I was pretty nervous about yesterday’s post. I really felt like I needed to write it but I wasn’t sure how it would be accepted. I needn’t have worried, though. The comments I received here, on Facebook and in person were all kind and understanding. I have some pretty amazing readers and I thank each of you who shared your thoughts with me. xoxoxo
(*Originally posted June 2013)
A couple of weeks ago I read a blog post which really struck a chord with me. Lindsay of Suburban Turmoil wrote about feeling judged and rejected by the Christian community and asked her readers if anyone else struggled with the same problem. Whoooo boy, do I ever.
I wish I could say that I don’t care what people think. But it truly does bother me that there are those, including some of my relatives, who consider me a “bad Christian” or even question whether I should call myself a Christian at all. That hurts. I’ve agonized over it. But ultimately I’ve come to realize that I simply cannot live my life according to other people’s standards and beliefs. I have to be true to myself and live in sync with my own belief system.
Of course I’m not perfect. Far from it. As someone with a hyperactive guilt complex and whose conscience works overtime, I am acutely aware of my short-comings. When I’m less than patient with others, when I jump to conclusions without all the facts, when I’m so caught up in my own life that I neglect those I care about, or when I fail to speak out against that which I find abhorrent, I feel a twinge of guilt, a prick of conscience which reminds me that I can do better.
But the thing is, I don’t feel guilty about what I’m being judged for. I’ve searched the scriptures and my heart and I don’t believe that the moderate consumption of alcohol is a sin. Neither do I believe that the occasional use of certain words makes me “bad Christian”. I absolutely do not believe that voting for politicians who support my values of equality, peace, and the care of “the least of these” makes me less of a Christian than those who have chosen a political platform with different priorities. And yet these are the very things which some would say make me a “bad Christian”.
People certainly are entitled to their beliefs and I respect those who have come to different conclusions than I. It would be nice if I were accorded the same courtesy but I realize that some don’t have the capacity to do so.
A few days ago Lindsay wrote a follow-up post about being “a bad Christian”. She addressed a comment which asked if professing to be part of the “Bad Christian Club” did anything to further “God’s Kingdom” with this reply:
Maybe—just maybe– God can use me to reach people that the traditional Christian community just isn’t appealing to these days. Maybe it’s okay for me and for you to question the direction and motivation of Christianity today- a religion that often leaves me feeling bad about myself and unworthy, even though the Bible never does. Maybe if enough Christians talk with each other about how they really feel, we’ll start to see real change in the church and the community.
Bingo! I think this is right on the money and something David and I have often discussed in recent years. We frequently encounter folks who have been hurt, judged and even spiritually abused by Christians. We try to show them love and acceptance instead. And you know what? People actually respond positively to that approach. A few have even asked to go to church with us.
All my life I’ve heard fellow-Christians say that we have to be so very careful about everything we do so that we won’t “cause someone else to stumble”. Most of the time that phrase is used to chastise others for not toeing the squeaky-clean-Christian line. But you know what? The people who seem to get their panties in a wad over these differing interpretations of what it means to be a Christian are other Christians. Are they so insecure in their own faith that seeing me enjoy a glass or two of wine is going to cause them to backslide? If I use a four-letter-word on Twitter will they quit going to church? How many no longer believe in God because I voted for Obama?
I think this world would be a better place if we each focused on being our own personal best and stopped judging the choices of others. And I’m talking to myself here, too. I catch myself thinking less than charitable thoughts at times but I’m really working on that.
Today I shared a post about happiness on Facebook. A friend summed it up thus:
It really is just as simple as doing what you want and not worrying about what other people think.
I replied that it was just that simple and just that difficult, especially the part about not caring what other people think. And that’s when he shared this perfect little nugget of wisdom:
I think everyone battles that one on some level. I think it’s more accurate to say, “Decide whose opinion is worth caring about and whose isn’t.”
I have some pretty wise friends, don’t I? The opinions of my husband, children and friends who truly care about me should be important. I should care what they think of me and my choices because I know they genuinely want what’s best for me. If one of these people expresses concern I need to listen and carefully consider their input. But when “concern” comes from those whose only participation in my life is that of disapproval and criticism I need to remind myself that their motive probably isn’t my well-being so much as a need to control or to appear more “holy” than others. Or perhaps it’s due to their own insecurities or jealousy. In any case, I have to keep working on not letting those people disrupt my personal sense of peace. I’m getting better at this but still have a way to go.
What about you? If you’re a Christian, do you ever feel judged by other Christians? And if you’re not a Christian, are there people in your life who criticize your choices? If so, how do you handle it? I’d love to hear your thoughts so leave me a comment.
Sometimes I have to let a blog post topic brew awhile before I can actually write it. This is one of those posts. I’ve actually had this one in draft with a few notes for quite awhile, waiting until I had let my thoughts percolate and drip through the filter of my mind. Okay, so I’m drinking iced coffee right now…can you tell?
*(In the interest of accuracy, I was drinking iced coffee when I wrote that several days ago. I’m drinking a glass of Pinot Noir right now. Honest to the point of lunacy, that’s me.)
This past Sunday (*Sunday before last now – again with the accuracy thing) at church, the sermon title was “Breaking Loose”. Our minister spoke about how we so often box ourselves in and fail to live full and open lives. We get so used to living a small and narrow existence, usually out of habit or fear. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of “this is how we have always done it”. I found it interesting that the air conditioning went out in the sanctuary that particular Sunday which meant we held our worship service in the fellowship center. If you attend a casual church you might miss the significance of that but we Presbyterians are pretty big on the whole “decently and in order” thing. We have a lovely sanctuary with traditional pews, lecterns, communion table, candles and fresh flowers. Our services follow a liturgical pattern which, while not as formal as the usual Catholic Mass or Eastern Orthodox service, is pretty consistent and we generally know what to expect. And I like that. I’m actually a fan of ritual, whether it be in church or something like my evening porch time. However, there’s a difference between thoughtful ritual and living a small and fearful life.
I’ve shared here before that I’m a first-born, people-pleaser. Not only was I the oldest child in my immediate family, but I was the oldest of the nine cousins who grew up within a block of one another. I was the responsible one. The quiet one. The good student. The good girl. I hated to ever be in trouble for anything and tried really hard to do what was expected of me. And there’s nothing wrong with that…up to a point. But it can also be confining, and defining. For too many years I allowed other people’s expectations dictate my actions and to a certain extent, even my beliefs. But not anymore.
I will be 50 years old this month and I think that’s old enough to know who I am and who I am not. I’ve spent the past few years reassessing, well, everything. Who am I? What do I believe? Who do I want in my life? What do I want to do with my life? What’s important? What is simply an excuse or a smokescreen or not relevant to the life I want to live? It’s been a painful process. It’s never easy to admit that you were wrong about some pretty important shit. It’s also not easy for me to use that word but I’ve also come to realize that there are times when being utterly succinct might require vocabulary I’m not in the habit of using.
My youngest brother once made the observation that we grew up in a bubble and to a certain extent, I think he’s right. In many ways, at least on the surface, we had a “Leave it to Beaver” upbringing and I’m truly grateful for that. When I hear friends’ stories of difficult childhoods I almost feel guilty about mine. Not perfect, but pretty darn good. It gave me a secure and solid grounding but perhaps also a falsely rosy picture of life. Or maybe that’s just what I’ve chosen to remember.
Even as a young adult my life experiences were fairly narrow. As part of a close-knit family we didn’t much feel the need for a lot of outside relationships. And certainly not with people very much different than ourselves. We live in a small town with a church on every corner. It’s a pretty homogenous group.
There were a couple of experiences which challenged my perceptions, though. One was my time as a hospice nurse. When you spend hours in someone’s home helping them and their family through the end stages of life, you form deep bonds and see a side of people you don’t often encounter. I had the privilege of being with people at their most vulnerable. When all the trappings of societal expectations are stripped away by pain and grief, you experience that core…that kernel of humanity which we all share. And you realize that in so many ways we are alike. We all experience joy and sorrow, fear and courage, pride and shame, confidence and uncertainty.
“…we began going to New Orleans twice a year, stretching out each visit as long we could. We talked to people, asked them to tell us their stories, listened to them with open hearts and minds, and learned. Oh, did we learn. And I don’t mean just in a political sense, although that certainly was part of it. No, more than that, the people of New Orleans began to teach us some very important lessons about life. In the midst of all the suffering and loss, these people retained that je ne sais quois which distinguishes them from the average American. Within a few short months, even while still grieving, plans were underway to hold Mardi Gras. People in other parts of the country said they were crazy but the typical New Orleans resident wears crazy as a badge of pride so that was certainly no deterrent.”
Getting out of the box we were living in here in rural Oklahoma and experiencing such a unique city and people so very different has had a huge impact on how David and I look at the world. For one thing, we are so much more open to new and unfamiliar experiences. We take more risks, try new things, talk to strangers (and listen!). Fear, judgment and preconceptions tend to vanish when you open yourself up to a larger existence. When you break free of the bonds of convention and expectations the world begins to unfold like a flower. And it is truly beautiful. Not perfect but beautiful.
I find myself at this stage of life feeling happier and more free than ever before. I’ve let go of the need to know everything, to understand everything, to control the world around me or the people I love. Well, for the most part. It’s still hard for me not to try to “fix” things for people I care about. More than that, I internalize the pain of others. I’m trying to learn how to be helpful and sympathetic yet separate myself from experiencing other people’s emotions. Part of the reason I only lasted two years as a hospice nurse was that I was emotionally drained by my naturally empathetic nature. I’ve got a long way to go in this area but I *am* doing better. It’s interesting that I’m currently facing a challenge of that nature which life tossed into my lap a few days after I started writing this post.
I can’t say that everyone in my life has embraced these changes in me. I’ve received my share of disapproval and judgment from people who can’t wrap their heads around all this. Maybe they feel threatened because our beliefs and lifestyles are no longer in lock-step. Or perhaps there’s a twinge of jealousy because I’ve broken free and they haven’t:
“In a nutshell, people whose lives are hard, boring, painful, meaningless – people who suffer – tend to resent those who seem to suffer less than they do, and will make them suffer if they can. People who feel themselves in chains, with no hope of ever getting them off, want to put chains on everyone else.” ~John Holt
I won’t deny that it’s been painful to be on the receiving end of people’s condemnation. But as Anaïs Nin so eloquently put it:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
That’s the point I reached. I simply could no longer deny my true self and even if I could, I don’t want to. Life is too short to live it by other people’s expectations. I want to embrace the truth of who I am with confidence and joy. I am convinced that to live anything other than an authentic life would be a waste.
So I’m breaking free. (I’d like to say “I’ve broken free” but it’s an ongoing process.) I’m letting go of the image others have of me and embracing the person I know myself to be. I’ve loosened up. I’m less judgmental. I’m braver and more adventurous. I’m no longer afraid to live by my convictions and express passionate beliefs which may not be the norm here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, let alone amongst my extended family. It’s cost me a lot but I’ve gained so much in return. Opening myself up has drawn so many new people into my life. People who have enriched my life in a way I could never have anticipated. My relationship with David has blossomed and we are having so much fun these days. We are as passionate as teenagers but with the depth of love that 30+ years of marriage brings. That’s a rare and beautiful thing and I treasure it. Life is grand and I’m truly blessed to be living this one.
“Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.” ~Anne Lamott