As we were playing games on Thanksgiving my daughter said something that struck such a chord in my heart and I can’t quit thinking about it. She simply said with a note of sarcasm, “…and that’s when you became a Christian and didn’t do anything wrong anymore.” We had been discussing the alcohol I was drinking and her surprise that I would drink something with whiskey in it. It was my only drink of the evening and I was enjoying it as we sat there. She knew that I didn’t drink in high school or college because I was a passionate Christian.
As my daughter’s words continue to make their presence known in my head, I find that it is with a fair amount of mourning that I process them. Her words reflect the truth of what I thought as a teen and then as a mother in my twenties. I honestly thought that making a one time transaction with God by “accepting Christ into my heart” gave me the power not to do wrong things anymore and therefore, I was set on a new course that meant that all of my future life was about becoming a morally perfect person, and as a mother that meant raising morally perfect children. Not only did the requirements of moral perfection become burdensome to my children, they soon broke my life up in pieces and it was in my brokenness that faith beyond rules and regulations was born in my heart. It is with sadness that I grasp that my children saw me then and may see me now as that anxious rule keeper instead of their mother who has experienced a very deep and loving relationship with God as an apprentice to Jesus.
As I look back on those years I see that I had always talked about the grace of God as sufficient for me when I screwed up but rather than relaxing in that grace and full acceptance, I anxiously lived my life as though I’d only be given a certain number of free passes with sin and then God would cut me off the vine or kick me out of the family. I adopted this worldview because it was the way Christianity was lived out in my midst day after day. I witnessed the stumbling and falling of others and my faith community’s response to those moral failures multiple times and it honestly frightened me to the core. Rather than being a place of reality where we all share in our humanity as well as our spirituality, where forgiveness is freely given and love is the driving force behind that forgiveness, I witnessed something very different. Dear friends were publicly shamed, hurt even more and eventually cast out of the community. It was overwhelmingly painful and the reality is that my kids saw and experienced it all as well and the end result is that Christianity and church has been crushed in the crux of their real lives.
I remain a Christian today because I love the person of Jesus I see in the gospels. I don’t always see Paul’s writings measure up to the real actions of Jesus so that has made me question many things about my belief that the Bible was inerrant and literal from cover to cover. I no longer believe that it is. I’m a Christian because I continue to believe that grace bears up under the greatest of suffering and that from its bearing, deep truths from the heart of God are born in my life and in the world. I love my children and respect their pain even if I cannot take it away. I have turned my course as their mother and continue to hope they have lives full of purpose and meaning. And, yes, I drink whiskey and sprite on occasion.