Already in those days, I noticed a loosening up of my theology. I don’t know how I hadn’t realized it before. The constricting belt around my mind and heart was becoming unbearable. I started to see how it kept me from moving freely and exploring certain ideas, thoughts, and books that I’d always assumed to be off-limits.
It was becoming more difficult to talk about Jesus with my so-called neighbors, to attend Sunday morning church services, to hold my hands up during a particularly emotional worship moment, and to believe that this God I had always praised was going to punish people with an eternity in hell if they didn’t repent and believe in Him.
I tried to keep these issues contained, but they were trying to escape, and all the while I was proudly wearing the title of missionary.
We sent updates once a month to our supporters trying to sound successful at saving souls, making sure our friends and relatives knew The Darkness was being defeated with our every step. Whenever we built relationships with people (because people were definitely projects back then), we felt the need to discern as quickly as possible how close they were to God. Did they have a relationship with Jesus or not? Where did they land on the spectrum of sinner or saved?
It was our burning passion to see God’s kingdom released and the church awakened here. We felt special and separate because our vision was grand, made clearer to us in our secret prayers and prophetic revelations. With every person and group we shared our hearts with stateside, we grew more determined and excited to finally arrive in the country where God was calling us.
No one would think to prepare an innocent, zealous missionary for the time when she’d wake up and start doubting the core doctrines of her favorite denomination. This was definitely not part of our prescribed missionary training.
About halfway into our two-year commitment, I started to notice the shifts
In the words of writer and spiritual director, Kathy Escobar, “growth and change are natural parts of our relationship with God. God invites us to be in motion, but often the faith systems we are a part of don’t.”
I noticed myself making pivots in the way I talked and interacted with people whom I speculated didn’t have a “very strong” relationship with God. But they seem so much like me, I thought, is there any need to judge where they’re at?
I noticed how critical I felt after every single church event or bible study. Will this always feel fake and flimsy and boring?
I noticed how leery I became of leadership and pastors. Why do they act like they know what’s right or what God is saying?
I noticed how disgruntled I was with the Word. The sparks aren’t flying anymore in my supposed morning quiet times, would God still love me if I never opened this supposedly magic Book again?
I noticed how refugees fresh from Syria gathered around our table each week and how our desire to convert them to Christianity or converse with them about our faith tradition fell to the bottom of our priorities. How could God turn away from them forever all because they called him by another name?
I noticed how I stopped dishing out advice to other women, no matter their age. I am seeking and wandering just like they are and would be lying if I said otherwise.
Surely, this was just a phase, and I would come through it.
For most of my life, I had wanted only to serve God, do the work of ministry, and change the world for Jesus. But now all that seemed as foreign as the country I was living in.
I worried about the questions popping into my head, they felt dangerous. I felt ashamed for the conversations my husband and I started having behind closed doors. Nothing was off limits- universalism, who was Jesus really, can we trust the Bible, what about my husband’s trans hairdresser. I felt unsure about turning down this road, whatever this road was, because I knew I didn’t know where it was leading.
All I knew is this belt around my waist was too tight and my breathing felt shallow and short. I started to loosen it a bit, very timidly at first, when no one was looking. I sensed the relief to be somewhat addicting and alluring.
Maybe freedom wasn’t bound up in receiving the gift of tongues, praying through the night like a good Christian warrior, finally repenting of my addictions or ancestral baggage, as I was taught. Maybe freedom was something simpler akin to breathing without restraint, to be alive, to be human.
“My uncourageous life
doesn’t want to move,
doesn’t even want to stir,
wants to inhabit
a difficult form
to pull everything
into the silence
where the throat strains
but gives no voice.”
David Whyte, Second Life