There's no bright line
In the summer of 2013 I was laying in my front yard, thinking about how I was leaving everything in my life behind. There had been no plan when I walked away from the church, just a Wile E. Coyote-like run over a cliff before realizing there was nothing under my feet. It took a while to hit the ground, to find out that things would be okay. I’ve never been one for going backwards. I often make decisions at what seems like lightning fast speeds, based on what I assume to be instinct. Usually when I go back and parse it later I can see how I was working up to it for months or even years, and just how much information I had been gathering along the way to help that instinct kick in. But in the moment, it can feel like a lot to process.
So here I was, lying in the grass on a very beautiful day when I should have been doing homework. I had been dating Erik for a while now and I was really happy, although I was also still definitely assuming it wouldn’t last, that polyamory was just a kind-of neat phase I was going through while I figured out what I wanted (we celebrate our 5 year anniversary next month so… that went well). I had taken the big leap and told my remaining close Christian friends what was going on as best I could. It wasn’t going great (eventually I would lose almost all of them). I was hurt and frustrated that I couldn’t explain what was going on, that I was feeling stronger and more whole every single day but I knew none of that would matter. What difference does feeling strong and whole make if you feel those things without Jesus? What good is happy without Jesus? What good is any of it?
I was still toying with the idea that maybe this was a phase. Maybe I wasn’t leaving this all behind for good, maybe I was just hurt like people kept telling me. Maybe I needed space from the church and once I got through this really difficult place and all the feelings I had about it, I would go back and finally be ready to dive in like I always felt I was supposed to.
In that moment I wondered about my mom. I don’t know much about my mom’s past. Everything I wrote in my previous entry was based on things I’ve gleaned from tiny pieces over the years. She’s not one for sharing, even when asked direct questions. I was always dying to know, always felt like I came from only half a story, but it didn’t do any good. One of the things that bothered me more about it as I got older was the bright red line my mom drew between the Before and the After. The before she became a Christian, the before she met my dad, the before she stopped drinking. The given assumption somehow was that there was nothing there to talk about, nothing there to see. Those days before god were just days of sin, after all. But see, I think my mom was a full person in the before and I think that, even if there was a lot she may have regretted, that no one is all bad and that no one benefits from trying to ignore whole pieces of themselves. I also think that one of the many damaging things about evangelicalism is that it rewards doing exactly that.
I knew in that moment I could never go back. I knew, even if I walked back to church that exact day, I would be expected to repent. And what would that practically mean? I would be expected to regret the choices I had made, and regret the love I had shared. I would be expected to separate myself from these people in my life who encouraged bad choices. I would be very strongly encouraged to draw a bright red line between the Before and the After. I don’t think that is healthy even when you do have things that you regret. I believe everything you’ve done is a part of who you are, for better or worse. We have to learn to integrate those things, to live with our best and our worst and what we’ve learned from them. But how could I ever go back knowing that my life was so much better now? How could I ever say that I regretted the best people in my life?
More than that, how could I say I regretted the choices I had made that had taught me so much about myself? The only lessons that Christians are allowed to learn from their sins are that god is good for protecting them, that the world is indeed an evil and dangerous place, that they cannot be trusted on their own. I never heard anyone tell a story of their “sin” and talk about how they learned anything positive from it other than “rely on god.” After all, that would sort-of destroy the whole point. If sinning is learning, it seems like it could be positive and then we’re all confused. But I knew what had happened to me. I knew I was already changing, more every day. I knew there wasn’t any going back.
Whatever your evolution story is, I want you to know that there’s no bright line. You are who you’ve always been, and you get to become more of it all the time. Some of us were abused and were hurt (there is no “just” hurt, I don’t know what that means), and you learned to hide it but you’re in there. You’ll figure out how to shine. What I don’t want is for you to think you need to feel the shame you’ve been taught. Every one of us has done the best we can with the tools we have and those tools protected us, allowed us to survive. Don’t wall off a part of yourself from before, embrace your naïve younger self. Love them. Talk to them. Write them letters. Tell them what you wish they’d known. Learn from how incredible they were in spite of everything (because I guarantee you that they were). If you struggle to do it yourself, find people who love you who can help. (Or if you want to send pages of childhood/adolescent journals to me, I am AWESOME at affirming this – it is literally one of my favorite things.) Whatever you do, know that you are loved and amazing – and no god worth worshipping would ever ask you to repent for who you are.