Magazine article The Christian Century

My Life as a Bad Christian: 'Quiet Time' Pushed Me over the Edge

Magazine article The Christian Century

My Life as a Bad Christian: 'Quiet Time' Pushed Me over the Edge

Article excerpt

THE FIRST TIME I walked into a church, I might as well have had a red bull's-eye painted directly over my heart. You couldn't have picked a more perfect walking target for somebody's next "intentional relationship." I was scared and sad and deeply wounded, and I was looking for someone to tell me that life would be okay.

One Sunday morning when my husband, Steve, wasn't home, I made my way to the church closest to our house, nervously checked my little boy into the kids' program, and sat alone in the very last row, as near to the exit as I could possibly get. I was there not out of curiosity or even genuine interest but out of sheer desperation.

Growing up, I'd heard over and over again that Christians are losers who don't know how to live their own lives. I was told Christians are pathetic dummies who need a crutch to lean on because they can't stand on their own two feet. I was taught to see Jesus as a leader for people who couldn't think for themselves and needed to be told what to do. So as a confused 19year-old with a child I didn't know how to raise, a husband I didn't know how to love, and a life I had no idea how to live, it seemed like maybe I should meet this Jesus, the God of pitiful weaklings who are limping along without a clue.

Turns out they were right. Jesus was exactly who I needed.

Much to my surprise, I found a sense of belonging in church and unexpected joy in the pursuit of faith. In those early days I was like a rescue puppy: precious and needy, dying for love and affection, begging for reassurance. I was ready and willing to be trained by the first family who would take me home, and that family was the church. I lapped up their attention, and they were kind and gentle and gracious, teaching me the rules and showing me how to behave, and for a while I was content to simply perform.

Sit. Stay. Good Christian.

In the beginning it was simple. It was easy. It was pleasant and rewarding. It was following the rules and obeying the laws and asking only rhetorical questions. It was just believe in your heart. Just pray. Just forgive. Just show up. It was "because the Bible says." (And the Bible? It was clear.) It was a country club. It was a soul spa. It was a light show. It was come as you are ... as long as you are approved. And in the beginning, I was. I wore the uniform and I spoke the language and I followed all of the rules.

Until I didn't.

Actually, my years in "good Christian" standing were relatively short-lived. It simply wasn't in my nature to conform as heartily and completely to the ways of the church ladies as was required to stay aboveboard in their circles. I can still clearly recall the first time I got a proper "bad Christian" finger wagging.

It was at one of those meetings for tired moms to drop their sticky-faced crap factories in child care for two whole hours so we could indulge in adult conversation and sip coffee while it was still hot. I went every week, and when I walked into the room I knew without a doubt I was surrounded by my people--women with spit-up stains on their shoulders and chicken nugget chunks in their hair. Like me, they carried saggy post-baby bellies, dark circles under their eyes, and purses littered with half-eaten granola bars, loose gummy bears, and tattered tampons. Over many months of Tuesday mornings together, we grew into a pretty close group, shouldering one another's burdens while we passed our tightly wrapped newborns around like joints.

We laughed and cried, talked and prayed. We shared good recipes and bad weight-loss advice, and we never lacked for butter or carbs or caffeine, because someone always showed up with a pile of muffins and the coffee flowed freely. It was the land of breast milk and honey, a small break from the daily grind of laundry and diapers and little runny noses.

Generous and well intentioned, that group of women taught me what it looks like to serve, as I often found myself overwhelmed by the energy of three little boys, and they showed up, again and again, to help in my hour of need. …

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