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In which I know, I’m sorry, and I hope I was kind

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I was a tongue-talking eight-year-old in a new church that was meeting at an old leisure centre. I guarded my confession – I’m coming down with a healing!, and I believed in thirty, sixty, hundred fold returns, calculated to figure out how much God owed me for my tithe. I secretly wondered what was missing in the lives of people who were sick or depressed or broke: obviously, they were not blessed. By the time I was a teenager at the Jesus camps, pledging my life to being a warrior in God’s culture army, I had memorized Bible verses as answers, and developed a pretty major evangelical hero complex along with my superiority and false sense of control.

I was nineteen and full of disdain for my old ways. I broke with the faith of my youth, railed against over-realized eschatology, studied theology and waxed philosophic about all the ways they were doing it wrong. I judged the Christians of my youth and my context, and I found them wanting, clearly I had a better theology now. I was stumbling into the fringes of an emerging movement in the church. Finally I found my tribe. And less than ten years later, I had abandoned the label, poked holes in the arguments I used to make, found the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies. I judged the people who helped usher me into this new season of my life in Christ, and I found them wanting so I held them up in my mind or in public for mockery and slander. I disguised my critical heart with a lot of talk about critical thinking. I found the points of weakness and drove a chisel into it, let’s watch it splinter together.

These are just two seasons of my life:  I also had my anti-instutitional church season, my I’m-not-a-Christian-season, my agnostic season, my angry feminist season, my new-wanna-be-theologian season, my screw-it-let’s-knit-things-season, my I’m-a-new-mother-and-I-know-everything-now season. I have had seasons for my marriage, for my work, for my processing, for my mothering, for my relationships, for my writing, and so of course, I’ve had them for my journey with Christ. I imagine I’ll have a dozen more, I’ll look back on the me-right-now with wiser eyes someday, I’m under no illusions.

Now I feel tender-hearted when I look back at my own self in those seasons. And I feel tender-hearted towards all the people who were there with me, all of us doing the best we could do with what we had.

I’m redeeming it. I am reclaiming.

In God, we live and move and have our being, and God was in and amongst the movements because he was moving in the people there, and now I see outside and in and among, and above all, for us, for us all.

I will gather up all these disparate seasons and thoughts and opinions and experiences, and hold them all in my hands with gratitude.

I’m able to find something good in the over-the-top excessive prosperity preachers and the smug theologians and the pot-stirring elitists and the overly passionate kids in the stadium light shows and the evangelistic new mothers and the disillusioned bitter cynics, because I’m all of those things, too. Someday I’ll add the woman I am now, the theology I practice, the words I write so earnestly to that list.

In addition now to the wrongs or the missteps or the weirdness, I see the beauty of my young first generation faith: a love for the Scriptures, a deep and profound sense of God’s inherent goodness, a respect and love for language and words, a passion for worship and full engagement. I see the beauty of the other seasons, too: the respect for education, the widening of horizons, the gift of anger, the awakening to complexity, and a tribe of sinners-saved-by-grace reminiscent of a messy first-century Church, I see grace. I look back on the people, on the movements, on the seasons, and I want to curl up beside all of us, listen, love, and be kind. I want to reach out and hold hands.

There’s room for all of us. There’s room for all of me.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting soft, literally and figuratively. Maybe it’s because I see this cycle of seasons in our own lives and in the Church, and I see it happening again.

Maybe it’s because I’m gratefully disillusioned about church leadership. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty convinced that we’re all doing the best we can do, most of the time. Maybe it’s because I don’t think anyone has the corner on truth. Maybe it’s because I’m thankful for the extremes and all points in between, because they keep us growing, keep us alive, keep us reforming. Maybe it’s because I’ve been wrong so often. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit tired.

And maybe I want a little more kindness.

Maybe it’s because I imagine, someday, likely today, the Church will look at me, with disdain on their faces and parody Twitter accounts and coffeeshops and doctoral dissertations on all the ways I did it wrong, and all I’ll know how to say is that I know, and I’m sorry, I hope I learned to be kind.

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church, emerging church, faith
  • Carolyn Arends

    All of me thanks all of you for this, and whispers a bittersweet “Amen.”

    • http://twitter.com/LoveLifeLitGod Karen Swallow Prior

      Agreed! Amen and amen!

  • Morag Renfro

    I love that God doesn’t waste anything. I can look back and see so many different seasons too – and everything seems back to front. I was such a mature child and now that I am an adult I feel like such a baby. I knew I was a Christian but ‘born again’ were just words until two years ago when God was gracious enough to open my eyes a little wider. I loved your rainbow list of seasons (made me laugh). Watching children grow is a poignant reminder of how time passes and things change without us having any control.

  • hopejem

    Raw truth is beautiful and it is so very kind. Just like you.

  • theblahblahblahger

    I like seeing conversations expand into beautiful posts…thanks for being my friend, but also my teacher. I’ve learned a lot from your journey…the most important thing being to never stop seeking and growing – the rest will just work itself out. XO

  • http://www.tanyamarlow.com/ Tanya Marlow

    Sometimes there are posts which stir me to think, or stir me to action, or help me feel like I am not alone. And I need all those posts and am profoundly grateful for them.

    Then there are posts like this, which just make me reach out to Jesus, make me want to grow up as a Christian, continue to pursue wisdom.

    I am smack dab in the middle of a season, and not sure if I am unable to look out over the top of it, or whether I am just unwilling to.

    I think your words just gave me a sneak preview of the view, though.

    I needed this perspective – all of it. I’m not explaining this well – so I shall just say THANK YOU.

    • Shauna Viele

      My sentiments exactly. You have explained it QUITE well.

  • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

    Sarah, your words always bring healing. Thank you.

  • http://dramaticelegance.blogspot.com/ rachel lee

    this is so…oh, sarah. oh sarah, you spoke to a part of me that was tucked away in the secret places. and you reached in and stroked its cheek gently and said, “it’s okay to look back.”

    <3 i have missed your place, sweet one.

  • forgedimagination

    I’m trying to keep my perspective as I go through a lot of these phases what feels like simultaneously. I want to recognize that where I am right now is fluid, and will change, that I will always be forming my ideas, not cementing them.

  • http://somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    this is perfection, sarah. xo

  • http://forthisisthetime.com/ Esther Aspling

    I wonder how many make a journey through it all without looking back and wishing they had been more kind.

    http://forthisisthetime.com/

  • Abbie Kampman

    I love, love, love this woman. I wonder which season you were in when I met you? Because I liked that one, just as I like this one and all those in between. Because you are human, as am I, and you don’t pretend to be anything but. Because we all wish we were a little less of something and a bit more of another. Because you FEEL. Big fat virtual hug…because I wish I could give you a real one.

    Much love to you, my kindred.

  • Dr. Kim Eckert

    “There’s room for all of us.There’s room for all of me.” Words of grace and healing that so many need to hear. That I need to hear. Thank you.

  • Anna Gravier

    You bring tears to my eyes. Thank you for showing me to how to have grace for my past self and those who I still associate with other seasons of my life.

  • http://www.lovewellblog.com/ Kelly @ Love Well

    This is a lesson from the gray-haired ones, the ones who’ve grown in wisdom and truth and let grace bind it all together.

    I love seeing life through your eyes, friend.

  • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

    Oh I love this.

    “I will gather up all these disparate seasons and thoughts and opinions and experiences, and hold them all in my hands with gratitude.” – Yes.

    Also, “my screw-it-let’s-knit-things-season” – LOL!

    • http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk/ James Prescott

      I loved the first quote too. Poetic, profound and wise. And the second, just hilarious! :-)

    • Kimberly Roth

      I’m pretty sure I’m teetering above that there knitting season thing…

  • http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk/ James Prescott

    This is amazing. So many of those seasons you speak of sound familiar to me…and your honesty and humility in admitting that one day you will look back on the you of today in the same way is truly humbling and challenging. So often we think the person we are now has all the answers, and the past version of us from a different season was foolish.

    As you rightly point out, we will always be looking at our past selves with a wry smile, a sense of irony, and with the benefit of experience. And as we see others going through the same stages we have been through, instead of judgement, or trying to force them to change or move to be like us, we can and should instead show grace.

    Wonderful post.

  • http://www.gritandglory.com/ Alece Ronzino

    This is me. And this is why my heart loves yours so much.

  • http://www.waterfromthewells.com/ Caroline Greene

    Beautiful post, Sarah. This really resonates with me. I spent so much of my life trying to manage all of the different selves I had created and simultaneously to keep them apart, like some messy family reunion where everyone loves one another but no one gets along. I love the image of gathering them up and hold them altogether with gratitude.

  • ChristieEsau

    Ordinary things with extraordinary love, am I right? I think that kindness you’re talking about is what extraordinary love looks like for real. Off paper and whatnot.

    I fear over-using the word, but I realize I almost exclusively use it for your writing: Preach sister.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/ Jim Fisher

    “I want to reach out and hold hands.”

    … and, in a way, we are doing just that. There IS room for all of us. There IS room for all of you, and even all the broken, shattered, often-wrong, imperfect, inconsistent, forgetful, unfocused … me. Thank you (again!), dear Sarah. Great words forged from the flames within a wondrously fascinating vessel of the Spirit!

  • http://weakestreed.wordpress.com/ Rachel G.

    What a great articulation of the truth that when we have more grace for ourselves, we can also have more grace for others! The less we have to prove, the more we seem to love. :)

  • Angie Neal

    Yes.

  • Cristy Zinn

    Wow. This spoke to me massively. Thank you. I so love the way you write. Can’t wait to read your book.

  • Emily Richardson

    Your writing is a gift to me, Sarah. Thankyou.

  • http://www.kathyescobar.com/ kathyescobar

    amen to this! thanks for sharing. beautiful and such a great reminder for me.

  • Emily B

    Beautiful, thank you. I’ve been trying to imagine what I will be like in the end, when all of my selves are united into my fullest self in God’s heart. Sometimes that seems nice, to bring back my various passions and idealisms, but more often it’s a terrifying idea that brings back all the parts of me I look back on with shame. Thank you for helping me think about it in a new way.

  • imagreendrumm

    Gosh, Sarah, this sums it right up, doesn’t it? Maybe because we had a similar upbringing, maybe because we went to undergrad at the same place and at the same time, maybe because…I don’t know…just because. You captured it. Thanks!

  • http://practicingresurrection.wordpress.com/ Bill

    I broke with the faith of my youth, railed against over-realized eschatology, studied theology and waxed philosophic about all the ways they were doing it wrong. I judged the Christians of my youth and my context, and I found them wanting, clearly I had a better theology now. I was stumbling into the fringes of an emerging movement in the church. Finally I found my tribe. And less than ten years later, I had abandoned the label, poked holes in the arguments I used to make, found the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies. I judged the people who helped usher me into this new season of my life in Christ, and I found them wanting so I held them up in my mind or in public for mockery and slander. I disguised my critical heart with a lot of talk about critical thinking. I found the points of weakness and drove a chisel into it, let’s watch it splinter together.
    Powerful (and convicting) stuff. I’m somewhere in the middle of that journey right now and wondering what things will look like when I come out of the tunnel. What (if anything) will be left of what I started with?

  • Alicia

    “I have sought how I might make God more loved by other souls…and have not found any other or more powerful way than kindness.” Lucie-Christine
    Kindness with others and kindness with ourselves, I’m thinking.

  • William Dzick

    Another thoughtful essay from Ms. Bessey and yet, as I read it from the perspective of a non-believer, I get the feeling that she’s circling the Christian wagons, with the shiny compassionate side outward. She says she’s thankful for the extremes, but the extremes that I see, the Westboro Baptist fanatics, the hate preaching fundamentalists, even the institutionally protected sexual predator priests, don’t deserve thanks. They need to be expirtated from the Christian community. If and when that happens, perhaps a wish for more kindness might strike me as more than a pipe dream. But thank you for the thought provoking piece.

  • pastordt

    We do carry, as Madeleine wrote repeatedly, all the ages and stages we’ve ever been right there in the center of ourselves. And hopefully, over time, they learn to live together well and kindly. When that happens, then perhaps that kindness can be extended to others, those with whom we disagree, those whose toes we trod upon and who trod upon ours. That is my hope and prayer. (Not talking about criminal negligence or abuse here – just differing theological perspectives.)

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  • Kristen Rosser

    This is profoundly moving and imparts so much grace. I hope it helps me in my quest to learn to give grace even to those who give none to others– because I used to be one of them.

  • Jennifer Wyant

    I have thought this exact same way, but you have said much more poetically. I keep having to remind myself to offer grace to my past selves. I have often thought that if I ever write a book, I will dedicate to all the students who will inevitably tear it apart, like I have so often done in the name of critical thinking.

    Thanks for your words, friend.

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  • Keith Schooley

    I can relate to a lot of this. I can also relate to being the lonely guy on the fringes of many of these movements, seeing the holes (both in fanaticism and skepticism) before many others did. It’s hard being the guy who wants to stop the pendulum.

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