I’m really good at being a Christian.
I work for a Missions organization, I spent the last year traveling around the world with a backpack for Jesus, I give away money, don’t have sex, and only curse occasionally – when it’s either funny or I’m really, really surprised.
From the outside, others would say I do it right. I fit in. I belong to the club.
But for the past six months, I’ve felt like an impostor.
I thought I would come back having been polished through my journey into a beautifully, admirably godly woman. I thought I would come back changed, and I did, but I was afraid the change wasn’t permanent enough to withstand the pressures of my old life. Back in the US, I clung to the disciplines I’d learned on the field – white knuckling my faith more with fear than with actual devotion.
Every morning I’d wake up and spend time with the Lord. I’d read a little bit of my bible, and then maybe worship like I was throwing holy sprinkles on top just for good measure. I’d pray and say Christian things, and secretly drown in shame every time I did something wrong.
I wasn’t in a relationship anymore. I was serving a task–master; and I felt as though we were both always disappointed in me.
The harder I tried, the more distant I felt and the more frustrated I became. Why wasn’t this working? I had perfected the art of Christianity – I made it look good. I was a guest of honor, an A+ student, so why weren’t my tricks working anymore?
It got worse as life got more serious and as the stakes got higher and higher.
I met a guy. I really liked him. We started talking about the future. I started to panic. Thinking about the future felt like teetering on the edge of a cliff and I was pretty sure God had given away my parachute to someone more deserving.
It was a Friday morning when everything broke. I laid on my bed in a bathrobe feeling like my whole future was pressing in on me. I was filled with a totally shapeless panic – I couldn’t explain what I was afraid of, but it was getting hard to breathe.
I began to sob – deep, aching sobs.
The kind of sobs that can only come from a girl who had spent the last six months performing for a distant god. “Are you really there?” I choked out, tears streaming down my face. “If you are, I need you to show up right now! I can’t DO this! I can’t do this without you! It’s too big, too scary. I need you… please be there.”
And in that moment I didn’t need discipline. I didn’t need to be a good Christian or receive an invitation and a VIP pass. Those things weren’t strong enough to hold me.
But what did help me in that moment was Jesus.
Lying there, sopping wet on my bed, I knew for the first time in a long time that I was a sick person.
Jesus told the Pharisees that he came not for the healthy but for the sick, and I knew that I was the kind of person he was talking about.
I was dirty in that moment – impossibly messy. I was tangled and frantic and the last person you want sitting next to you at a dinner party. I needed help in the worst possible way and was far too exhausted to notice that my shiny facade was now smeared with runny mascara.
The only thing holding me up in that moment was Jesus – and I understood him for the first time, all over again.
He he sat down in the thick of the mess with me and took my hand. He didn’t try to clean me up or make me presentable – he didn’t even try to fix me. He just sat there with me. It was that moment on my bed when something cracked.
The ceiling was smashed open and light began streaming in.
In the presence of the light, the fears and the doubts and the anxiety slipped right out the door having been caught red-handed in their lies. Truth began to fill me, and so did peace – peace that was completely outside of my ability to understand. And finally… oh, finally… joy returned, too.
On that day, I gave up my membership to the Christianity club. I’m not interested in proving myself and I don’t care whether or not I look the part. I’m not shined up – not all the time. And when I am, I had absolutely nothing to do with it.
But I like it so much better out here on the outskirts, hanging out with Jesus – messy and honest.
From the outside, it may not be obvious that anything ever changed.
It’s possible that no one even saw that I had been struggling. My outsides have perceptively remained the same; I still work at the same place, go to the same churches, and have the same friends. I still even hang out with God each morning (although it’s so much better now).
But something remarkable has changed – I’m sitting beside Jesus now – not performing for him.
I don’t want to be the perfect Christian because I realized that for me, there’s no lonelier place in the world. I’d rather be a messy Christian, full of honesty and desperately in need of some grace.
I want to be the kind of person that believes she’s loved by Jesus – not because of me, not because of anything I do,
— but because that’s who he is, and he just does.
Have you found yourself empty and inauthentic? How have you dealt with feelings of lost faith and anger?
[Photo: Daniele Zedda, Creative Commons]