You’ll find me somewhere between Before and After

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For those who caught my blog post last week about Easter and resurrection, you might remember that I was speaking rather glowingly about my therapy group. This week I’m taking it all back.

The problem with therapy groups in general and this one in particular is that there are these people in them who have a nasty habit of questioning what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. And the therapist, she’s the ringleader. She encourages this sort of thing, in her deceptively warm and supportive way. And then expects full payment at the end of each session.

This week the group started talking about my blog and pushing me on why it’s called Spiritual Suckitude. Specifically the “suckitude” word. They wondered…out loud, of course…if perhaps I was using that word to say that I feel I am sucky at writing about God and faith and my so-called “spiritual journey” … and you, as readers, probably shouldn’t take me all that seriously. They wondered if by calling it Spiritual Suckitude I was trying to undercut myself, because I don’t believe I have something to say that other people might want to hear. And they felt perhaps I was holding onto a lot of shame. (Yes, they actually use phrases like “holding onto a lot of shame” in therapy and you just have to kinda go with it…)

So I’ve been thinking about it this week, about why I chose that name and what it means to me. I will admit I do have a lot of shame. And I have spent a huge chunk of my life feeling like my spirituality isn’t quite up to par. When I was a kid, starting at age nine or 10, I used to lie awake at night worried that I might die in my sleep and go to hell. I had a fairly vivid picture of hell, one that had been painted for me by my Southern Baptist minister dad and by all the fire and brimstone type preachers I’d heard through the years. It was not pretty. Of course I’d also heard that all I had to do to avoid hell was to ask Jesus to come into my heart, ask Him to be my personal Savior. Which I had done officially when I was seven, walked to the front of my church, said the magic words, also known as the “sinner’s prayer,” and I’d been welcomed into the fold. But the thing was, I used to wonder, late at night, hugging my pillow under the blankets, how could you tell if you’d said the words correctly, if you really meant them from the bottom of your heart, if they’d really worked?

In the churches of my youth, you were either in the “saved” club or you were out. When, in a Sunday night service or a Wednesday night prayer session, people stood up in the pews and gave testimonies, they were always like those Before and After pictures in the weight loss ads. They would tell you how they used to be like “that” and then Jesus had come into their lives and made them all shiny and new like “this.” They didn’t talk about anything in between. It was like there was no in between. It was all “I once was blind but now I see” and all doubts and questions and failures in faith, hope or love didn’t exist. Or possibly they only existed in me. Sure, I sometimes suspected they existed for others, especially as I got older. And I started to wonder if perhaps by joining the church, I had simply joined a conspiracy of silence.

But mostly I secretly worried that maybe it really was just me.

Maybe it was only me who didn’t feel like an After picture. Maybe I was the only one who found myself questioning everything. The only one not feeling like reading the Bible or praying was all that helpful or interesting all the time. Perhaps I was the only one feeling like my prayers weren’t much more than me talking to me, just with a slightly holy-ish tone in my voice. Maybe it was only me who thought if being a Christian was all about correct behaviors, not smoking, drinking, having sex before marriage, and looking down on people who were doing those things, that it didn’t seem like such “good news.” Maybe it was only me who thought if God was really a loving God He might care about all the injustice and hunger and unholy crap going on in our world, and that maybe the church should care about that stuff too, more than how many people were showing up for Sunday School, more than arguing predestination versus free will.

Oh and also maybe God was not a He anyway.

Maybe it was only me who didn’t get all excited talking about how holy God was and felt like a fraud saying, “Praise the Lord.” Maybe it was only me who didn’t know if I really “loved the Lord” or even what that might mean on a daily basis. Because quite frankly, Jesus scared the bejeezus out of me. Still does, actually. On the one hand he seems like quite a rabble- rouser, a cage-rattler, a drag you out of your comfort zone, rain on your “this is my perfect life” parade. He seems like following him honestly, would lead you down dark alleys, eating a lot with poor and smelly people, not making much money, in a place where you say or do things that possibly go against the traditional ways of doing things in society, and that would piss some people off and make them want to oh, I don’t know… kill you.

Jesus has always seemed to me kind of a difficult friend to have, like a therapist who asks the wrong right questions who’s actually rather obnoxious, albeit in a quiet sort of way, like a silent but deadly fart. And I mean no offense by that, God.

On the other hand, Jesus also seems like someone who loves deeply, who loves all the poor and powerless, all the smelly and broken, all those who are burdened and lost, loves them and just wants to embrace them, and possibly help them see there’s a slightly different something or other they could be doing, if they wanted to, that they might actually enjoy more.

Growing up hearing only testimonies about the great spiritual places people had reached, how they had been lost and now were found, blind but now could see so clearly, and had answers to all the questions (by the way, Jesus is the answer, in case you hadn’t heard…that’s in the Bible, isn’t it? Or maybe not…) I kept my mouth shut and didn’t say what I felt, what my actual spiritual experience was, which was a lot messier, a lot more unclear. I didn’t mention that every day I felt lost and maybe only had a second or two of feeling found. Every day, most of the time, I felt blind as a bat, unable to see God, unable to see my way clear on much of anything.

But this didn’t seem to be the kind of stories you could talk about in church. And I got the message that I couldn’t be in the club if I stood up in testimony times and said this out loud. That I would only be loved if I kept my mouth shut.

When I got older, I found my way to some recovery groups, trying to deal with a nasty mother of an eating disorder, a few little issues with smoking and possibly a giant addiction to Shame, and it was a little better, at times. But honestly, I still felt like I was always the one wrong person in the room, where everyone had it figured out and spoke the lingo and had “surrendered their will and their lives to a Higher Power…” and were working the steps and living an After picture kind of life. Often even in those rooms I felt like an outsider, the only one who it wasn’t really clicking for, the only one who was finding surrender elusive and who wasn’t actually even sure serenity sounded all that hot anyway, who couldn’t let go and let God more than about a half a second at a time.

So, I felt like a recovery group failure. And a Christian failure. And like my spiritual truths weren’t particularly valid or wanted, so I just kept trying to remain hidden, invisible, quiet.

Until I started not to anymore.

Maybe it was because I’d finally had enough therapy or because I had children and I didn’t want to lie to them, I didn’t want them to walk around their whole lives wondering if they were in the club or not. But, for whatever reason, maybe by God’s grace, bit by bit, in therapy and with a few select people in my life, I started peeling away the protective coating a little, started pulling off the scab, revealing the raw stuff underneath. And about ten years ago now, at the suggestion/push of my then quiet but deadly fart of a therapist, a guy who I thought of as a cross between Yoda, Jesus, and a sharp stone in your shoe, I “preached a sermon” at the church I was attending at the time (thanks to the trust and love of the pastor there, Carla, who gave me her pulpit and let me speak without even knowing what I was going to say ahead of time).

And I told the truth about my faith and my often lack thereof, out loud and in public, possibly for the first time. I gave my testimony, not as a Before or After, but as an In Between…as someone who can be before and after and in between any given day. And that day I told everyone I was accepting a new Jesus into my heart, one that didn’t expect perfection, one that welcomed questions and doubts, one that actually loved me “just as I am” – in all my befores and afters and in betweens.

That sermon wasn’t some sort of magic wand, however, making me suddenly and completely into a person who shows her cards, who isn’t afraid of being heard and seen, who doesn’t prefer to hide out and eat chocolate rather than speak up, or write words on a page/screen. I still have trouble, every day, believing I have something to say that others might want to hear. So, I honestly don’t know if, by calling this blog Spiritual Suckitude, I am, on some level, still holding on to my “never an After picture” shame, as my therapy group so kindly suggested. And I don’t know if that’s the most perfect name for this blog or not, or if it’s just a subtle, sneaky way of me saying once again, that I’m not really worth much.

All I do know is when I started writing this blog I felt like I was making an invitation from myself to myself to come out of hiding, to tell the truth and admit that I sometimes/often have a sucky attitude about faith and spirituality, and that sometimes I actually suck at being a person who is particularly spiritual, by anyone’s definition… but that on some days, many days, I really want to be. And that possibly by embracing my imperfect spirituality, and by sharing it, by not saying I have all the answers but want to think about the questions at least, I will find I’m not alone.

I will find that I’m not the only In-between out there, and us In-betweens can become our own sweet church/synagogue/recovery group/you name it, a gathering of kinda broken, sorta lost, often blind, sometimes messy, frequently doubtful, completely human, but almost hopeful souls, stumbling and fumbling toward grace, and toward whatever Jesus might have had in mind when he said, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (John 10:10, The Message)

I have to say, after Tuesday’s therapy session, I polled a few friends about the name Spiritual Suckitude. I’ve heard from a number who like it…one friend was hoping I’d form The Spiritual Suckitude Society, get T-shirts, possibly a club oath. Another said, “It says out loud what I feel about my own faith life, but am afraid to vocalize.” And another said, “Since I often have a sucky attitude towards God or faith or my own spirituality, it resonates. To me it sounds… {like}what many people feel about their spiritual life but are afraid no one would understand them admitting to.” 

But hey, I really don’t know…my therapy group…I do actually think they often see things I don’t see about myself, that I maybe don’t want to see. So what do you think? Spiritual Suckitude – good name or not? Got any other suggestions? I’m open. Or at least trying to be.

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9 comments

  1. When I first saw the title, I thought it meant, “Hey, I’ve got doubts, sometimes faith sucks, but I’m still here.” So I guess my interpretation was pretty close to what you wanted it to mean. Of course, I have to tell you that I probably read it that way because that’s where my own head is at these days. I’m just coming out of a bout with breast cancer, and one result of that is that I can’t do traditional atonement theology anymore. (Yeah, I know, it seems like a leap, but there is a cause-effect chain; it’s just too complex to go into on someone else’s blog.) So I’m in an in-between place myself these days.

    And if it’s any comfort to you, I think this is the third post I’ve read here, and your voice and your faith (packaged with struggles that make it so much more relatable) come through clear and strong.

  2. dksez

    Paul Tillich said we’re in that place between “already” and “not yet.” Like she said. -Don Kahle

  3. Mark W. Wendorf

    I am loving your blog. Keep writing, please. Tell the therapy group to stuff it.

  4. Susan Marie

    Lenora, this is your blog and I think you should call it whatever you want. When I read the blog name I thought it meant you were still working on your spirituality, which I also feel I am always doing. I also thought it was maybe just a little bit sarcastic. It never occurred to me that you didn’t think you had anything important to say. I suppose the reader is going to interpret based on their own experience. Which is why it is always nice to get feedback from a wide group of people. Because everyone is going to interpret things a different way. I like your blog. I find it insightful.

    • Thanks so much Susan. Definitely working on the spirituality…glad you could relate. And possibly there is a bit of sarcasm in there too. Or maybe teenage rebellion… just wanting to say a “bad word” adjacent to the word “spiritual” because hate the lines that people sometimes draw around what “being spiritual” means… anyway. Thanks for reading.

  5. Debra Northey

    I think Spiritual Suckitude is just fine but since you are talking about the “in between”, the words that came to me are Spiritual Purgatory. It’s not heaven it’s not hell, it’s the in between.

    Thanks for sharing and being so honest. I read an article this week about how many times people lie during a conversation…
    This is real, raw and authentic.

    • Ah yes…purgatory…what a cool word that is, huh? Appreciate your thinking about this and for your support. I am most definitely doing my best to be honest…

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