There I was, dressed in my corduroy slacks and a mushroom cut wondering why it hurt so much to be 4 years old.
I was raised in a good Christian home.
I was a polite pastor’s kid.
We had the right Serenity Prayer wall hangings. We said grace at every meal and went to church every Sunday and flossed and said please and thank you.
I wasn’t allowed to play with Barbie dolls or look at fashion magazines. I was given a purity ring and books to read by Dr. James Dobson.
There wasn’t a lot of room for error.
But that was the problem.
Because all we do, when we keep our children in bubbles, is raise nice little heathens.
Dad was the minister who preached about a loving God from the pulpit and I couldn’t find him. I couldn’t find a loving God.
All I could find were a bunch of hard-fast rules, leotards and sitting up straight and don’t stare, don’t interrupt, don’t talk with your mouth full, don’t swear, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t have sex before marriage, don’t let anyone know that you might have doubts about anything. Because saved people don’t sin.
But where are the “do’s”? Where are the YES’s? Where are the hurrahs and the hosannahs, where is the wine of Canaan? Where are the resurrected?
So eventually I stopped eating.
I stopped eating because it was the only voice I had, and I did this from 9 to 13 because it was my way of saying, I don’t like this thing called evangelicalism. I don’t like the way it makes me feel dirty and unloved. The way it makes me silent and unheard.
And then God reached down when I was 13 and dying on a hospital bed, when I was 60 pounds and hypothermic and the nurses wondering how I was still alive, and me not really caring until they called me a miracle.
And I started to think, maybe God is real after all.
In order for us to raise kids, and congregations, who need Jesus, we need to let them do just that: need Jesus.
But if we’re not letting them feel the brokenness of the world, if we’re not letting them press their heart to God’s through the pain of humanity, they’ll simply feel guilty over their sin versus realizing they need a Savior.
When we teach our kids the right things to do and say, without allowing them to express or experience brokenness, they will be imprisoned by a deep sense of shame and guilt over the brokenness they inevitably feel, versus understanding the very reason we need Jesus in the first place.
Jesus did not come to save those who do and say the right things, or to turn mean people into nice people, or bad people into good people.
No, he came to resurrect us.
But we cannot know we need resurrecting unless we first experience death and decay.
God didn’t string me up from the sky and treat me like a puppet; he let me be born headfirst into a world full of sin, into the arms of sinful parents. But he knew he would show up at the right time and save me.
And that’s what we need to do, as Christians. Trust God enough to show up at the right time and save our children.
As a young adult, I found Brian McLaren. I found Rob Bell and Anne Lamott and Madeleine L’Engle and Nadia Boltz-Weber, people who believe you can be real and love Jesus too, and it’s the thing that I clung to.
I didn’t have to be good. I didn’t have to be nice. I just had to love Jesus.
And for a while, this emergent, progressive, neo-Christian theology sustained a relationship with Jesus, with no strings attached.
But then I got greedy. Because I didn’t feel that I owed anything to God, I began, instead, to feel entitled.
I began to think God owed me all sorts of stuff, and when he didn’t give me what I wanted, when he didn’t prosper me, I gave up on him. Because I wasn’t really serving him in the first place.
No, God was serving me.
And then one day my friend prayed with me. For three hours.
My friend, who is a counselor, and me, a 32-year-old woman with a 7-year-old heart. The little girl inside of me crying for the years I’ve tried to silence her.
All of my own little girl issues awakening.
And I never saw this coming because my dad and I are good now. We’re friends now, but we didn’t used to be. And that little girl, the one who’d felt ignored by her pastor-father, needed to be heard. Seen. And I needed my mentor to take me to that wounded place.
So she does, this woman who saw this hunched-over writer and knew it wasn’t genetic.
She took me to a God who ran the long road to meet me, his robe flying, because he’d been waiting. And I realized, even as he held me: it had never been about whether or not God was loving or real.
It had never been about progressivism or evangelicalism or any kind of “ism.”
It had been about perspective.
I was raised to view life through the glasses of missiology (how we live), which informs ecclesiology (how we do church), which then informs Christology (how we view the life of Jesus). Instead of interpreting the world and church through the life of Christ—instead of starting with Christology—I’d been taught to view the church, and world, through my behavior.
And my behavior was either wrong or right, and there was no middle ground, there was no grace, because I didn’t start with Christ.
It’s not bad to have rules. In fact, it’s good, and sin is something we battle from day one, and we need saving from it. We need to overcome it and live in the fullness of the resurrection. We need sanctification, justification, and one day—glorification.
But before all of that, we need grace. Grace is not the end but the beginning. From day one, it’s about a loving God pursuing us, and the theology follows. Because once you realize how much your Father loves you, all you want is for him to teach you how to live.
We don’t learn how to live in order to feel the love of God. We feel the love of God and then desire to know how to live.
And when I finally stood up from that prayer, three hours later, the shadows outside lengthening and my tea grown cold, my friend took me to the mirror in her downstairs bathroom and showed me my reflection.
“What do you see?” she said.
I saw a girl who had come home.