It might sound arrogant to say I knew all the answers, but I did. And I knew how to behave, which probably sounds even more arrogant. I knew that when the little brat kid who lived across from me punched me in the stomach until I couldn’t breathe, let alone stand, I had to be gracious and take the blame for it when his dad confronted me. I knew that when one of the boys stole my favorite pocket knife my dad gave me I had to forgive them. I knew I shouldn’t want more clothes that I liked because there were kids running around who only had the holey, dirty shirt they were wearing. I knew I had to serve everyone and think of others better than myself because they needed God’s love more than I did. And above all I knew I “was the only example. It doesn’t matter what other kids do. You have to be the one to do what is right. Be the exception. Be the good girl others can look up to.” And I was perfect. At all of it.
It all started around when I was seven years old. I decided I wanted to get baptized. I had made that decision when I was four but was told I had to wait because I was too young. When my dad asked me why I wanted to get baptized I said, “Because I don’t want to go to hell.” I wanted to be saved and safe in Jesus. But that answer wasn’t the right one. My dad told me what I should have said and told me to pray and think about it some more. So I did. I realized where my answer was wrong and said the right thing. I didn’t know it but that day I learned it didn’t matter how I felt or what I thought. How I felt was not important when it came to the right answer and doing the right thing. And having the right answer seemed to be what saved me. One of my dad’s favorite sayings was, “Put your emotions aside and do what is right.” So I got baptized on February 13. It was a Friday.
From that day on I learned all the right answers. I was the listening ear for anyone who had a problem; the one they came to for advice. I was the strong one; the one they came to for strength. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I want to be there for people. I love to help in any way I can. But being the answer for everyone else meant I couldn’t be broken. Everyone knows an idol is made of stone and is strong, never toppling. And if it becomes cracked then it is false and what it represents is false. And I was supposed to represent God. That meant I couldn’t mess up. I couldn’t be human. I couldn’t be in need. I could not be sad or wonder where God was. Or be angry at God. Remember, feelings don’t matter. Right answers are everything.
But after so long, it all becomes exhausting; even though a good Christian shouldn’t be exhausted. It’s like trying to hold a sand castle together when the tide breaks off a little at a time. My serving, strong hands were growing weak and dirty. I saw other people truly experiencing God and His love, and it was all because they were broken. Like the drug addict who gets clean and gets saved or the woman who’s had too many men to count but finally falls in love with the Son of Man or the teenager who made a “mistake” and chose to keep him or the drunk who beat his family then throws out the bottles and bats and grabs a Bible. I’ve seen others experience God and His love, but those things never seemed to happen to me. I watched the people at churches praise God with their hands half-raised in the air and tears slipping down their cheeks in adoration of a God I didn’t know. Those same tears would drop with joy from smiling, radiant faces as those same people spoke of God’s unconditional love for them and how He had reached into their lives with underserved grace and mercy. Then, I wanted to be “bad” so that just maybe I could experience His grace too. But I wasn’t allowed to be “bad.” Even though I ached so bad to just let it all crumble.
I don’t think my breaking point happened at a specific time. In fact, I think I’m still in the breaking. It’s still easier for me to believe God loves, with intense passion, you, the addict, the whore, the illegitimate, and the drunk than it is for me to believe He loves me. But I think I began to break when I started to let myself admit the truth. I don’t like raising my hands to invisible arms. And I won’t sing praises for others to hear. I don’t pray like other people full of immaculate, fancy words or pray in a gibberish language that the “Spiritual” call groans of the Spirit. But my spirit groans too, it just never sounds like that. I’ve never heard God speak to me. And the only prayer I can muster up is “Help me.” I’m not strong all the time. In fact, I think I’m probably more on the weak side. I do cry. I’m not unbreakable. I want to be broken.
I have always heard people say that He comes into the midst of us at church. And while He may be there I think He’s probably too busy mending up other people than to unstitch me. But when I am alone, just me, in the world His fingerprints created that’s when I start to connect to Him. In the moldable sand He used to shape my body. In the green grass that pricks my bare feet. In the wind that blows across my face and through my fingers and into my clothes. In the smell of silky roses breathing liquid flavor into my lungs. Maybe He can’t be heard in a choir but in the mourning dove crying for the ones she loves to come home. And in the crickets playing their violin legs to ease the sun’s goodbye to another day. I can see Him in the pink and purple sunset slipping into a hammock of dark blue. And in the starry milky galaxies like a billion glittering eyes watching silently. Maybe His Spirit is in the groans of old, creaking trees and not in the made up words of the righteous.
Like I said, I’m still in the breaking. But it’s beautiful to be here. Because this is where I meet Him. I didn’t meet Him in a church with stain glassed windows and man-made walls to keep Him in. I met Him when I became human instead of perfect. When I shattered. When I began to break. I’ve realized when something breaks there’s room for Him to trickle in. All of my right answers and perfection were just whitewashed walls keeping me from Him. I’m learning it’s human to be in need. It’s human to not be strong. It’s human to be angry and sad and not understand. It’s human to feel because sometimes our feelings are more honest than the words we speak. It’s human to be broken. And I am human.