving” God doles out if your ticket isn’t stamped “Pre-destined” because they TRULY believe we are all bound for Hell at birth. And this is confusing because they very often DO care and harbor no ill will. They, like I was, are mired in the letter of the law.
But to paraphrase with the vernacular of youths today (and I’ll write about what I believe the issue of Hell later,) that shit cray. Also, I CAN’T EVEN anymore with the religiousness. I seem to be acquiring a repulsion of all things church that are not of Jesus. Like, on a primal level. “That’s NOT what he said!” I want to shout. “That’s not what he was about!”
I’m not saying sin isn’t a big deal. I’m just saying love is a bigger deal.
And I want to be what Jesus WAS about. I don’t want to follow rules of an ancient text. I want to accept all and love all. Period.
Truly, I refuse to throw the baby out with the bathwater though. I’m keeping my Jesus, because what you cannot learn from an entity like the modern church, you can feel in your bones. Yes, I know it sounds woo-woo, but we are equipped with spirits conjoined with Christ, he is already there, you don’t have to carry a Bible everywhere you go or bruise your knees hollerin’ on the floor of a prayer room. You are already destined for glory, even here as we travel Earth-side. This revelation is EVERYTHING.
Plus, Jesus came pre-installed in my hard drive before I was born. That was a really nice service he provides for us ALL, as redeemer of all.
And that, my friends, is part of the long and winding road that is this journey. Placing purity over people. Putting the kibbutz on shame and guilt of past mistakes, while showing yourself grace in the future. It’s doing the ultimate reassessment of you value through the eyes of a loving God. It’s revelation of identity.
Since opening my mind and learning to trust that conjoined Spirit, I realize that the church is just wrong about some things, but that doesn’t make them – or the Me of six years ago – bad people. They are just doing what I did as a young mother and for most of my life, a self-proclaimed Christian.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still angry about all the lies filtered down for ages, but I’m starting to see that it would be really easy for me to fall into giving the anger a permanent home in my heart, as I feel so deceived. That’s the very heart Jesus inhabits. If I am unkind to people in the church, I am no better than when I was a raging fundamentalist with nationalist leanings and an evangelical bent. (Oof. That smarts!)
I pray that the pain of your upbringing and living in religiosity is quelled. I pray that you break off the shackles of believing you are inherently “bad.” I hope you find safe friends to walk this out with you, and that you too try to remain kind to all. And I pray that you learn to love yourself, as you deserve.
Purity culture is really about finding out you are already pure in the sight of God.
My first exposure to religion was as a child was church, like most folks. My grandparents, who had custody of me for a while, were very religious people.
Religion is confusing because it really looks so dissimilar to what I now practice, but it was even more confusing as a kid. In the Baptist church we attended, red was the predominant color. The pews were red. The carpet was red. The embellishments on the pastor’s robe were crimson, as was the cloth over the altar. Still when I let my mind wander back, red is all I see.
Red is what I associate with church, and also sitting still in “big church,” and watching the grown-ups line up to eat the body and blood of Jesus, which was not alarming at ALL to a five year old. I was not allowed to partake. I must be too bad to participate in this ritual.
“It’s because of the blood of Christ,” I learned at Sunday School. The red signifies blood, and to a child who was afraid of her own shadow and full of anxiety, that really tripped me up.
Then I learned it is because I was so bad that I needed to bleed Jesus dry. And that he did it for me, because my heart was deceitful about all things. The Little children who worshipped may have been “red and yellow, black and white,” but it was because of the blood that we are precious in his sight. Every single person was born bad…. a sinner.
Was I a sinner? I did sneak a Mr. Goodbar from my grandmother’s secret candy stash drawer. Also, I really loved music. Did I love music more than God? You must love God more than ANYTHING. And if I did love music and climbing trees and eating candy more, did that mean I didn’t love God enough? Did that blood not cover me? What about the time I told my grandfather “no” when he asked me to do something?
And again, every week, I’d traipse down the hall of the church to Sunday School, excited for the crafts and terrified of the blood.
I learned a lot of things in church through the years. Multiple denominations. I’ve attended many a covered-dish dinner, and youth group activities. But it was what I observed, not was taught, that did the damage. It has taken me years to say the words “religious trauma” in the same sentence. It sounds awfully dramatic, unless you’ve had it instilled in you from birth and it’s all you know. And unless you were born with the anxiety level of a gerbil on crack naturally, and ergo: Your faith naturally becomes FEAR BASED.
Love everyone, but don’t be “yoked” with unbelievers. Yes, even though Jesus chose to yolk-out with the undesirables of his day. Don’t bother asking about this hypocrisy, because questioning God is tantamount to signing your own passport to Hell.
And Hell is what kept us all reined in, because it gets really hot in Houston in the summertime, but HELL IS HOTTER. And it’s forever. It’s suffering forever, so get your sh*t together, chir’ren!
And you must learn the “word of God,” i.e., the Bible. Never mind that the Word is actually a person, and not a historical text translated and translated again, and written by sinners just like you. But again, don’t question it.
Learn all the Old Testament Bible stories at Vacation Bible School! Here’s a synopsis of the acts of a “loving God” that I learned in church:
God-sanctioned gruesome deaths and horrific murders in his name. Including the death of infants. I learned that sometimes God tells you to murder a person you love more than anything because he is testing your faith. Yikes.
He caused a flood to “reset” the world with good people, all the while drowning hundreds of thousands of souls who didn’t make the cut. All the animals too, except for the ones on the ark.
“Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal,” were the rules, except buying and selling human beings as “servants” was sanctioned, and how they should be treated by their “masters” was also covered. So being either a slave or a master was completely justified.
Oh sure. They START with Jonah and the whale, because who doesn’t love marine animals? And camping out in a fish til you learn your lesson is much preferable to many of the other stories I learned. Those stories were:
Misogyny. Human sacrifice. Sexual violence. Infanticide. Genocide.
God caused a bear to maul 42 children, although admittedly, I didn’t learn this until middle school when I was already afraid to exist, so bears were whatever by then.
I kept finding out how harsh the Creator of the Universe is, yet how incredibly loving and inclusionary Jesus is. But they are the same person. So figure it out, kid.
In short, everything that Jesus was NOT, God was.
Jesus is who I called on when there was violence in my home. And there was, a lot. He was who I wanted on my team when I disappointed God. I could imagine getting to Heaven and spending the entire hereafter hiding from God behind Jesus’ robe, on account of surely he will smite me.
Even as a youngster, I fell in love with this Jesus, who caused the crimson tide in church, but also gathered the little children around him.
He had stern words for the religious of the day, which is REALLY confusing, because the religious are who I was taught to look up to. Jesus was hugs and kindness, while God was retribution and violence.
Jesus is who I conjured even when I was three, as one of my first memories illustrates. My parents were screaming at one another, and I hid in my toybox, shoving aside the toys and making myself small.
But I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew that kind and compassionate Jesus was hiding with me. I just knew that I knew, and I didn’t feel alone. I still never feel alone because I feel his spirit.
And I knew the God figure who was stuffed into a toybox with me giving me my first taste of spiritual peace, was not into mauling babies via bears or drowning his own creation.
Our religion, however, was about practicing 10 rules, being at the church every time the doors were open, excluding people who didn’t believe like we did to keep ourselves spiritually “safe,” and joining committees as adults.
So the genesis of my faith has been reconciling a belief system that never worked for me, because the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same God, just in vastly different moods because of something called a covenant. God is in a much better mood in the latter, even as it is draped and ensconced in red, focused on blood and sin; and making sure you presented a Christian front to everyone “worldly,” (even as not really following the creed of Jesus at all.)
It’s easy to lose the Jesus in the rituals and rules.
That’s not my faith anymore.
Hi. My name is Jana and I am a follower of Christ. I am still in love with him and try (and often fail) to emulate his actions instead of striving endlessly to please a God who – let’s be honest – cannot be pleased.
I’ve been threatening to write about my deconstruction / reconstruction experience (including the banishment of a literal “Hell,” inclusionary salvation, and all sort of other things I thought would doom my soul when I was younger.)