“This is why second generation Christians struggle . . .” was going to be the start to a rather dizzying post. Talking with a few friends, I’d gathered how growing up fed with all these bible stories and knowledge, living with the should and should nots brought either guilt or exasperation when in the end, we couldn’t seem to see the change. The knowledge doesn’t do too much does it, except either makes us complacent or makes us feel like something’s wrong with us when we fall short because “I should really have known better”. I would have ended up with a ridiculously neat statement of how I’d raise my kids less “religious” which I’ll admit did balance somewhat uncomfortably on the tightrope of my diaphragm. But with the track my mind was running on, I’d have said it anyway. Silly ammunition: “Mom, dad, if you’d not been so caught up on me being a godly kid when I was growing up, maybe I’d understand better, truly experience what it means that God loves me as a sinner. That I am chosen even when I’m unworthy. That I am precious even when I’m not perfect. I wouldn’t feel so condemned in all the things I’ve gone through”.
A slippery silk. A night undergarment when after all, you just might be better off sleeping naked.
Then a friend of mine made a remark before ascending the wall – a difficult climb, sending festive chalk down. Blinking furiously, it was more than my sight that was challenged: “the first generation goes through it too”. Alas, I had experienced God’s love anew and still I didn’t get it. I turned around, look at the mess my life had gone through and was upset at my upbringing. So just standing up, I manage to somehow trip and fall back down. But perhaps this is a good position to stay in; let me linger.
What my problem had been, was that I needed a savior – flipping through the channels, and catalogues and between the advertisements, the dramas, literature, the fabric, colors, and skin, we find the answer in ourselves, our own person. How to lead a good life: drive, love, passion, confidence, uniqueness, charisma. Be bold but not too outspoken, love but don’t get walked all over on, be enigmatic but clear, be beautiful but do it effortlessly, be creative, unique but not weird, try hard but don’t appear that way. Armed (or assaulted) with these pointers calling out, we set out to become a self that is acceptable and worthy. At that time, it didn’t seem that way at all, but looking back, that’s exactly what it was. My trust in myself meant I never quite felt myself, never felt quite enough. My arms only opened one way, a “pull” sign on the doors that really meant it. Try pushing through and you are met with clever, glass resistance; a cool camouflage.
Till one day a friend looked at me as I burst to tears and said, “Gloria, you know, you have nothing to lose and nothing to prove to God.” Bless his soul, but I mean, at that time I thought, “well, of course I know that”. No, I didn’t know that. I really didn’t. Goodness in a person is messy. Not that goodness is messy, but goodness in a person is messy. It is an omelette with ingredients you don’t quite like but it’s a bit too late because life has happened and thrown them into the mix. But that’s okay; we must, oh we must, learn to love each other because there is still plenty to love and then we receive a healthy dose of protein, ha. I’ll admit I don’t exactly know how and often I struggle to see, but I do believe that God makes us all beautiful and worthy. If that is so then hoping for a person is seeing the becoming-beauty precisely where he falls short and gets on his knees. And the question of the woman? Well, I’m still seeking that out. Those words my friend offered along with tissue and a prayer has been a flower shyly blossoming in my heart. It was a prod: girl, you can’t save yourself. Because what if our testimony isn’t in our past, isn’t in a decision, a moment. What if it is a becoming, a hope of a becoming that radically changes the way everything looks. The kind that can’t be marked by a date, a promise, a word, a script. But a sense of a quiet difference that grows as we journey alongside everybody else. A second glance we will never know someone else took.
“The first generation goes through it too”: a whisper to focus on something other than myself. For again I’d ended up focussing on the imperfect in my life as the end all, rather than on a God who is making all things good and beautiful in his time regardless of human mistakes and failures, no matter which generation. Deep in my heart I was so exhausted from keeping it together because I’ve lived knowing I wasn’t good enough for church, for people, for friends. And the truth is, I’m really not and my life was unravelling at its seams. But had I stopped focussing on myself, I’d have been in awe of God’s grace that brought me to where I was all the same. For he had come to meet me where I fell, precisely where I fell short and journeyed with me anyway.
Clearly, I need to learn to listen, listen slowly, listen quietly, listen closely. Not just listen but listen to.
I’ve been struggling with writing, trying to weave material that can withstand that stretch of generalizing the particular without wearing too thin it tears. Unsightly dance tights cast aside. A language cheek to cheek? Soul to soul? Toe to toe? But what if the focus isn’t ultimately on what I can give in my hands that tire easily, on what I can do or say that quickly stumbles over, knees-buckled even before the first step? Maybe it’s not about how my writing falls short, but that in falling short, it falls over… a domino.
A note on parenting: I wouldn’t know hog-all actually.