As a kid, I always admired (perhaps envied) the kids who pushed the envelope. I’m not talking about the ones who were disrespectful or rude, but the ones who stood up for what they wanted/believed at an early age. I had a hard time doing this.
I was scared of adults. I didn’t want to make a mistake or be a disappointment. I had a paralyzing fear inside of me that, many times, kept me from doing or saying things that I wanted to do or say.
People noticed this fear. I communicated it well with my body language. One day I was calling my mom from a mall payphone (yes, that’s how long ago it was!) and another teenager saw me. He came and took my hat from me in front of everyone. I couldn’t stand up for myself.
A friend from school saw me visibly upset. He asked what was wrong and I wouldn’t tell him. Thankfully, he insisted that I tell him and I told him what had happened. He walked with me around the mall and found the three teenagers who had walked up to me and intimidated me enough to take my hat. Him, by himself, looked at them and said, “Where’s the hat?” His fists started to close. Their eyes started to get bigger. My frown started changing to a smile. I thought, “He’s about to kick their ass!”
They acted like they didn’t know, so my friend said, “I’m going to ask you one last time, where’s the hat?” They said, it’s over here. Then, they took us to the bathroom where they had thrown it in the trash.
Unfortunately, even after my friend stood up for me, I still carried a massive weight of fear and anxiety. The behavioral expectations of what it meant to be a Christian were deeply seared into my mind; I couldn’t get away from them. If I did, that would be devastating in so many ways so I did what I could to stay true to the way I was taught to believe/live.
At the age of 18, when I talked to my dad about my desire to be in pastoral ministry. He and the local faith community we were a part of gladly supported me. I will always cherish what they did for me. My desire, even though I didn’t have a clue about what it looked like, was for students to not have to go through the emotional/mental hell I went through during my younger years.
Honestly, I’m not blaming anyone. It happens to some degree to all of us. My point is that there are many who struggle with fear and anxiety because of the spiritual environment they’re in and they don’t even realize it (like I didn’t) because it’s all they’ve ever known. In their mind, “that’s how it should be.”
One of the best things that my teaching career has done for me is to give me the opportunity to “relive” my school years and heal. I’ve had a front row seat to the lives of students who have faced life’s challenges with courage, strength, and resilience – and not all of them were Christians. Having worked in middle schools for 7 years and high school now for 4 and counting, I’ve been able to see just how distorted my view of life was because of my lack of emotional health.
Now, having finished seminary and desiring to pastor a community that has a relentless love for one another (not hung up on theological debates/differences), a community that cares about each other (will serve regardless of political affiliations, sexuality), and allows space for people to be completely honest about their struggles, I have less fear and anxiety than I ever have. I’ve learned so much about emotional health and balance. There is so much more that I need to learn, but I thank God for how far I’ve come.
As I look at the life of Jesus, I think he wants us to live a life that’s free of fear. I believe he’s calling us to a courageous Christianity that invites everyone into his kingdom through normal activities we participate in. At one time, I wanted to be the best evangelist in the world who could wow the crowd and have hundreds coming to the altar. I’m laying it down. I think there are others who, if they’re honest, would say I’m laying it down too.
Friend, leave that fear-based theology behind and embrace Jesus who calls us to be courageous. He calls us to meet with, be friends with, love and support those who, many professing Christians, would have nothing to do with. In the end, when we leave this earth, trying to please people who believe otherwise won’t matter at all. What will matter is if you lived to be the person that you have been created to be.