“This is not the life I planned or the life I recommend to others. But it is the life that has turned out to be mine, and the central revelation in it for me—that the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human—seems important enough to witness to on paper.” Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the past. Later this month will mark five years since I moved back to Alabama—five years that have flown by and yet have contained so much. Various projects have sent me flipping through old journals, reflecting on those days.
Then a friend’s blog directed me to Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. I checked it out because I liked a lot of what the friend was writing about the book. I kept reading it because, even though Taylor and I are very different people, a lot of her story resonated with mine. She’s an Episcopal priest who left ministry. I was the Campus Crusade for Christ poster child on my campus, and I often worried whether my faith was intertwined with my college ministry. I almost became a full-time campus minister, but the month before I finished college I chose grad school instead.
It’s a choice I’ve never regretted.
As I read the book, and as I’ve flipped through those old journals, I kept returning to one specific entry. Reading it, again and again, tears my heart open a little as it reminds me of the girl I was, the woman I became, the woman I am becoming.
September 10, 2006
I struggle all the time with the idea of being a Christian in real life. And honestly, it was hard to write that sentence and not say “I still struggle”—because somehow I have this idea that I should have it all figured out, since I’ve been out of undergrad (and therefore out of the campus ministry bubble) for four and a half years. That’s a naïve notion.
But then, when I was 19 I naively believed I had life figured out. And my life is nothing like I then expected. Were things as I had pictured, I would be a campus minister—but at this age, I would also have been married for several years and would by now be mostly a stay-at-home mom, caring for at least one child.
Although I do eventually hope to become both a wife and a mother, I am so glad that life isn’t under my control.
Still, what I do have scares me all the time. One of the reasons I wanted to go into vocational ministry was probably because it seemed an easy way to live out my relatively young faith. That too was probably an immature belief (and one that I probably wouldn’t have owned up to. I don’t know—maybe I’m being too hard on my younger self. Maybe that wasn’t really a factor. But I feel like it must have been at least on some level—because from my 19-year-old perspective, what a Christian life should look like seems sort of prescribed by a life in ministry.).
Instead, I’m a reporter and I have no desire to write or edit a “Christian” publication. So I ask myself—since the answer isn’t as easy as I once tried to make it—who am I? How does my faith define me?
Truly, I’m not sure I know.
That’s probably part of the journey. I’m so young, and still so naïve. My opinions and actions are too heavily influenced by who I’m around at a given moment.
I’m slowly coming to terms with my immaturity. Which I hope is somehow indicative of an increasing maturity.
Still, I feel like I’m wandering. I don’t know when I last read my Bible. I don’t pray nearly as faithfully as I should. Sometimes I do things I shouldn’t simply because I shouldn’t.
I know some of that is a reaction to my past. For several years I sat in dorm study rooms and on living room floors, talking about God in a way that felt superficial and unappealing to people outside of the group. My idea of evangelism included telling a classmate I couldn’t go picket in support of legalizing marijuana because I had Bible study.
Again, maybe I’m painting too harsh a picture. I don’t know.
Even so—sometimes I long for those days, because I felt that I knew what I was supposed to be doing. I went to two Bible studies a week, read my Bible and prayed for half an hour daily and planned dorm outreaches. I don’t think I was frustrated until my senior year of college, when I finally realized I had nothing in common with my friend Callie from my rhetoric and nonverbal communication classes.
What was this faith that I thought had so much to offer if the best way I could present it was over a girls’ “pampering night?” What would make a girl like Callie want to spend a Friday night painting her toenails with strangers when I didn’t want to be there—and those strangers were my friends?
Yet I do believe in Jesus. That is the constant.
I don’t know what being a Christian is to look like, because sometimes I curse or drink too much or flirt just to feel good about myself—and I am still redeemed. My bad decisions don’t withdraw His grace. If anything, they remind me why I need it.