Though it was never really an option for me growing up in a conservative church of Christ in Texas, I always knew I was not cut out for the ministry. I am too introverted to be expected to speak every week, far too fond of controversy, and I have to hire people to be my internal censor, as I really have none. So this was nothing I ever wanted to do. I never remember any of the girls in my youth group feeling anything but pity for the boys when they had to participate in services. There was just a slight pang of jealousy when they got to sing together, but then we just mocked them and changed the name of their singing group to ‘All the Kings Dorks.’ And when I went away to college, going to a public university rather than to ACU where many of my friends were, I felt that I was free to do whatever I wanted. I continued going to the church of Christ because that’s what you do, and there was one within 5 minutes of my dorm, and the friends I made at church are for the most part the people from college who I remain friends with today. But as I have gotten older (and gone to therapy), I have begun to realize what it is the church does to us by making it known that our sole purpose is to sit quietly.
When I left for school, even though I chose a non-religious college, I still pictured myself in the life I had been told was for me. I would go to school, and be successful because I’m smart, but I would also meet someone and marry right after graduation (or maybe even before). I would teach high school English, and sing as part of the makeshift chorus at weddings and funerals. I would run VBS, and maybe some sort of ministry for the homeless, if I had time, what with my kids and husband and job. I say all of this in sort of a mocking tone, not to mock people who live this life happily, but in mockery of myself, because this was never me. I swear like a trucker, cry without exception at all weddings and funerals, I am not good with any more than one child at a time (and then only for about an hour), and I am possibly the most undomestic person you have ever met, my only talent really being arts & crafts. But it has taken me many years to discover this. Up until this point, I have felt at many moments like a failure for not having achieved this ideal. And I know I am not alone here.
I see this in women I know who remain single into their 30s, despite their best efforts to find and keep a nice Christian man. I see this in my friends who married early and then discovered that this is not what they wanted out of life at all, but having made the commitment and stoically staying put, hoping to make it work or that the next 60 years will go by quickly. In my friends who decided not to stick it out, and who are demonized by the church for their decision to end an unhappy, at times abusive, marriage. In my friends who are blamed by the church for their husbands’ acts of infidelity, and are told that it is their wifely duty to make him want to stay. Or in people like myself, who struggle for so long to be the ideal, hoping that someone will come along who is okay with the fact that we are not. Someone who can forgive us for having slipped up, or being too quick to speak, or to act, or too selfish to see that our careers are not more important than the potential of a family that we do not really want to have.
The greatest blessing of my life was the day I set foot on the campus of the University of Texas. It was for me the opportunity to be seen for who I am, and to be appreciated for my voice. To meet people who would teach me so much and change me in profound ways, leading me to do more than I ever thought possible. Instead of meeting a husband there, I met a best friend with whom I have walked through the last decade or so. He had a journey very similar to mine up to that point, and has had his own journey since. Like all of us, having to learn that God does not make imperfect things and loves us wholly for who we wholly are.