Usually I love writing. I have a hard time sifting through my thoughts while they're in my head, so writing helps me think. Most of my posts have simply been a stream of consciousness on whatever I need to think through. But this post is a little different. This particular post was put to me as a challenge to write from a new friend. She encouraged me to write what is really close to my heart because being vulnerable shouldn't be something that is hard. I like to think that I am being real, but I am well aware that most of it is a mirage of what is completely true. It looks real and it is based on truth, but its just close enough so I'm not asked to be more honest. But this particular friend saw through my facade and called me on it. This is the hardest post I have written.
Growing up in the church I would read the bible and learned the rules. I know, Christianity is not just a list of things you can and can’t do. Blah blah blah. Young Tara didn’t recognize them as rules, more like guidelines that I should absolutely follow or people wouldn’t like me.
I was desperate for people to like me. If they didn’t like me, my ministry wouldn’t be effective.
Obviously my thinking was warped, but let me walk you down the aisle of my misconstrued ideas of religion.
I worked really hard to be a good Christian. I would read my bible consistently and would even show up on Wednesday and Sunday nights with a list of questions for my Youth Minister from my studies. When I was in High School and all of my friends started dating and going to parties and drinking and doing whatever else public high schoolers do, I didn’t. They all went out and had fun but I stayed home and read books. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to go, but I lived by the rules.
The rules said
- Don’t drink
- Don’t have boyfriends
- Don’t smoke
- Don’t flirt
- Don’t show skin
- Don’t draw attention
- Always be pleasant
- Don’t argue
- Don’t make waves
- Don’t overstep a man
- Don’t explore
- Be quiet
- Be nice
- Never adjust your outfit in public
- Never get angry
- Act like a lady
- Don’t speak badly about anyone
The list goes on and on. And I created these rules because the list of rules that were in the bible were not enough for me to be perfect. And I had to be perfect. Because if I could be perfect, then I would be accepted.
With this completely warped mindset, I grew up in the church. But the thing about the church is on the outside I looked like I had it all together. No one even questioned it. The sentence was rolled around of “Tara’s got it. We can help someone else because she’s gonna be okay.” And I was. I wasn’t into drugs or dating or anything at all. The rules didn’t allow for much excitement.
I remember reading the bible when Jesus was telling stories like in Luke 15:4 saying:
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
I would get so offended. I would become overwhelmingly frustrated and angry with the Shepherd for leaving the 99 sheep that stood with him. In my own twisted head I would become so frustrated with the dumb sheep that left. The sheep that couldn’t follow the rules. Because that meant that the shepherd would leave the 99. He would leave me.
It would break my heart. I felt like the son who stayed with the Father and was there the whole time, but the father only looked for the other son. And it was maddening.
Because in all of my reading Jesus sought after people. He sought after the rejected, the down casted, the left out, the stepped on.
And what was really hard about reading the bible before was I never felt like those characters. I felt more like the group of people Jesus hated. I identified with the Pharisees. And I told no one. Because everyone is against the Pharisees.
Now in the 400 years between the Old Testament and the New Testament, (according to most commentators) God was silent. Nothing was recorded because he didn’t talk through anyone. There were no Prophets, and so a group of people came up in that time to help. The Pharisees came around to make sure that God’s Levitical law was followed. They weren’t bad people, they just did what they thought was right. To make sure that they were always in God’s favor, they made rules to abide by. They followed those rules and stayed away from Sin.
From my perspective and what I would take as a historical perspective, the Pharisees stepped in for God’s chosen people so that they wouldn’t fall away again. They loved the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) and memorized it. They were in the synagogue daily praising and sacrificing to God. They did everything right.
Are you seeing where I am coming from? This mindset that I had.
The Pharisees were waiting for Jesus to come on the scene. Their Messiah, the one they had heard about and studied about and prayed for. And when he came he hated them.
And I had a hard time reading the Bible because my heart broke for them. They were trying so hard, they did everything they could but Jesus couldn’t accept them. And I was so terrified that it meant the same for me.
There was no way that God could accept me. I wasn’t right. I had missed it all. I had tried so hard but I knew it wouldn’t matter. Because staying didn’t seem like way to get Jesus to love you. Perfection didn’t guarantee anything because Jesus doesn’t stay with the flock.
I would be left.
I would be alone.
I would be able to make it, so I was left.
I love Jesus, I didn’t want him to leave me. Everything I did my whole life was to get closer to him and I knew that he would see me like he saw the Pharisees. He would see me as the Church saw me. He would see the perfected shell of a person who wanted to be loved but knew she wasn’t good enough.
In the Old Testament the Jews (or Hebrews) were told to be exclusive. Don’t hang out with sinners. The morally corrupt, the unclean. And I would read the New Testament thinking how confusing it must be for these people who studied the bible intricately then to watch Jesus go to the lepers.
I could never talk about it though. In fact, this may be the first time I am actually sharing any of this outside of 1 conversation with a friend (whom I’ve mentioned in the beginning). Because its shameful to say “I totally get the Pharisees. Everything they did kinda really makes sense to me.”
I was terrified to admit it. Because if I did, surely God would turn away from me. The last thing I wanted was to be left alone.
Every once in a while I would think about running away from God. Not because I didn’t want to be around him, but because I desperately wanted to be with him. I had heard the testimonies of so many people who were so far from God and he completely pursued them. They had no question of God’s love because God loves broken people.
So I would think about different ways to break myself so God would have to come to me. I would finally be the one sheep that was worth seeking after instead of the 99 he left.
When I am telling you my mind was warped, I mean it was jacked up. I would fantasize about the kind of sin I would get into so God would have to save me. Then he would love me.
Im just realizing as I am writing this the lies that I had believed this whole time.
The lie that God didn’t love me.
The lie that God didn’t pursue me.
The lie that God hadn’t saved me.
The lie that God was leaving me alone.
But let me tell you about God’s Grace.
In college there was a man who gave a sermon and posed the question:
“Do you need God?”
And that question hit me right between the eyes. This whole time, my whole life, I had acted as if I didn’t need God. I had rules upon rules and I was making it. I had a plan and I was following it. It was my plan and it was to further the kingdom of God, but God was not allowed in it. Because if he was too close then when he left me (which he would because I was a Pharisee) then it would kill me.
That sentence changed everything. I prayed and cried and emptied my soul on the chapel floor. I asked God to show me things through his eyes and I saw my own pitiful story. The story of the scared girl who hid behind her rules and pretended to live.
God took that scared little girl and opened up her heart. And it got broken. And it was beautiful. Through the broken pieces that she had held onto for so long, God created something different.
And God is still creating me. He is pursuing me and I know that in the best thing I do or the worst thing I do, God will still choose me.
God chose me.
He called me.
God picked me out and decided on me.
He does not leave what he has chosen.
So when the lies of Satan come against me saying that because of my story God will leave me, I can show him when God saved me. When God chose me. And when God used me.