This past week I saw a heartbreaking video. It was of a newly adopted child speaking accolades about their new family. The child seemed to be young, was adopted at age four. Who knows what traumas they endured before those papers were signed, but at age four most of our survival mechanisms have begun to be hard-wired in us. The video went viral with comments of “How sweet!” and “So beautiful,” but when I saw it, my heart broke. I don’t know, but it seemed to me her words were robotic, learned, rooted in a deep desire to not disappoint this new family who’d chosen her. They seemed rooted more in where she had been than in where she was going. I urge you to not look up the video, although there are plenty of them to be had. They paint a picture of adoptive parents as saviors and children as needing to be saved. And while there is a spiritual element to adoption, there’s still only one Savior and parents aren’t Him.
The video broke my heart not only because of what seemed to be happening on it, but because I saw elements of that little girl in myself. Most of my adult life has been spent coping with the traumas of my growing up years and early adulthood. I remember the moment in which I thought: I am unloved and unloveable. And I remember the moments after it in which I tried to get in the good graces of those who were in positions to love. Because the Church is the New Testament construct for family, the local church was one of the chief places I went looking for love.
I have loved the local church. I have waxed eloquent on church membership. I have lauded various theologies and towed every party line necessary to be loved and admired in places like these. I did not know and could not know I did this not because I had studied (although I had) or experienced the blessings of certain beliefs or structures (though I did) or believed they were true with all my heart (I didn’t), but because in order to be loved, I believed I had to be included. I was too immature—which I’m coming to learn is just a different word than unhealed—to know the motives of my heart for all those years, but I see even now that even though my heart was changed, I still had years of healing ahead of me. Years of awakening. Years of study. And years of seeing still gaping wounds.
I am still unarrived.
I think most of us are a little like that little girl and probably a lot like me. We go through life capturing sound bytes, experiencing abuse, learning how our reactions and actions can manipulate people not in some megalomaniacal way, but simply to love us. That is a human desire, put in us by God, and meant to be fulfilled in some ways by our human parents and human interactions. But we are all fractured by the sins of our parents, their parents, their parents, and our first parents, and our own sin too. And that fracture leads to a distorted view of reality, we can’t see anything rightly—and by rightly, I mean the way God sees it.
There’s good news of course: this is the gospel. But God isn’t content to merely save us, he wants to peel back the layers of whatever we’ve piled on to survive in a broken world, he wants to expose what’s underneath, not to harm us, but to heal us. Our clothing doesn’t need to be healed, our whole selves do. But because we’re so tender underneath there, we keep offering him our shirt to be mended, our socks to be darned, our cuffs to be hemmed. We think that by giving him our layers and having him mend those us, he’ll love us more.
But that’s not the gospel.
The gospel means that God cares for our innermost being and he sees it. He’s not ignorant of our coping mechanisms or our coverings. He’s not fooled by our desires to be unseen or to be seen. He’s not deceived by our success or our measures of goodness. He sees it all, and because he sees it all, he loves more, not less.
I know this is Gospel 101, but here I am, nearing 40, and still realizing the pervasive need for it to permeate my deepest parts. Every time I think I’m mended, he pulls off the patched shirt and shows me more underneath.
Over the past four years God brought Nate and me through some really difficult circumstances around the local church. Even though I very nearly cursed him while he did it, I see now he was pulling away those slip-shod seams, those half-hearted attempts to be a part of something, anything, to be covered, to be loved. He pulled apart dear practices, spoken beliefs, convincing theologies, and he did it tenderly, if you can imagine that. So much so that I still love all the former things because I see what they each revealed about the Father, but I know even more now they are still not the Father.
Someone asked me what I believe about a particular topic recently and I didn’t answer her. It wasn’t because I didn’t know. I did and do know what I believe, and I think it’s beautiful and I think it reflects God’s character and his intention for his children. But I also know, a tiny bit more that I did four years ago, that God is in the business of transforming all his children from darkness to light. There are ten billion true things in the world but the truest of them all is that God is real and He is good. All the other things we see dimly until we see Him face to face. Get that? They’re not dim until they become clear. They’re dim until He becomes clear.
This is a vulnerable thing for me to write because I think, if you’re like me, you’re wondering about the specifics: What beliefs have changed for her? Why did she leave her church? Is she trustworthy? Is she turning into a pagan? Is she going to denounce her denomination?
I’m not going to share those specifics (though please trust me when I say I love Jesus, am full of the Spirit, and I know that I know that I know I am loved by the Father), but I am going to say I think we’re all a little wobbly at times. We all have moments of doubt: Am I doing the right thing? Is this the right way? Am I breaking your heart? And I don’t know if there’s any way through those questions except right through them. I think we have to be willing to ask those questions often, often, often. God doesn’t want us to be a mirror reflection, parroting back what we think he wants to hear. He wants us our hearts, our whole selves, our hurts, traumas, learned reactions, fears, questions, doubts, wobbly faiths, confusion, uncertainty, he wants to eat our sin for us so we don’t have to be sustained by its malnourishing qualities. I’m more convinced of it than ever.