this past weekend i was in a conversation with some of my dear friends that i consider kindred spirits because we are all, in some shape or form, “ex-good-christian-women.” for all kinds of reasons, we no longer fit the mold we used to try so hard to conform to. these are courageous beautiful women who don’t just long for greater freedom but are actually moving toward it intentionally. one of the thoughts that came up around the table was the paradox, the crazy tension between being feeling we are “too much” and “not enough.” living this way is pretty much a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” and perpetuates a weird self-hatred that seems to rob us of life. i can’t tell you the amount of time i have spent feeling bad for my loud-ness, spirited-ness, my passion for change, my messed up-ness, my opinionated-ness. these thoughts don’t get as much traction as they used to, but they are unfortunately sometimes present nonetheless. and on the same spectrum, a core message i have consistently wrestled with on my healing journey is the “i am not quite good enough.” i have lived in the land of “if i only was more-this-or-more-that-i’d-be-a-better-christian-wife-mother-you name it” for many years. (yes, remember that my blog is called ‘the carnival in my head’!) both of these messages–“too much” and “not enough”–are so messed up, but after being around the block with lots of people over the years, i know they are prevalent not just for women but for men, too (and especially those of us who are evangelical christians & have lived in fairly rigid systems in one way or another).
i know there are people out there who do not think that these kinds of questions are all that “spiritual” (some would even say “if we’d just focus on Jesus instead of ourselves, we wouldn’t have these issues”) but i would completely disagree. i think these core beliefs about ourselves affect every area of our lives, especially our relationship with God. i think our spirituality is weaved deeply into every part of us and we can’t simply & easily parse out what’s “spiritual” and what’s “emotional”, what’s “God-focused” and what’s not. God knows our inmost thoughts as our parent, lover, friend, advocate, companion on the journey. the doubt, the confusion, the “feeling this way sucks” is all part of what we bring into our relationship with God & other people, too. i believe that the more honest we are with what we wrestle with deep down, the greater the likelihood for intimacy & change. many are on the journey toward a deeper understanding of what it means to “love God & love our neighbors as ourselves” and i think a greater acknowledgement of how these messages are guiding how we live our lives will only benefit the kingdom. as we heal, transform, change we become more free, more loving, more inclined to live unhindered by the trappings of the world, the limitations of organized religion. we are more likely to serve freely, love better, give our hearts more readily. i think we become more comfortable in our own skin instead of staying stuck, isolated, limited.
so how did these distorted messages get inside us and what are we supposed to do about it?
most of these things got into our heads, our hearts from our life experiences (including our families, church, significant relationships). a subtle or sometimes direct message got communicated from people or systems we were part of: “shut up, do what you’re told, dreams are stupid, you can’t do that, good girls & boys are supposed to…., those skills don’t pay the bills, you need more self-control, self-discipline, you’re too emotional, stop crying, stop feeling, be responsible, get a real job, if you’re like that boys or girls won’t like you, you could do better, if you would only do this or that…” oh the list is much longer than this & i am sure you could add so many more, but you get the idea. i don’t think anyone means for these to mess with our heads, but the bottom line is they did, they do.
i think healing & greater freedom happens when we acknowledge where they show up in our lives and how they’re affecting our relationship with God, other people. honesty won’t automatically solve anything but it will help, especially if we are in safe and challenging groups of people who understand & are willing to wrestle with the same thoughts that are floating around in their head. something really free-ing happens when we say it out loud, laugh at it, cry about it, and are with authentic, real people whose presence alone points us toward God’s grace & heart for us.
we need to seek what God wants to say to us about these messages. this sometimes gets distorted for me because i unfortunately have a tendency to think that “people who are considered ‘godly'” equal “God”. um, two different things. the crazy christian bar is not our measure. what pastors, leaders, well-meaning friends, mean-people-we-have-been-connected-to say is not our measure. we must hear from God in the quiet of our hearts for us & only us. this requires space, intention, time, and flexibility (i say this because i think sometimes we demand that God show up and then are mad that he doesn’t deliver the goods the way we want). a simple & real way God has poured some healing into these messages for me is through the gospels, a reminder of Jesus’ wildness, craziness, counter-culturalness & how all of the people he connected with were basically considered “too much” or “not enough” by the powers-that-be.
ask ourselves the question “how much am i letting these messages get in the way of life?” how many times do we hold back from ministry opportunities, dreams, relationships, creative pursuits, adventures God is stirring up in us because we think somehow we aren’t good enough, healed enough, whatever enough? how many times do we lay down our passions because we are worried people will think we are arrogant or self-centered for thinking we could actually give them a try?
live in the paradox that we’re probably somehow always both and that it doesn’t really matter. yes, i’m probably too much sometimes. and yes, it is often apparently clear how much i fall short. it’s just part of being a living, breathing human being and it serves us well to let go of needing to fall into some perfectly balanced equilibrium that is nothing short of impossible.
i don’t think these messages will die easy. but i think they can and are supposed to lose their power as we come face-to-face with God’s true heart for us. i see it more and more in my own life, in the lives of my friends. life is too short to waste more time and energy letting other people decide what is “too much” or “not enough.” the truth is there will always be people that think we are one or the other. we will at different times actually be one or the other. i think we have to be willing to live with our own paradoxes, our own crazy tension of strengths & weaknesses, and rest in a beautiful pocket of God’s amazing grace.
i love brennan manning’s words here from reflections for ragamuffins:
“when i get honest, i admit i am a bundle of paradoxes. i believe and i doubt. i hope and i get discouraged. i love and i hate. i feel bad about feeling good, i feel guilty about not feeling guilty. i am trusting and suspicious. i am honest and i play games. [i am sometimes too much, other times not enough]. aristotle said i am a rational animal; i say i am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. to live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life’s story, the light side and the dark. in admitting my shadow side, i learn who i am and what God’s grace means.”
ps: if you think of him, send a little prayer love up for my husband jose today & tomorrow. he is taking the bar exam. he has basically been studying nonstop since he graduated from law school in may. our whole family is excited for him to be done so he can be back with us in the land of the living!