Growing up with a twin sister who is always around, Carrie and I were (and still are) dangerously attuned to how to push each other’s buttons. I remember once when we were middle schoolers, we were on our front porch arguing about something, and Carrie was goading me on mercilessly. She was in my face, saying exactly the right things that would bother me the most. I was getting more and more upset until, before the thought had even formed in my mind, I punched her in the stomach. Apparently, I didn’t hit her very hard because the look of shock on her face was her only reaction. She just stood there wide-eyed, looking at me like a stranger. I was the one who felt like I got punched in the gut. Registering what I had done, I burst into tears – big, heaving, sloppy sobs – and begged her nearly unintelligibly to forgive me.
“Why did I do that? What’s wrong with me? I am a terrible, no good, very bad sister,” I screeched at myself. I felt rocked by my own capacity to hurt others. It was totally out of character for me, yet I had done it. Luckily, after milking it for a while, Carrie forgave me for hitting her. Her re-acceptance despite my ugly behavior brought me back to myself, back to my rightful place as her sister.
In adulthood I still face situations that leave me feeling similarly off-balance and quick to call myself out. I might catch myself making a horrible judgment about the behavior of a stranger. Triggered by frustration, I’ve been impatient with customer service reps. There are the bigger examples, too. Times I’ve stayed too long in relationships where I wasn’t valued out of fear and self-doubt. Times I’ve let my anxiety about work surround me like a fog and turn me into a joyless shadow. Each time I don’t recognize myself, I think, “Why am I hurting myself and others? I am the worst. No good. Very bad. Ugh.”
Recently I’ve been feeling similarly off-balance, with thoughts and reactions to a situation that are out of character for me.
Thankfully, in the last several years, I’ve found a community that helps me get back to me faster than I ever could on my own. For me, that community is my church. Whether it’s listening to a Sunday morning message about God’s love and grace, discussing Jesus’ relevance to today in our young adult small group, or making decisions for our church in a routine committee meeting, being in this community reminds me, like my pastor Callie always says, of “who I am and whose I am” through its unconditional acceptance.
I see my true self reflected back at me by the whole. My self-compass is recalibrated. “Oh, yeah,” my soul remembers, “That’s what we believe. That’s who I am. That’s how we do. Thank God!”
Yes. Thanks be to God that church for me is not a place where I feel judged. Sometimes I feel guilty but never ashamed. Sometimes I feel in the wrong but never irredeemable.
I know a lot of people who have had a much different experience in church. Whether it was a nun who doled out corporal punishment, someone holding a banner in public that said you’re going to hell, or hearing through words or indifference that you’re not welcome there, churches aren’t always a refuge for ALL the way God intended.
Luckily, we experience this type of healing in other communities, too. It’s when your family is by your side in good times and bad. It’s when you forget to remember your troubles when surrounded by friends who’ve known you forever. It’s when God’s presence covers you like a warm blanket as you meditate or pray. You can feel it. It feels like a sigh of relief. It feels like a heavy load has been lifted. It feels like home. Thank God!
Thank God love isn’t about being called out when we mess up and punch our only sister in the gut. It’s about being called in, into love, into where you have belonged all along.