We were sitting at a small, round table next to the window, and I was drinking the worst chai tea latte I had ever tasted. It desperately needed less spice, more milk, and more sugar. It was unbalanced.
My friend was telling me all about her exciting ministry of mentoring young women. I couldn’t help but ponder how much better she was at being a Christian than me. While she was making a difference for Jesus in other people’s lives, I had slept in and missed church for the past three straight Sundays.
Our conversation drew to a close, and of course we ended in prayer.
“How can I pray for you?” she asked, with sincerity streaming from her eyes.
I started rambling about my life, my relationships, why I had a hard time connecting with other Christians. My words fumbled and failed to reach any conclusion.
“I know what you mean,” she said with an understanding nod. I was reassured that something of what I said made sense. Then we prayed.
Afterward, we walked to our cars, and the rambling continued. I couldn’t make it stop–the words kept tumbling out.
Finally, she had to politely remind me that she had to be on the other side of town in less than thirty minutes, but that we should definitely have coffee more often. We hugged and said goodbye and got in our cars and drove off.
Ten minutes later at the wheel, it hit me. The reason for the rambling. I was asking a question with a waterfall of words, and it was a question I had asked many, many times.
“Am I acceptable?”
I spent at least 90% of my time 0-18 years of age in exclusively Christian circles, and then I went to a private Christian college. So I got used to the Christian response to my question:
So much pain followed those ellipses as I attempted to squish myself into conformity within the bounds of the cookie cutter answers.
Memorize more Scripture.
Don’t say bad words.
Stay away from alcohol. And drugs. And sex.
And anyone who doesn’t stay away from the above mentioned.
Be a lady.
Dress modestly. Bikinis, mini skirts, spaghetti straps, tight jeans, leggings, strapless, backless, super high heels, crop tops, and Abercrombie and Fitch are evil.
Go to church every Sunday. And Wednesdays. And Tuesdays. And volunteer for service projects on Saturdays. And attend every church retreat too for extra credit.
Pray every day. Twice daily is better but all the time is desirable.
Read the Bible every day. Read the Bible through once a year.
Get good grades. A perfect 4.0 is best.
I think it was middle school when I realized that my list of things to do or to avoid was endless. And every sermon seemed to add more!
But I made the attempt. I learned to customize the rules slightly, but I got really good at playing the Christian game that made me acceptable to other Christians.
Except that it didn’t. I always had this feeling that I was never going to be good enough, that my Bible study friends only tolerated me. That I was deficient in some respect.
I would like to say that nobody ever confirmed it, but that would be a lie.
Over the years, I’ve lost many, many Christian friendships for failing to measure up to their standards. And I’ve also watched every single member of my immediate family get rejected by other Christians in painful ways, from close Christian friends to Christian youth group leaders. It’s an epidemic in the church–Christians judging and subsequently rejecting the Christians sitting in the pew right in front of them.
HELLO PEOPLE! THE BIBLE DOESN’T EXIST TO BE USED AS A WEAPON AGAINST YOUR NEIGHBOR! AND I’M TIRED OF BEING MEASURED BY YOUR HAPHAZARD AND CONFLICTING INTERPRETATIONS OF IT!
Dear reader, I’m sorry. That’s a lot of caps all at once. I’ve just really, really wanted to say it for a long time now. I hope you’ll excuse me for momentarily shouting at you.
To my friend at the coffee shop, I won’t do you the injustice to accuse you of judging me.
But at the time I inwardly cringed to prepare for the familiar verdict of unacceptable.
I wish I could simply stop asking the question. One day, dear reader, I’m going to figure out how, and then I will tell you all about it.