"I used to think _____ and now I think _____.”
I used to think that men, even the very young men that I tentatively held hands with in my early 20s, were gifted with a certain amount of extra leadership skills. I remember a walk in my parents’ neighborhood as though it were yesterday. I had waited for this perfect moment to ask my boyfriend how he planned to be a leader in our relationship. It was autumn and the leaves crunched under our shoes satisfyingly.
“I’m not sure it works like that,” he said, confused by the question. “Don’t we do it together? Like a team?”
I shook my head. That can’t be right. I can’t have an equal share in responsibility.
Now, I start most initial romantic interactions with a quick discussion about expectations. I look for someone with leadership potential, but also for someone willing to recognize that he doesn’t know everything, and that our strengths will complement each other, just as they protect our weaknesses.
I often use the same words that long-ago boyfriend used on me: “Don’t we do it together? Like a team?”
I used to think that God would search out that one thing I didn’t want to do, that one place I would never want to live, that one person I’d never want to befriend, marry, or work under and make that very unwanted thing my destiny.
This doesn’t paint a great picture of that God, does it?
I’m not sure where I got this idea (although I do remember a lot of speakers talking about missions in other countries, which were in direct opposition to my homebody self.) I remember the boys in youth group talking about the challenges posed to them in denying the pleasures of dating the pretty girls in favor of dating the Christian girls (because that’s what Jesus would do). I remember a lot of conversations about the ways that we are called to suffering and how we can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens us.
It’s hard to untangle some of these things from each other.
Now, I think that there is a reason that God has put certain inclinations, longings and talents within my heart. I don’t worry that I will be packed off somewhere very hot or cold against my will, or that not choosing to be a missionary means that I am less spiritual, or less loved.
I have learned that suffering holds hands with life, tenderly squeezing from time to time. I do not have to chase after her to receive the lessons and empathy she offers.
I used to think that if I prayed hard enough, depression could not touch me. When I suffered my first serious bout, in college, I was too distressed to mention it to anyone but my long distance boyfriend, downplaying the seriousness of the thoughts that urged me to walk out in front of a London bus during a study abroad.
It was many years later before I was willing to go to therapy. My first attempt was with a Christian counselor who told me that my suicidal thoughts were likely demonic suggestions. I don’t want to rule out demonic forces in the world, but I do know that her diagnosis let her off the hook for really seeing me, for really assessing what was wrong.
Now, I sit on my therapist’s lime green couch every two weeks. I no longer think that Jesus loves me less, or that the Spirit of God cannot speak through mental health professionals (or anyone else).
I used to think that the worst two possibilities would be:
1. Having sex before getting married
2.Not having sex before I died
I have watched the marriages of my friends crumble before my eyes. I have listened to tearful accounts of the difficulty of emotional and physical intimacy in marriage. I have wept along with those who feel that their hope for a partner is in vain. I have held hands over drinks with friends who have lost children to miscarriage or death. I have seen horrible diagnoses, accidents, and decisions.
Now, I think that there are many worse things than 1 and 2.
I used to think that understanding the Bible was simple. I would read several chapters a day, checking them off my list. I am thankful for those years I spent consuming the Bible like a Boxcar Children mystery. I learned so much about the great arcs of the Old Testament and the words of the Gospels still ring in my ears all these years later.
I deeply regret the harsh, dogmatic words I spoke to a friend of a friend whose mother had divorced her abusive father and remarried. In all of my self-righteous young adult wisdom, I condemned her mother. This still breaks my heart.
Now, I read my Bible a little at a time (and no longer the version I annotated in middle school). I sit with a few verses until they soak in deep, and I still don’t expect that I’ve gleaned everything there is to know in them. Later, perhaps, I will return and find that there is more there to discover.
This post is part of Sarah Bessey’s synchroblog to celebrate the birth of her wonderful new book Out of Sorts. I had the pleasure of reading this book a little early and I can tell you that it is a wonderful companion for those who wonder or wander, question, or doubt. If you’ve ever felt out of sorts in your faith, I think you might find a home here. You can pre-order the book (which releases tomorrow) here.
For those of you who are dying to know what the letter “I” represents in my A to Z series, please stay tuned for Wednesday when I will reveal all.