to the anxious christian.

Maybe you’re like me. I don’t know what it’s like to live as a Christian without anxiety, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like on the other side, but I get the sense that some people need reminding of their sin, in the church. It’s why we do corporate (or personal, depending on your brand) confession, it’s why there are certain kinds of sermons. People, in general, need to remember they need Jesus. You and I, we don’t have that problem. We see almost every sin, real and imagined, played out in technicolor every one of our days. We sit in despair and under condemnation. No, we don’t need to be reminded of our sin. We need to remember something else.

I had a friend who went up at multiple altar calls to “pray the prayer”. (I’m going to use the singular “they” here for extra anonymity.) In between altar calls they spent years desperately afraid that they were going to hell. When I heard their story years later my heart both broke for the terrified child they were and seethed in anger against a church system that did nothing to help them. They’re no longer attending church, unsurprisingly after years of emotional turmoil like that.

My church has this saying, the sin behind the sin. Maybe it’s a Presbyterian thing, I don’t know. I think it might be helpful for people who are always rationalizing that they’re okay, better than so-and-so, and can’t feel their need for Jesus because of it. Jesus himself invented the sin behind the sin, when he talked about the lust of the heart being the same as actual adultery. My problem is that my entire life, I’ve lived as though I had actually committed every single sin behind the sin. I writhed in internal agony, with every word uttered in anger toward my children, because of the abusive parent I clearly was (I once even sobbed through a worship service I was singing in because I couldn’t forget how horrible I’d been to my oldest a few days earlier). Every flaw was evidence of the deep depravity, and the weight of the sin behind the sin was drowning me.

Those of us who are anxious Christians, who have overly sensitive consciences, we don’t need to think about the sin behind the sin. We don’t need help sitting with our sin, we do that all day every day, don’t we? And there’s something that feels good about wallowing in mental self-immolation, isn’t there? It’s all we’ve ever known, so it’s comforting, in a way. That neural pathway is well worn. We see a flaw or a failure, or an outright sin against another person, and away we go. And it feels somehow spiritual, maybe because of the influence of the church cultures we’re in.

But there is now no condemnation. Hear that? Your sensitive conscience may be the result of a different kind of wiring which you can’t necessarily change, but it does not have the final word in your life. He does. And hear me, any conviction that the Spirit brings is not to send you into the depths of despair. It’s not to show you how horrible you are. It’s to bring you to freedom! It’s to make you better! It’s because you’re his kid and it’s because it is possible to change, regardless of what your sensitivity to sin may tell you. Bit by bit, over your lifetime, my dear anxious Christian, you are being made into an image of Christ by the work of the Spirit. Sometimes your conscience will help you in this work of the Spirit and sometimes it will hinder you. I think for the other half, maybe their conscience hinders them by being too hard, so they miss that abundant life. Like I said, I don’t really know and can’t even imagine. For us, though, our conscience hinders us by being too soft, and keeping us in a cycle of despair so we miss that abundant life, too. So look up!

For me this means, when I find myself beating myself up again, I will shut that unprofitable garbage down. Last night I found myself chanting “Stupid stupid stupid” in my head at work for such a silly mistake, putting an olive scoop somewhere and getting oil on that surface. I mean, really, the neural pathways are wellllll worn in this brain. When I heard myself saying it, I stopped. I didn’t even spend any time working out why it was okay or not okay, because trust me, that is just a recipe for more rumination which is a sure-fire way to spend a lot more time in anxiety. There is a time for you to strategically address the areas in your life where you need growth, but it’s not when you’re in your head going over and over it. Set it aside, and pick it up later, preferably when you can talk about it with somebody who understands you and your anxiety, and can be matter of fact about it and not add more weight.

Look, in the end, you’re going to have to talk to yourself while you’re at church. You need to understand how you work, and you need to be able to know what’s going to trigger you, so you will be prepared to talk yourself through it. Church is hard for lots of people for lots of reasons, and it can be extra hard for those of us who are extra sensitive. But you don’t have to leave, and you don’t have to let your brain make the messages into something they’re not.

The bottom line is, we all need Jesus, and he brought us back into his family. And he is doing his good work in us, sensitive or callous conscience and all. Don’t be afraid.

it takes time.

It takes time.

It takes time to slow your heart racing.
To learn how to breathe again, in and out.

It takes time to unlearn your triggers.
To recognize those times of the day creeping up on you, elevating your panic without you even realizing it.

It takes time to stop being afraid of church.
To be able to sing the songs without becoming angry.
To sit in the pews without having to wrap your arms around yourself, holding yourself tightly so you don’t end up in tiny little pieces all over the sanctuary.

It takes time to make friends.

It takes time to get better at sex.

It takes time to get in shape.

It takes time to learn how to take care of your home.

It takes time to learn how to communicate.
To not run away from the hard conversations.
To not ignore the signs because it’s scary.
To share your feelings without attacking the other person.

It takes time to heal.

It takes time to trust people again.

It takes time to learn not to let anxiety drive your life anymore.

It takes time.

It scares me sometimes, looking ahead at the days and days of getting better that remain in my future.

But then I remember, it takes time.
And while I’m alive, I have time.

This is not the end.

5 biblical reasons I became an egalitarian

Around the beginning of the summer, I suddenly found myself putting a theological name to a lot of the issues I’ve had with church, both in the past few years and historically. The personal interactions I’ve had that felt off suddenly made a lot more sense. I found myself reading post after post, sometimes with tears streaming down my face, written by men and women who interpret the Bible differently than the churches I’ve attended. And these were not people who just wanted to believe something and did so at the expense of the Bible–these different beliefs were concluded after rigorous study of the same beloved and respected text. The weight lifted off my shoulders was immense, but the fear that followed was almost tangible. What does this mean for me now? How do I process my past in light of this? Where do I fit?

I don’t really know the answers to those questions, but I’m sure I’ll share more of the process here. I do want to share a couple of reasons why I would now likely classify myself as an egalitarian. This might not be your cup of tea. You might not think it is very important to hash this out, that functionally everything is working just fine in your marriage and in your church. If it’s not your thing, you don’t need to read, but I encourage you to. There are lots of us sitting in the pews, men and women, who feel the weight and confusion of the teachings on gender, who are inwardly crying out for relief. At the very least, even if you don’t have the same sense of urgency, knowing that there are different ways of respectfully interpreting this sacred text may help you be more empathetic to people struggling.

So here are five scriptural reasons I’m an egalitarian:

  1. I believe that God made men and women as equals, to rule over creation and care for it together, with no hierarchy between them. See Genesis 1:26-28.

    Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

        So God created human beings in his own image.
        In the image of God he created them;
        male and female he created them.

    Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

    The only authority mentioned is that which humanity is given over creation. The loving and caring leadership and rule which is often described as God’s plan for men and women I only see given by God to humanity over the earth. I simply don’t see any evidence of God giving authority to man over woman before the fall. If it were as big a deal as complementarians make it, I think it would have been a clearly stated call given to the man, just like the one God gave to men and women regarding their role in the world. Instead, I see man and woman called to work together to sustain God’s good creation, while walking with him.

  2. I believe patriarchy is a product of the fall, not God’s design. Genesis 3:16 outlines this consequence of the fall very sparsely:

    You will desire to control your husband, and he will rule over you.

    Where once we worked together in harmony, obeying God and in relationship with him, we now have power struggles between men and women and are out of relationship with God. Jesus came to break the curse, and we can fight it, too. The complementarian explanation of the curse takes for granted that complementary roles in a hierarchical marriage are God’s design, which he gave us before the fall and are now skewed. I even see that taken for granted in my ESV commentary which states that woman will try to dominate her husband, and her husband will “abandon his God-given, pre-fall role of leading, guarding, and caring for his wife, replacing this with his own sinful, distorted desire to “rule” over Eve.” As I outlined above, I don’t agree with that interpretation.

    Jesus reversed the curse, freeing us from the rule of sin and death and serpent, inviting us back into God’s family. As such, we are freed from the power struggle of patriarchy. Any call to hearken back to some archaic form of dominion in gender roles is perverse and fear-based, and only breeds death and dysfunction, I believe.

  3. I believe that new testament verses forbidding women’s involvement in leadership roles have been applied in broader contexts than they were written to address.

    Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.

    For example, that doozy in 1 Timothy 2. Basically every church I’ve ever gone to accepts that this means that women can’t be pastors, or elders. They find ways of still involving women, but the leadership of the church is left to the men.

    In my researching I’ve found so much written about this 1 Timothy example, but there’s a really concise post that is helpful on the Junia Project blog you can read here. The gist is that these particular women were dominating the men, using their leadership to spread false doctrine that was common in Ephesus in the ritual worship of other gods. Basically, these women were not trained in the teaching of the gospel and were spreading lies, some of which condoned actual ritual violence against men, so Paul was like, sit down for a sec.

    More on the ways our translations have changed to subjugate women can be found here. It’s really disconcerting, because like I mentioned before with my tongue-in-cheek “sit down a sec”, Paul may actually have said something more along the lines of “I am not permitting women to teach men…let them listen quietly” due to the context outlined earlier, but now almost every translation reads “I do not permit women to teach or have authority over men…let them listen quietly”. Paul wanted these particular women to learn more before they taught, so that they led people in the right way, but now many churches believe that all women everywhere should be taught by men.

    This makes a huge difference–all the difference in the world.

  4. I believe that the verses about headship in marriage do not mean what we’ve been taught they mean.

    For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

    Once again, context, interpretation, culture, etc. have all played a role in how we have applied these verses. But I’ll just say that any verse about a wife submitting to a husband is always found in the larger context of people submitting to one another, and the verses about husbands leading wives were wildly counter-cultural given the oppressive patriarchy of the times.

    One leads in her areas of strength, the other in his. We submit to one each other. We obey God.

  5. Jesus used women to be the first to tell the news (preach?) about his resurrection. I know this in itself is not a reason to move from the complementarian camp to the egalitarian one, but I cannot stress enough how beautiful this fact is to me.

    There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    In Jesus, all of the barriers between us, all of the power structures and the abuse and use of the other for our own gain, they’re all thrown out. Looking back on history, we would to our shame say that we should not have fought against slavery because there were verses about slaves obeying their masters. There has always been a way for the Christ follower to live out the faith even under extreme oppression, that’s the far reach of the good news! And how beautiful that our Scriptures speak to that truth. But it should never mean that we don’t seek to see the kingdom of God restored in every facet of life, and I strongly believe that includes the way that we relate to each other as men and women.

So there you have it: five of the scriptural reasons I would now classify myself as an egalitarian. I’m still stuck on the “what now” question, because I do not yet know what this means for me practically. I don’t quite know how to live out this truth in the church context where I find myself, but I take comfort in the verse in Philippians that talks about working out our salvation with fear and trembling. It might be best, from one perspective, to attend a church that fully espouses these truths, just like it might have been best, from the Philippians’ perspective, for Paul to always be with them. But even while I’m figuring all this out, there is still much work I can do in the absence of some perfect scenario in which I am fully affirmed by all outside sources. And honestly, egalitarian or not, I will not ever be fully affirmed by all people, nor does the lack of affirmation change anything at the truest level of my identity:

I am a daughter of God, fully equipped and fully called, able to enter into all levels of the Christian life. There is nothing he withholds from me.

reset.

Some days are harder than others. Some days I feel like I am connecting with my kids and guiding them well(ish) and like things are getting better. And then some days, like today, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve yelled, I feel completely isolated and yet always harrassed, and I would give anything for a week long vacation, even just at my house, with no. kids.

On some days like today, I’m better at recognizing what’s going on and can remember more quickly to engage rather than avoid. Sometimes I can correct our course in a way that feels good and almost seamless. Other days, like today, I cry from wanting a reset button, for our entire life. Can we just start over, with a clean slate and no baggage?

That’d be a big fat nope.

So a little while ago I tried to move this fight-fest outside and build a fort in the backyard. It didn’t really work. But then I remembered how tough yesterday was for me, for trigger-y reasons I won’t go into. So now we’re working with my limitations a little better and eating french fries and ice cream while watching Trolls (I don’t know, somehow filling my kids with junk food felt like a better alternative to crushing their spirits with my screeching). But instead of hiding in another room like I did this morning while the tv was on, I’m sitting on the couch, reading my book, being available.

I always want forming new relational habits to be as easy as recognizing what you don’t want to do anymore and then just not doing it and it paying off so we’re all happy and healthy and connected.  But again, big fat nope. Instead, it looks a lot like making the same mistakes, just a little less and a little less, with the turnaround time hopefully becoming a little better each time.

Ugh. Growth.

cognitive dissonance and complementarianism

Cognitive Dissonance: psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously, according to Merriam Webster

When I was in college, I consciously let my relationship with God slide for one reason. Okay, there were multiple reasons, but most of the other ones were subconsciously processed–like the fact that I needed space after leaving the church I grew up in, or the fact that I didn’t know how introverted I was and didn’t know how to carve out alone time without a protected, private space to be alone to read, write and play my guitar (which is how I pray). Those reasons factored in, but the conscious driving force behind loosening my grip on my own faith was that I was meeting all of these guys, most of whom I loved deeply and respected for who they were in all their quirks, but none of whom would be able to lead me in the way that I had been taught a man should lead his wife and family. So what’s a girl to do? I shouldn’t know more than somebody who was supposed to lead me, so maybe I could make it so we’d be on the same level.

My own very conservative mother cautioned me over the years against this narrow view of leadership, a fact which, in a time of lists of character qualities for future husbands to measure up to, astounds me. To greatly condense what she said, if I found a good man who loved Jesus and who I liked as a person it would all be okay, and that nobody starts out in marriage the way they grow up to be. Wise words, which I took to heart. I married a good, good man, one of the best I’ve ever met, whom I love deeply and respect greatly, and it really has ended up okay. We have grown so much together, and this year promises to bring even more growth as I come out of my long-time fog.

But nonetheless, the cognitive dissonance I felt over my reality versus my theology led me to take extreme measures to cope, as it has tended to over the course of my life. This changing of myself at my core in regards to my womanhood and my faith did not start in college, although that was the first major and conscious moment of confrontation, and it didn’t end there either. I’ve spent years speaking with a smile, not speaking at all, agonizing over my clothing, laughing and giggling to appear less threatening or assertive. I’ve let a voracious love of scripture and the subsequent knowledge gained which I let flourish in high school (thanks to the loving guidance of youth group leaders on both sides of the complementarian/egalitarian debate) lie dormant. I’ve lost who I was meant to be. Not entirely–because this is not the end–but much has been lost.

I’ve thought a lot over these last months about how anxiety, or at least the sensitivity that comes with it, can be a gift to the world as much as it can be a curse to the one who bears it. When things are wrong, when others might be able to rationalize it away, I can’t. I’ve made myself ill trying. The world needs people who can’t rationalize it away, who can see the source of the cognitive dissonance and say, I don’t think this is right.

So this is me, tentatively and fearfully saying: I don’t think this is right. I think we have gotten it so very wrong in the church when it comes to women, and I am trying to regain what I lost. Lots of smart people who love Jesus have come up with rationalizations for complementarian theology and come up with explanations as to how it doesn’t make women less-than. Obviously, from my history, I can’t rationalize it, and based on the research I’m doing into folks who rigorously study scripture, it is one source of psychological distress I can throw away. There will be cognitive dissonance enough for me to deal with as a person with anxiety living in a broken world, that’s unavoidable. I simply intend, going forward, to let go of that which can faithfully be discarded.