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Panic inducing memories in my old Bible

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Yesterday I was rummaging around the garage when I stumbled on a giant Box of Christian Books. This box has somehow survived several moves, collecting dust in various closets, garages and sheds. Although its contents haven’t made our shelves in years, I haven’t had the strength to get rid of them. I haven’t even have the strength to open the box…Until yesterday.

The experience was a tour in the Museum of the Person I Used to Be. In it were the usual evangelical suspects. “Every Woman’s Battle” by Shannon Ethridge, “The Dream Giver for Teens,” by Bruce & Jessica Wilkinson, complete with a handwritten note on the inside cover from my old youth pastor, and “A Ready Defense” by Josh McDowell.

 But what knocked the wind out of me was finding my old Bible.

It was a worn, dog-eared leather bound copy of the “Spirit Filled Life Bible,” edited by Jack Hayford, a Pentecostal legend. This was the Bible you needed to have in my church as a teen, for it was the only Bible with “full gospel” commentary, meaning it advocated for speaking in tongues.

My heart started beating faster when I held it in my hands, as a bizarre mix of nostalgia, anxiety and embarrassment came over me. As I flipped through the tissue paper thin pages, I found underlined passages, notes in the margins and circled words with corresponding dates of when that particular verse spoke to me. 

Next to Proverbs 8:34, which says “Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates,” I wrote in loopy, girlish penmanship, “Salvation is a DAILY process.”

In a flash, I was taken back to the girl I was, the one who had all the answers, whose faith was as easy as underlining a Bible verse each morning, as easy as sharing with my youth group All The Things God Is Teaching Me. 

A small part of me longed for it again. But mostly, it panicked me to be confronted with the person I’ve worked so hard to bury in my 20s. 

I was about to put the Bible away when a certain something fell from its pages. 

It was a Sunday bulletin from the evangelical “non-denominational” church Joe worked at for one year. The ugly bright green church program was from Sunday, April 19, 2009 – the Sunday that the pastor cornered Joe’s father (who was visiting from out of town) after service, to lecture him on the alleged poor performance of his son. People were wandering around with their donuts and coffee and saying things like “Wasn’t that a great sermon?” while the pastor is in the middle of the room ranting to the father of one of his staffers about how terrible his son is. 

(Joe was fired three weeks later.)

That bulletin brought back a lot of junk. 

In it was an advertisement for the church women’s retreat that I wasn’t planning on attending – a huge point of contention from the pastor, we found out later. 

“Calling All Women! Imagine a time to reflect on God’s Word, a time to connect with new and old friends, a time to relax… and not have to cook!!! Join us May 1-2 at Sally Kay’s house for $45. SIGN UP TODAY!”

The weekend of that retreat coincided with Final’s Week for me. Besides, spending a weekend in a house across town with no specific activity on the agenda didn’t entice me. At all.

Directly below it was an advertisement for the upcoming men’s 2-day whitewater raft trip. 

I remember thinking the raft trip sounded way more fun.

Another page had a fill-in-the-blank sermon guide that I didn’t fill out. Prompts for specific answers given during the sermon, such as:

 “While the law is ____ a means to salvation; it is a rule of Christian ________ – _________.”

I can only guess what those answers are supposed to be. 

At the bottom of the fill-in-the-blank sermon guide, there was an invitation to rate your performance as a Christian. 

“Considering the relationship between love and obedience, how would I rate my relationship with God today? Poor    Fair     Good     Great”

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And in one swoop of the pen, we were to judge the wonder of Emmanuel – God With Us – and rate our connection to the Divine. It brought me back to the spiritual claustrophobia I felt in that period of my life, the feeling we were all making it too small, too tidy, like a grocery store checklist on cute stationary. 

I couldn’t breath, and I had to get out. All of it. The “DAILY process” of salvation. Rating my performance.  The constant hunt for nuggets of revelation in the Bible. Church leaders who used their power to control. Filling in definitive answers during sermons. Women’s retreats. 

April 19, 2009 was the last time I used the Bible of my youth. I ran, but never talked about it.  

I’m ready to talk now. 

What about you? Do you relate to any of my experience? 

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6 Comments

  1. Lauren on January 24, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Great post! I have to admit that I loved sermon prompts in the bulletins, just because I am a visual learner. It helped me to follow the points that way. And I felt like a “better” Christian as I dutifully followed along–I was silly.

    Your comments about church activities–retreats and such–reminded me of a conversation I had with my husband this week. We were talking about the pressure we felt to participate in those activities, as if our salvation/faith/etc/ depended on it. In high school I had a great church situation, but before that, I felt all kinds of pressure, and ended up spending a lot of time, on activities that were mediocre at best. For instance, I am a good Classical pianist, but I could have been even better, even younger, if I hadn’t spent hours rehearsing for a Christmas production that didn’t add to my musical development. I know that sounds harsh, and I don’t mean to devalue the benefit of these activities–and some church productions are AMAZING–but in general, it was a lot of time for to withstand a lot of pressure for not a lot of benefit. Does that make sense?

    • creatingmom on January 24, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      I think it does make sense. There is a lot of pressure to “use your talents for God” as they say, but churches tend to define that in a pretty narrow way. Like I’m pretty sure when you play classical piano you are just as pleasing to God as if you were playing in a church production. Church leaders are sometimes so desperate for our help, they devalue our pursuits outside the church so that we’ll give more time toward things that directly benefit the congregation. I don’t mean to sound negative there. I’m sure it’s hard for church leaders to find people willing to serve. But still, I think I’m understanding what you are saying.

      • Lauren on January 24, 2014 at 10:55 pm

        Right! I starting playing piano for services as young as 8, and that was wonderful. I loved it, and it really helped me develop as a pianist. But when I was in Jr High, I hopped around youth groups and would often get sucked into skits or plays or conferences, and my talents really weren’t there. I think the idea was to keep teenagers in a “safe” place, but I was a nerdy straight A student who liked ballet and Mozart! By the time I was in high school, I found a group with a leader that was much more attune to what teenagers need. The church was always open, and she planned some killer activities. But at the same time, if you were really good at piano, then she went to your piano recital. If you were really good at science, she came to your science bowl championship. There wasn’t this big pressure to put youth activities first. There was no “salvation” attached to your attendance.

  2. sabrina on January 24, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    so i am currently youth pastoring (volunteer basis) at the church i interned at sr year of college. at the end of last summer, my pastor asked me to share part of my story, so i stood up in front of the church and told them about leaving the church for almost 7 years.

    my current church is beautiful–we have had our share of brokenness and pain, but instead of breaking apart we drew together. despite the healing and beauty, i still have to fight back bile when anyone talks about the church i left. also, i left it right after i turned 15.

    church can be really ugly, when people are in charge. the question i ask myself is what can i do to be the church, how can i continue seeking restoration for myself, and how can i serve in a way to prevent this from happening in other lives, especially young people?

    the answer is why i immediately joined back up with youth leadership when i moved home in 2010 and why 2 years ago i accepted the responsibility to pastor the high schoolers. church done wrong is so horrendously hurtful, but church done right is lovely. not perfect, not whole, but beautiful broken messiness hurtling toward God’s redemption.

    • creatingmom on January 24, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      Sabrina, I LOVE that you are a youth pastor now. I would never have guessed that life would lead you there, but now that I think about it, it makes me smile. The church needs more like you. Love to hear the whole story sometime.

  3. Kelsey L. Munger on May 11, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Oh, Carly, this is great.

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