Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Christianity of Boxes

I used to think that there was one right way to be a Christian. In my mind, there was no room for theological differences, or even differences in some preferences. No nuance, no sliding scales, no sometimes or maybes. Simple black and white. My whole childhood was black and white, everything fit into neat, tidy boxes. I remember well the discomfort in high school when I bumped into people with different beliefs; I didn't want any conflict, but they were wrong. I went to a college that was linked with my childhood denomination, and though that school officially agreed with what I had been taught my whole life, I met Christians from different backgrounds. Sure, we agreed on more or less most of the same things, but there was a hint of Christian diversity in my bubble for the first time.

My experience leaving college was messy and painful, and it pretty much destroyed any part of me that was still consciously hanging onto that black and white framework. I had seen too much to believe neat, tidy boxes were the way to sort my faith. As I spent the next years trying to put my life back together and figure out how to navigate as an adult, I found other people of faith who taught me great things. I discovered blogs and books and regular people just doing their best to love Jesus.

I grew up believing that rigidity was the mark of a true Christian. Now I believe that the best posture I can take is one of openness. I know full well that just as I've discarded many things I held onto dearly in the past, one day I may let go of beliefs I hold strongly now. I am more comfortable with uncertainty; I embrace it, in fact. I find great relief in admitting that I don't understand a lot, and there are so many things I don't know.

Sure, there is a part of me that still like rules. I like the tidiness of knowing what's right and what's wrong. But the messy uncertainty of learning to love freely is infinitely more rewarding than checking off boxes for good behavior, even when I know I'm falling short of loving well. The more I discover others who are throwing out checklists in favor of radical love, the less alone I feel, and the more excited I get about the love of Christ. That's when it feels magical, which is the unspiritual way of saying that I think the Holy Spirit likes it when we chase love and share love and revel in love.

Intellectually I have it all sorted out (as much as you can ever sort things out). I know what I feel in my heart, how I want to love and be loved and not feel as if I have to earn love. The reality is that I still have the echos of my childhood rules flitting through my head, so sometimes (OK, a lot of the time), I still feel as if I need to check off all the boxes even though my brain tells me the boxes are no longer helpful for me or even good for me. Often I am able to help block those echos by reading authors whose work speaks to the part of my heat that loves rather than the authors who like lists. Authors like Sarah Bessey and Glennon Doyle Melton make me feel like the only box I need to check is the one that asks if I am trying to love people (including myself). No caveats, no followup questions, not even a perfect response or completion. I like to remind myself that generally everyone is just trying to do the best they can, and that means I need to accept that my best probably doesn't equal perfection, but that's OK because nobody's does.