…I began to understand that I didn’t have to become that judgment-eyed, finger-pointing person I feared if I followed Him, too.
The Church Experience Of My Youth
When I was a kid, my judgment was that I did not like going to Church. I thought it was boring, I didn’t really get anything out of it, and – if nothing else – why the heck was anyone thinking I’d want to get up early on one of my two days off?!
To be fair, that last one still kinda applies.
As I got a little bit older and became a teenager, going to Church was rarely a thing that my family did, and even then it was on special occasions. I can’t specifically say why this is, because I genuinely don’t know. We were in a very small community, so I don’t think it was driven by feeling that we weren’t a part of it. In any event, Church stopped being a thing.
Hey, that was fine with me – I wasn’t interested. Never had been.
But that wasn’t just because I found it boring. There was something else there that, for a long time, I couldn’t put my finger on. It wasn’t until about 13 that I really figured out what that was —
The Human Version Of Judgment
I don’t mean God’s judgment, per se. What I’m talking about is the human version of it – the kind that props itself up as “holier-than-thou” and seeks to demonize you for who and what you are.
Or, as the case often is, who and what you aren’t.
You aren’t pious or nice enough. And you aren’t using the right words or paying the right respect.
You aren’t as good a person as I am.
To be fair, it wasn’t like the people at our local Church were necessarily these kinds of religious folk. And it wasn’t as if I was constantly running into these types of people. But, occasionally, it would happen – I’d get scolded for not being good enough or for just plain not being a God-fearing Christian. Sometimes, I would see much of the same thing on TV – I’d identify with the person being finger-poked. I’d get angry and feel insulted.
It was as if they thought they had a mandate to do whatever they pleased and walk all over everyone else because, hey, other people like me didn’t subscribe to the awesome that they were signed up to.
How could people be like that? If being complete jerks was the thing that Church was all about, why would anyone want to be a part of it? Why would I want anything to do with it?
And sidebar: why did I even care?
That’s a good question. Particularly when you consider that my two most important girlfriends in high school were each the daughter of our two towns’ respective pastors.
Drawn To Something Deeper Than Judgment
No, it wasn’t espionage.
I can’t consciously say as it was anything more than your typical teenage attraction to that particular girl at that particular time.
But what if it wasn’t? Was I drawn to something deeper? Is it possible I was eager to be judged as “good” by someone who was on the “inside”? Was I desperate to know if those people actually existed? Or, perhaps, did I have a much stronger interest in God and Christ than I would have been able to consciously conceive at that age?
As much as I wasn’t a fan of the Church or people who went to it, I was definitely a fan of both of these girls. They were both good people, with good families, whom I learned a lot from. Even to this day, I’m still learning new things about who I am and who I was through those experiences.
I’m still discovering where God was in those experiences, too. That’s a pretty cool thing!
And though it would still be years before I ever lightened up to Church, Christ and religion, I had right here two examples of people, on the inside, who weren’t interested in judgment or finger pointing – through them I knew what kinds of people Christians could be.
Yet, even then, I wasn’t seeing it. Not entirely. Certainly not consciously.
Because unless I was attending a friend’s wedding, I didn’t step foot into another Church —
— Until the day I got married.
On that day, I stepped in, and I never truly stepped back out.
Stepping Into The Church
I met my future wife Emily at the age of twenty-six, soon after moving to Nashville. I was in a place in my life where I thought I could completely reinvent myself; be the person I wanted to define myself as being. After all, no one here knew who I was. There were no preconceived notions. To anyone else, I was a blank slate – I could set the ground rules.
But in doing so I became a distorted and out of-control-version of that image I had of myself.
I thought I had a mandate to do whatever I pleased and walk all over everyone else because, hey, they didn’t subscribe to the awesome that I was signed up to.
How could I be like that? If being a complete jerk was the thing that I was all about, why would anyone want a part of me? Why would Emily want anything to do with me?
But she did. She cared. She saw something in me that I didn’t – or perhaps that I wanted to see but wasn’t finding.
And she was persistent. Not unlike God.
Over time, due in large part to Emily, I started to see the truth. I started to see what God really was and what a person who followed Him could really be. I started to see the same thing in many other people who followed Him.
And, most importantly, I began to understand that I didn’t have to become that judgment-eyed, finger-pointing person I feared if I followed Him, too.
Being Better Than I Am
What I learned from all of this was something very valuable:
Religion. Faith. God. The Bible. These are not tools behind which I should hide; they are not weapons with which I should judge other people; these are not words and commands by which I should measure another’s worth; these are not rules by which I should determine whether or not I am better than another person —
— They are entirely for the purpose of finding out how to be better than I am.
Once I figured that out, I stopped worrying about what would happen if I let my curiosity in God and Christ get the “better of me”. It didn’t change that there were people out there who used God’s word for ill, but it informed me that as long as I was concerned with bettering myself, what they did was inconsequential —
— It’s about what I do.
And what I do is work hard every day to be a better person than I was the day before.
If I do that – even if perhaps I’m not always successful – maybe others will let their curiosity get the better of them, too.