I gave my life to Jesus when I was 16, and I'm a quick study. Within a couple years, I was teaching backyard Bible clubs and could exegete the wordless book right alongside the kids who'd grown up singing “The B-I-B-L-E.” (Which was also big in backyard Bible clubs.)
As a shiny new believer in an uber-liberal university, I grabbed all the support I could and was soon fluent in quiet time, servant leadership (although, as a woman, I probably should have been more just plain servant), and telling people about Jesus, whether they liked it or not.
|The perfect family.|
By the time I was a young married six years later, I tuned in to Focus on the Family every day, volunteered at a pregnancy clinic, and suspected that anyone who voted democrat probably would not be standing next to me in heaven singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
At 32, with three kids and a perfect life, I had read all the books. I knew exactly what to do to make sure it all stayed that way, blessed by God.
Until I didn't.
Until I looked into the face of a raging child, screaming obscenities at me, cuts on her arms and traces of drugs in her eyes. My child. I cried out to that God for whom I had planned this perfect witness of a life. Begging for those black and white answers that had promised so much but suddenly seemed far less clear.
He didn't answer. Crickets from Jesus. You know, the Jesus who said trusting and obeying were the way to be happy all the day?
“Happy” doesn't quite describe the feeling of walking up to a stranger's door to ask if your daughter spent the night there. It doesn't encompass the terror of wondering if she spent it anywhere safe. It never applies to watching her once-sparkling eyes turn away from yours and seeing the fresh razor marks she tries to pull her sleeves over.
I had stood on the promises, and they dropped me. Hard.
Only later did I understand that it wasn't God's promises that had let me fall but the words we had put in His mouth.
I was a Christian, a pastor, and alone, with a bleeding, devastated heart where faith still resided by the smallest of glimmers. A spiritual misfit? What kind of pastor has a suicidal heroin addict for a daughter? It's a great way to avoid eye contact in meetings. Everyone avoids looking at you. If only they'd avoid talking about you, too.
In fact, I've been something of reverse spiritual misfit. I started out conforming, not questioning whatever “they” told me I needed to be a good Christian. A weakling who believed I was strong. I look in the mirror now at a woman I didn't know was inside during all my years of certainty, wounded where I needed to be, questioning what I always should have, strong because I know I am weak.
My sureness that I knew how to do this Christian life thing got hit by a 7.8 quake. When things shake to that magnitude, something is bound to shake loose. Questions bubble up from deep underground. Questions like, what is certain and what's rubble in this mountain I've created? If it all comes down, what will be left to stand on?
If you stripped the gospel down to Jesus, to all he'd said and done, what was surely still there? And what had we added because we needed to be sure we were on the right track to make the grade? To be quite certain we were in control of God?
|If you ask too many questions. |
And you kind of like gray areas.
Asking questions like these can turn you into a spiritual misfit. It can get you looked at funny in the Christian blogosphere.
So can starting to ask questions like, “Who is really my neighbor?” Not my theoretical, nice biblical neighbor. My real, complicated, dirty neighbor whom maybe I've never chosen to see.
Looking into the faces of kids who hurt and who drown that hurt in drugs and any other self-destructive behavior they could find made me question all the people I had been certain were “other.”
Many of those kids wandered in and out of my house over those years. Kids I would have ignored before. Kids I would have feared. Kids I would have judged. But in my house, at my table, with names and pasts and brown eyes that echoed all the hurt they'd ever been dealt and all the bad choices they'd made? They were no longer sinners who needed to get their acts together. They were lost kids. They were my kids. I was the sinner who needed to get it together. Wait--hadn't I always had it together?
Asking questions like, Why not love the unloveable? Why not forgive the unforgivable? Why not admit there is no difference between me and the junkie in the ditch or the immigrant running the border? No difference except Jesus, and I didn't earn that difference no matter how many points I stacked up in the rules column. Those get you uninvited to speak at Christian ladies' luncheons. You're not safe anymore.
I'm not safe. Thank God.
I accept risk where I once demanded safety. I don't just accept it—I revel in it. It means I'm alive. It means God is alive in me. And anything—anything--is worth that.
It is a good feeling, this spiritual misfitism. I'm not sorry to have lost what I believed was my salvation to find who I know is.