This morning, I got up and drove to Asheville to hear one of my all-time favorite writers and human beings in general, Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery, speak at a church downtown.
She is a marvel and my hero (and I took like 12 pages of notes so I will probably be writing off this forever) and my biggest regret in life is that I didn’t stand in the massive meet-and-greet line afterward to get a picture with her (which only means that I will have to stalk her live appearances to snatch up another opportunity to do so).
Her main message was that we are okay and loved just as we are. Those are the two thoughts I’ve spent the most time in therapy trying to assimilate into my beliefs about myself. They’re things that Boyfriend and Therapist are both double teaming me on: that if I truly believe that everyone is doing the best that they can, why do I have so much trouble ascribing to that belief about myself? They tell me that I’m capable, that I’ve overcome an insurmountable amount of pain, that I’m a strong woman – all good and, I believe, true things. But I just have so much trouble with really latching onto them.
Lately, I’ve been having trouble with some things that haven’t normally been difficult for me in the past. They mostly revolve around anxiety about going to church and believing that God loves me just as I am. Sometimes I’ll wake up on Sunday morning and say, “Nope. I just can’t do it today,” and I’ll go into the kitchen to make coffee and drag my laptop into the living room and hand-select a sermon on a feel-good topic with pen and journal in hand, happily scribbling notes and take-aways. This is a good thing, but for me it’s not the best thing.
One of my goals is to become more connected with the community of Greenville, my greatest chance at doing this being becoming involved in my church, which means, you know, actually going there, and I can’t do that sitting on a couch in my pajamas every Sunday morning. So Therapist and I sat across from each other this week trying to figure out what exactly makes the physical act of going to church so impossible for me.
“What’d you do last Sunday?”
“Slept until 11.”
So we didn’t really get very far until I was willing to get over myself and go a little underneath the surface. It eventually got down to the part where I admitted that I’ve been so angry and embittered toward God that I shoved it under the rug rather than deal with it because anger and bitterness are two of my least favorite emotions to deal with. Which kind of explains the “I’m fine, and You? Boy, everything sure is fine,” approach I took to prayer and my whole relationship with God over the last nine months since Maggie died. That’s a lot easier to do than to open the door to all the angry, bitter questions I have, all the questions I’ve had about my faith that feel messy and doubty and uncomfortable. “I’m fine, and You?” is a lot easier than “I feel messy and I’m doubting You and whether or not you still love me since I’ve been in this messy doubty stage because aren’t I supposed to trust You no matter what? No matter what kinds of awful things happen, aren’t I supposed to just return to You with this childlike faith that’s unwavering and “I will praise you in this storm”-ish?”
Because I haven’t had that in a while. And it’s sort of made me feel like crap about myself. Because somewhere I’ve picked up this vision in my head that God’s mostly disappointed in me because I haven’t been able to be this steel tank of faith since my best friend was murdered. I tried to fake it, certainly, for a while, but that façade ended, and church made me feel worse about feeling bitter toward God, so I stopped going. Because going to church made me feel like a faker. It revealed the holes in my belief and made me feel like a disappointment for giving up the thought that God could love me, even me, unconditionally. (No. Surely He has conditions about me being in a stalemate. And I caaaan’t tell all of these people about how disconnected I feel from God because they’ll out me because they all feel so connected to him in their cute little outfits with their cute little families and babies and stuff). And so I started sitting in my living room, pajama-clad, on Sunday mornings with my coffee and my feel-good message with my feel-good take-aways. And that’s only sometimes. Sometimes I just rolled over and went back to sleep. Make no mistake, there is no perfect track record here.
Traditionally, I am not a believer in “fake it ‘til you make it,” but I’ve certainly been giving it my best shot. And it’s time for that to stop.
Glennon reminded me of a lot of truth that I’ve been forgetting this morning. Mostly, that God loves me just like I am, right this second, anger and bitterness and questions included. He loves me even though I feel disconnected from him sometimes. He loves me even though I’m scared of church and of church people that could (gulp) see right through my fake it til you make it-ness right now.
She told us all that God is not some crappy middle schooler who extends one invitation to life with him and then, when you shun Him, decides to never invite you to anything again ever. She told us that as long as we have a pulse, we have that an invitation to life with Him, and that it’s okay to believe that there’s nothing wrong with us, and that there’s nothing we’ve done, no stalemate or action, that’s so horrible that God all of a sudden doesn’t love us anymore. That God is actually looking down at us saying, “Just get up and follow me. I know how busted up you are. Follow me anyway.” And she challenged us: are we going to waste life trying to decide if we’re worthy to accept that invitation, or are we just going to trust the Inviter? She reminded us that Jesus calls sinners who are forgetters and troublemakers and fake it til you make it-ers, and that in every moment, we are forgiven for all of it – for everything we’ve done and everything we’re going to do today and tomorrow and the next day – and that’s all we ever need to remember about grace.
What stuck out the most to me is that she said that “crisis” really means “to sift” – that the stuff that needs to fall away falls away, and what matters rises to the top and that’s what we move on with. That in the future, there will always be a cycle of falling apart and coming back together. So if everything’s falling apart, that’s fine. And if everything’s fine, that’s fine, too. Because the God we believe in is behind whatever door we open up. And He’s not mostly disappointed in us. He has his arms open to all our doubts and bitterness and fears.
She ended with the notion that pain is the most effective teacher available to us and that the wisest people she knows know discomfort and pain are as holy as joy. When they see pain, they say, “Okay. Come in. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.” And that only pain and struggle cultivate the qualities we so want in ourselves – kindness, compassion, courage. Our job is not to run from pain and discomfort; our job is to walk through it so that we can get to those qualities, forged through fire.
I so want that. I so want to look at pain as a teacher. I so want to believe that God has his arms open to me, waiting to embrace me in this weird stage of feeling scared of church and of intimacy with Him, because what if he finds me out? What if He really sees me? What if other people really see me?
After this morning, thanks to Glennon, I have to think that the answer to all my “what if’s” is “healing.” If I let Him really see me, then healing will come. If I let people in, healing will come. Healing for me and healing for them, too, probably. Because I’m not the only one with fake it til you make it syndrome, probably. Healing for all of us, probably. I so love that idea. One of the things she’s taught me over the years is that being vulnerable ourselves is most often what unlocks other people and gives them permission to be vulnerable. I so want my life to be about that.
So my homework from Therapist this morning is to get my booty in a church pew this weekend with actual other human beings. Boyfriend and my friend Megan and her husband are all part of this mission, one for making sure I actually get in the car and go, and the other two for saving seats and being my accountability. It’s like I have a security detail. I’m being double-teamed, I tell ya. (You know what they say about desperate times. I love them for this.)
If people really see us, then healing.
If God really gets a good look at us and we give Him a good look right back, healing.
I believe everything on the other side of all this fear and anxiety is healing.
That’s exactly what I want to wake up and breathe in every morning.
And tomorrow morning, right before church with my very own security detail.
(It’s like I’m famous, y’all!!)