I’m leaning into an old circle of blogging friends from way back when, and somebody got approved to throw out writing prompts, and I thought I might play along for a while.
I’ve been stewing over this post for several days. It happens, sometimes; I write something in my head completely before I sit down and start typing. This has occupied my head for a while; if I’m honest, which I try to always be, this story has taken up room in my head and heart for years.
It remains the starting place for one of the biggest challenges of my life; the source of anger and frustration and bitterness and emotions that I’ve never completely reconciled.
The prompt was this: Write about an event that revealed to you that the world was not simple.
So I will.
I rediscovered faith in my mid 20’s; I became part of a congregation that was fundamental in its doctrine and practice, and very different than the one in which I had been raised. Talented, with leadership gifts, I fit in and even thrived in some areas; but I quickly realized that there was a place for women and a place for men and that they were quite different.
I bought it. I wanted to fit in, and I was zealous in my desire to please God. The people I encountered were kind and loving and passionate. They welcomed me and encouraged me and I wanted to belong.
Fast forward a few years, into a marriage and motherhood and a new extended family. The intermingling of faith and family was a powerful draw for me; my history was one in which religion was a private, quiet affair, and a family so outspoken about their evangelical passion for Jesus and so committed to church met some unarticulated need in me. They were special and united and designated for something great. Chosen. Set apart.
I bought it. I wanted to fit in, and they accepted me with love and grace.
This was a large family, in comparison to the norm. Lots of kids. The eldest, married first with two kids, was kind to me, if somewhat mysterious. But she helped set the tone for the Family First identity, the tight, close-knit identification of what, for all intents and purposes, was set before the community as – wait for it –
The Perfect Christian Family
Honestly, I’m not sure I ever literally heard those words – but it was there, underneath all of the church-going and preaching and birthday parties for Jesus and mission works. And it’s what I thought would work for what I needed.
I bought it. I needed an identity as something better than who I had been, and instead of picking up on the grace-filled gospel hope that is centered in the real truth of who Jesus is, I leaned into something altogether different and aimed to be part of The Perfect Christian Family. In fact, I set out to quickly build one of my own. I told myself that it would be enough, that it would last, that making everything look good was the point.
I bought it. At this point, it was my own lie, and I was hooked.
One day, one of those perfect family members did something decidedly imperfect. She left her husband.
They had two young children.
It was utterly inconceivable.
As a good Christian should, I took it upon myself to make sure that she was encouraged and quite possibly convicted by truth; I told her that God hates divorce, that God would want her to stay and serve her husband, that certainly this was some sort of blip, a minor problem, that she needed to go home and reconcile.
I may have even used the words “submit” and “obey” at some point.
In my smug righteousness, I did what seemed to be right to me. She was polite, initially, but I wouldn’t let up, and finally she lost her temper, and she told me, as I sat in a tiny kitchen in Hico, Texas, the truth that would rock my world.
I remember the fury leaking through her voice. I remember hearing her anger at me, and my lack of understanding. I remember her frustration.
I remember these words:
Do you really want to know what’s going on? Are you really ready to hear this? Are you sure you want to know the truth?
In my innocence, in my utter conviction that the world was black and white, wrong and right, lost and saved, I said yes; of course. Truth is good! Tell the truth!
So she told me the truth, about why she’d left home and married so young, and why things were not always as they seemed, and why she was such a mess and in counseling, and why she knew that she had to do the right thing for the right reason, and why I should keep a careful, protective eye on my young daughters around the extended family.
And I realized that there’s really no such thing as a perfect Christian family, and that the world was not as simple as I hoped it might be.
Much has happened in the years since, and I lay no claim to what is true and what is not about those more recent events. I do not know, and it is never safe to assume. But I know that this part is true, because I lived it and I remember it; it marked my family.
No, that is not accurate: It totally shifted the axis of my little family and my experience in the world. It blew apart the carefully constructed “Christian lifestyle” I operated within and talked about. It created a nebulous environment of intentions and assertations that had no foothold in honesty, because of the deeply interwoven layers of anxiety and refusals to acknowledge, admit, confront – or much less talk about it. What family really knows how to navigate such waters? It is complicated.
And complicated things can become cancerous.
In spite of this – of all that is true, and all that has disintegrated since, I still hold that there is opportunity and space for redemption and restoration. Truth brings freedom. It can be complicated. But it is possible.