My hands are covering my face. Or they were before I removed them to type these words.
I don’t know where to begin this story of my life in a first-generation Christian family. There is too much, and there is too little. How can I bring it all together into a coherent whole?
Honestly, I don’t like thinking about my childhood. The bad memories overshadow the good ones. Memories of hiding and oh-so-much-guilt and shattered innocence and the ugly mess of my own angry words stick around as the good ones grow dim.
But those aren’t the stories I want to tell you, not now.
This is the story of how I played the perfect little Christian girl, and how, ultimately, that didn’t work.
I memorized the Bible verses, I did all the Sunday school and Awana assignments, I was the “smart, quiet one.” At home, I shouted, I refused, I glared with my fiery firstborn eyes. At church, I was good.
“Your knowledge of the Word always showed in your sharing in class,” my 6th grade Sunday school teacher wrote in the front inside cover of What the Bible is All About (the King James Version, of course) — a prize for my diligent performance.
I “prayed the prayer” at age 3 or 4, but I don’t remember it. I was baptized young and became a church member young. It was what you did. Baptism was supposed to precede communion, I knew, so I always looked down my nose at the unsubmerged kids who helped themselves to the holy bread squares.
I wrote letters to my unsaved grandparents full of Bible verses and the plan of salvation and matter-of-fact statements that they should become Christians and go to church.
My mom had grown up smack-dab in the middle of pain and brokenness, and her modus operandi in parenting was “shelter them!”
So my sister and I wore our matching jean jumpers to our non-denominational-but-basically-Baptist church, around which our social lives were centered. We were homeschooled. We sang, “Stop! And let me tell you, what the Lord has done for me!” until we were sick of it, we listened to Adventures in Odyssey on the radio most afternoons but never got sick of it, and we were not allowed to watch Pokémon or read Harry Potter or listen to ‘N Sync. But that was okay because we believed our parents when they said those things were bad.
In high school, I left my isolated homeschooling life in the woods and transitioned to a Christian school.
Again, I distinguished myself as the “smart, quiet one”; again I tried to please everyone; again I wore a mask.
It was worse this time, though. When I was younger, I sometimes slipped up and sulked at camp or insisted on my own way during a piano lesson. But in high school, I got better and better at adding mildness to my list of accomplishments. I was the “nice, smart, quiet girl.”
Life rolled along, and I rolled with it. I was living a fully inherited faith with a fully intact mask.
When the full weight of this hit me my freshman year of college, I felt like a failure. I had never “made my faith my own.” My testimony wasn’t victorious. I couldn’t think of any real spiritual turning points.
Insecurity had always been my faithful companion, but college was the worst. I never despised or compared or isolated myself as much as I did then. I was sure that if people knew the “real me,” they would reject me. I couldn’t open up, I couldn’t take off the mask, and I was depressed. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be, and I was starting to believe I never would be.
I have hope again. I took off my mask, and nobody ran away. I asked hard questions, and I didn’t shock anyone. But even if I had shocked or they had run, that wouldn’t have changed my identity as a person of worth. I’m finally learning who I am, and I finally like myself. But God … he seems so much more confusing and uncertain than he used to, and so does, well, everything.
I want to be on fire, I want to “taste and see,” but I won’t fake it again. I won’t be the perfect little Christian girl again.
The journey continues. I am here, and I am me, and right now, that is enough.
This is day 16 of 31 Days in the Word … and this is also a synchroblog to celebrate the release of Addie Zierman’s memoir, When We Were On Fire. Click here and scroll down to read the stories of others’ faith journeys.