I’ve been gulping down the words of Rachel Held Evans lately like cool, fresh water after several hours on a crowded matatu in the Mombasa heat. I read both of her most recent books back to back and wept my way through them both. Not the kind of weeping that is for someone else you are reading about, but the immediate kind of weeping that comes when you find pieces of yourself-naked and exposed- splattered across the pages of someone else’s book. How did I get here? And where are my clothes?
Just a year ago I wouldn’t have made it past page one. I wouldn’t have even picked up the book. This book is for people with questions. This book is for “those” people: the ones who don’t really have a clear revelation of who God is. This book is for sinners unwilling to give it all for Jesus and live holy lives. This book is for people who haven’t made it to my level yet. It took some humbling experiences to bring me to the revelation that I am “those people”. Two of my least favorite of those experiences being one: a complete mental and emotional break that left me unable to move my limbs or walk to the toilet. Two: After five years of pursuing “purity” and “waiting for marriage”, waking up one morning in a person’s bed whom I barely knew and having to ask …out loud… “Where are my clothes?”
I don’t know where or from whom I got this idea, but for years I was unconsciously under the impression that following Christ was centered around a ladder in which we climb higher and higher, get closer and closer, go from “glory to glory”. There is no messing up. There is no taking breaks. There is only climbing. I began to believe that western church culture was synonymous with relationship with Jesus. And, although I would have never admitted it because I wasn’t aware of it, I believed that the tight grip I had on upholding the high moral standards I believed God required, kept me on that ladder. I clung to that ladder for dear life by taking in more and more children even when I couldn’t afford to, caring more for others than myself, abstaining from sex, decreasing my use of F bombs, making sure to be home by 7pm every night to have dinner with my kids, trying to be straight, going to a church I hated, etc. And the desire to be loved kept me climbing. I believed deep down, underneath all the clothes, that I had to uphold these high standards in order to experience God’s presence and love for me. So it goes without saying that I was quite shocked at how much I felt His presence and love when I began melting down under all the pressure and spending Sunday mornings in bed watching Scandal and trying to disappear instead of in worship.
I’ve been climbing downwards and closer. The kingdom is upside down after all. It really is an eternal table set up for all the messed up people of the world to feast at. Maybe humility has a way of bringing us closer to the heart of God. Maybe we really do find Him in being “othered”. Maybe all the stories Jesus told were true. Maybe closeness is found in being a runaway like the prodigal son, or a sexual and ethnic minority like the Ethiopian eunuch, or being an adulteress who everyone but Jesus wants to throw stones at, or in being a loner like John the Baptist, or even in being a little ratchet from time to time. Either way, I think I prefer climbing downward and deeper to climbing upward and higher. My legs were getting really tired. But I’m grateful for the fatigue because it has made me desperate again, desperate for God, desperate for closeness to Him. It’s made me aware of my need for Him again. It’s also given me permission to feel again, and feeling is good even when it hurts. I hid in a closet away from emotion for a very long time. Now I’m like a hurricane of emotion. It’s a glorious kind of chaos. The kind that declares “I am here.”
I feel like I have been cracked open. Undressed. Freed. I go for runs and push myself a little further each time and allow myself to feel the burn in my chest. I dance alone in my room when no one is watching. I go to church now and allow myself to feel both the passion in my love for Jesus as I worship, and the hot hate for the patriarchal undertones in the sermon. I laugh. Hard. At stupid things because I can feel joy again. I have fallen for a painfully beautiful woman that I know that I can’t have. I allow myself to love her anyway. And I can feel, deeply, both the satisfaction and the heartache this brings. I cry, even when I am not really sure whom or what the tears are for. I feel. I fall. I feast. But I no longer climb.
Turns out that, for me, this whole relationship with God thing is less like climbing a ladder and more like being on a journey. And I don’t get to cover myself up for it. I have to bring all of me-completely exposed, completely vulnerable, stark naked- and allow Love to do whatever Love wants to do with it. And Love always wants to love. But at the times when I forget to believe that, I look down and realize that I am naked and I feel ashamed. And I ask, not sure to whom: Where are my clothes?