The Kid recently went to a church lock-in. He loved it, of course. I’m fairly certain that he didn’t sleep at all and ate shit and probably played too many videogames. He informed me that they played a game called Sardines and I was hit with a flashback of epic proportions from my own youth group lock-in days.
Sardines is like reverse hide-and-go-seek. One person (or a small few) have a few minutes to go and hide somewhere in the darkened church building. When the time is up, the rest of us went to look for them. When you found them, instead of outing them, you hid with them. Slowly, but surely, your little group of hiders grew and grew until there was only one seeker left. We would gather under the pews of the old creaky sanctuary balcony, behind the stacks of chairs in the fellowship hall closet, under tables, behind doors. I don’t remember exactly how we determined that there was only one person left looking for us but someone did a close approximation of “Come out, come out, wherever you are” and we all fell out of our hiding places, like clowns from a clown car.
Now that I think about it, I’m kind of shocked at the sheer audacity of the youth leaders to unleash a gaggle of hormonal teenagers into a darkened, abandoned church building for 30-45 minutes at a time. They must have been really confident in their ability to scare the shit out of us regarding anything sexual in nature.
Well, Sardines requires teenagers to pile on top of one another for dozens of minutes at a time, but we did read True Loves Waits this semester, so they’ll probably be properly chaste.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, YOUTH LEADERS. I never even got so much as kissed during a round of Sardines. Not even once.
Those Bible-wielding, purity-ring-pushing monsters.
I last wrote about a book that messed me up. Or perhaps, more accurately, that was going to mess me up. At the time of that writing, I knew what I was being asked to do but I hadn’t done it yet.
Well, I did it. I took the plunge. I stopped kicking rocks over the edge and I stepped out into thin air.
I woke up early and took a walk on Easter morning, of all days. I started thinking, “If I was to abandon all comfort, abandon everything that brings meaning to me, where would I start?”
Truthfully, I thought it would start with my relationship with money but God, in her infinite wisdom, led me elsewhere. She led me to my mental trophy shelf, lined with accolades and “attagirls” and compliments from strangers. This is the room where I go when I’m feeling like I’m a shitty person, with no purpose or impact on the world. When life has me down, I meander through my mental trophy shelf, dragging my finger along the plaques, remembering the glow of validation I got from others.
On this Easter walk, I found another room, a bit more hidden and tucked away, behind the public shelf which is the one I can acknowledge and be cognizant of. In this secret room, I see awards I’ve given myself for working with immigrants, for volunteering with a racial justice org, for just caring about racial justice in the first place, and…my most shameful, for adopting my boys. This secret trophy room shocked me. It shocked me because I know that using those things as confidence boosters, using them as ways to not feel like a shitty person, isn’t right. I shouldn’t EVER do those things for anything other than love, other than because it’s the right thing to do. Other people are not put on this Earth to prop me up when I’m feeling shitty about myself.
It made me weep. I don’t want to use others as props. It’s shameful.
I’m sure my neighbors appreciated that sight as they opened their Easter baskets and donned their Easter clothes. Oh look. The new neighbor…Is she? Yes, she’s weeping on her walk. Thanks alot, MOOD KILLER.
I do not do things for accolades from others usually. It’s not that I don’t appreciate validation and pats on the back from other people but my personality demands mostly that I satisfy my inner critic. I don’t do good deeds for other people; I do them to shut myself up. There are times when this works in my favor- it is this personality trait that lends itself to my tendency to go against the grain, move against the crowd. If I feel it is right, then I’ll do it, even if other people hate me for it.
But it’s also exhausting and it leads to cancerous behaviors like using my good deeds for others to make myself feel better.
I thought long and hard about this behavior. Why do I feel the need to do this? At the core of this need to prove to myself that I’m good is a need to be loved. This need to prove myself worthy of love motivates so much of my life that I don’t even know who I would be without it. I must be loved by God, loved by others, loved by myself.
The loved by God part doesn’t bother me too much. Over the last two years, I’ve concluded that if God doesn’t love extravagantly, with no strings attached, then he/she probably isn’t worth following. I just can’t bring myself to believe that God isn’t real or that God doesn’t love all of us like crazy. I know that God loves me. It must be true or what’s the point of all of this? (I realize that this could sound flippant as so many people do struggle with feeling loved by God. I recognize and affirm that this can be very challenging for other people. I hope that they, as I have, continue down the path towards understanding that the depth and width and breadth of God’s love knows no limits.)
The loved by others part has been harder, particularly in this faith deconstruction. It’s scary. It’s scary to feel a desire to be vulnerable and authentic. In many ways, faith deconstruction has already stripped alot of my armor away. I am not pretending anymore to have orthodox beliefs. I’m out of the closet in that regard. While I’m okay with distant acquaintances not approving of my new direction, it’s been scary to trust my church people to be gentle with a journey that leaves me without any armor.
I have a weird story about this, actually. Our church is deeply participatory, meaning that different parts of the service get passed around to different people. Usually, you’ll get an email once or twice a month asking you to volunteer for something. I got lunch with one of the church leaders in Februrary and we had a discussion about the cross and how I didn’t really know that I could articulate what it meant to me. From that lunch until last week, maybe 7 or 8 weeks, I didn’t get asked to participate in the service.
True to form, my mind took that lengthy vacation and ran with it. I had several sleepless nights where I stayed awake imagining hard conversations with people where they told me that church members were afraid of me and my faith journey, where I was not going to be allowed to participate because my doubts were threatening to others. My goodness. I even had a conversation with Alex where I told him about my fears and strongly asserted that the church either gets all of me or none of me.
Of course, my fears were imagined, mere circumstance, but the depth of fear and turmoil that this imaginary rejection caused me was more than enough proof that I needed to think deeply about this need to be loved by others. I’m still processing this. No man is an island and I think one of God’s greatest gifts is community. I don’t want to have armor as I interact with people. I want to let them love me fully and I want to wholly love them, but I don’t want to do it in a way that’s unhealthy and obsessively having imaginary conversations with church members doesn’t sound very healthy. I don’t know what healthy means yet in this regard.
Perhaps the hardest challenge for me to face will be the gauntlet of “love thyself”. I don’t usually do things so other people will like me. I do things so that *I* will like me. All of these trophies, these things that I’ve done, that I’ve fallen all over myself trying to do, working myself to the bone, they are so that I can not feel like a shit person; they are a sad attempt to balance out the constant nattering of my inner critic who tells me that nothing, including myself, is ever good enough.
And I believe that participating in the cross means realizing that those accolades, those security blankets, those pieces of armor are meaningless.
If you strip all of the armor and trophies that I have acquired to protect myself from “being a shit person”- take away the job helping people, the volunteer work, the fiery voice for justice, the way my children came into my family, my birthday texts to friends, my passion for recycling- what’s left? When I take away everything that I’ve used to bring meaning to my life, what’s left?
Well, not much.
You have a sassy, passive-aggressive, often selfish, likes things her own way, shithead.
This is where I am. It’s left me feeling very naked and vulnerable. I’ve never been without my trophies and now my trophy rooms lay empty.
This is the death part. The part I’m not good at. The part where I want to say, “But…the resurrection is coming! It’s coming!”
After my weepy walk, I went with my family to Easter service and I hated it. The celebrations, the happy clappy songs, the altar call, I felt like I was dying inside. For too long, I used services like that one as an armor to convince myself that I was on the right team, doing the right things, being right so that I could be worthy- worthy of God’s love, worthy of others’ love, worthy of loving myself. All of that has to die. It has to die so I can truly live.
This process is painful, yes, but I do feel as if the game of Sardines is finished- where all these secret things, these impure motivations to do good, these needs to fulfill some imaginary yearly quota of goodness, whatever mischief they were getting up to in the darkness, they are being yanked into the light now. The game is over. It’s time to stop hiding. Come out, come out, wherever you are.
As a courageous pilgrim, you have come to grips at yet another layer with one of the simplest yet most profound questions – who am I?
Ultimately there are no simple and easy answers to that question.
At this depth of the onion peeling you have also encountered another critical question – am I lovable just as I am today?
If the answer was an obvious yes then what would become of those who sell beauty products, weight loss products, gym memberships, latest fashion accessories, etc.
It would end males acting like bozos to get the approval of females while females act like ??? to get the attention of males.
Our crazy society and economy depend on chronic uncertainty at that core level.
You indirectly address where do self-acceptance and self-love come from in a healthy way. There you have tread into the arenas of the counselor and therapist. There is no quick and easy solution for this. But there are zillions of books that offer partial and temporary remedies to the discomfort.
As a fellow Type 1 on the Enneagram, I noticed that you used the word right at critical points in this writing. Note that the other 8 types do not get bent out of shape about what is right like us. They have different monsters to slay.
So, my fellow pilgrim, I say take up your cross daily and follow Jesus. You will die to the unregenerate self yet again. There is a new kind of hope and wisdom on the other side of all such painful seasons. You know this because it happened before when you peeled the onion to get to this raw place.
May I suggest that your deconstruction journey has taken you deep under the surface of conventional thinking. You are encountering the roots of psychology, philosophy, and theology.
Returning to what Pilgrim’s Progress illustrated as Vanity Fair is no longer an option. So embrace your cave explorations and keep sending us your reports of your adventures.
This is a great comment, John. I appreciate you following along and helping me put some more words to my journey.