At this point, my struggle was to come out of hiding. It was and still is a long journey that leads me to experience the pain of rejection when people turn away from the real me. That seems to happen too often — rejection hurts. This is so much more than a painful journey, however. It is also proving to be joyous, leading to genuine connection and friendship. My “fall into grace” gave me a life I dreamed about but decided didn’t exist — at least for me. God used and uses people to love me in surprising ways. I’m not alone anymore. I don’t hide. My recovery friends turn toward me when they see me. 12-step rooms continue to give me “soul friends” who know everything about me and stand with me no matter what because they are broken just like me. I have a soul mate, who knows my story and loves me for engaging it.
In recovery, we talk about, “loving people until they can learn to love themselves.” It encourages me to lead with my weakness in meetings and with my friends. They know all my secrets, fears, and failures, and still turn toward me, because “they’ve been there, done that, and have the same tee-shirt.” When I share the things I’ve done, and the feelings which threaten to flood me, they understand. And, as I listen to their similar stories, I don’t feel isolated anymore. They did (and some still do) the same crazy things that I thought only I had done. My seemingly insane inner world doesn’t seem so weird and outrageous. I’m not as “different” as I thought. I’m not alone. I’m able to share utterly humiliating thoughts and events and experience connection with others as they laugh — not at me, but with me — because they’ve done or thought the same shit. Through sharing my shame, I invite others into my life, shining a light into the darkest recesses of my soul. As I face my fear, becoming vulnerable and honest, the power of shame breaks. As I acknowledge powerlessness and unmanageability, my loneliness flees. Such sharing must be what St. Paul had in mind when he encouraged the early church to “share one another’s burdens,” or what St. James was saying when he urged his readers to confess their sins to each other.
I needed the church to be a place of brokenness, instead of doctrinal agreement. It frustrates me that the Church organizes itself around the commonality of practice and doctrine rather than in unity at the foot of the cross in impotent brokenness. Organizing around doctrine and practice seems so foreign to me now. That ecclesiology made it too easy for me to hide my sin and pretend that everything was OK. I always “looked good” in church,” while knowing life wasn’t OK; and the weight of the seemingly necessary inauthenticity further distanced me from God and His people. The systemic dishonesty seemed especially cruel. It required me to lie. The more I lied the harder it was to trust God. I was left with nowhere to be real. I measured my insides by what I saw on the outsides of others. I was never free to acknowledge what was going on behind the facade I so easily erected and held in place. I was paid to be good — or at least not to be bad — and knew that I didn’t measure up, and so lied to keep my job.
I ignored the breadth of my self-absorption. I did not believe that I was worthy of God’s love because my experience of Him was so much less exhilarating than others’ testimonies of their interactions with Him. It didn’t take long for God to become distant and unreachable. At best he seemed to be a liar — his promises didn’t seem to be true. At worst he appeared to be a tyrant — that is if He existed at all. I ended up a non-practicing Trinitarian, scared and unable to feel the anger that flowed from such dishonesty.
I had to dismantle my religious past and the church system that made me a liar in order to find God. The god of my past was the god of the “religiously holy” rather than the God of the harassed and helpless. I knew I wasn’t holy; not only because my sexual forays were out of control but because shame eliminated any possibility of real relationships and I was alone in the midst of a sea of people. My job ended up being nothing more than that. I was weary all the time. Many of my friends burned or flamed out. The lie had to stop. God had to end it. He did, But not in the way I expected.
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