I couldn’t do that version of Faith anymore. I remember the exact moment. I was sitting in church on a Sunday morning. The week before, a woman in the congregation gave a beautiful talk about fear and Love, and how to lean into Love. Amen Sister.
This week another member of the congregation stood in the same place and was preaching a bucket load of shame. I don’t even remember their exact point, or what belief or population they were adamantly against. All I know is, I left there with a sadness in my heart, a pit in my stomach, and an ‘I can’t do this anymore’, on my lips.
This was right around the time I was dissecting my disordered history with food, poor body image, and low self-esteem. I was starting to connect some dots. I kept bumping up the same things in myself and in clients that were all pointing to ingredients that, when mixed together create a recipe for disaster.
A recipe that looks like this: Should + Shame + Fear = Disorder. As in:
- I Should be thin, so I can be fast and win.
- Fear: If I’m not thin or fast or don’t win, everyone is going to laugh, punish, or reject me.
- Reality check: I’m not thin, fast, or winning. At least not enough to guarantee Number 2 doesn’t happen. Assuming Number 1 is true, then the only logical conclusion as to why I’m not thin, winning, accepted = there’s something is wrong with me = Shame.
- Response: Fix the situation. Try to change my body into a slim, fast, winning machine. Stampede over the voice inside that is trying to tell you #1 is a lie. Do this for long enough and you have a very broken body and self.
I’m hypersensitive to the presence of any one of the above. When they are all hanging out together, it doesn’t feel safe, and I want out.
That Sunday, what unfolded was a familiar recipe:
- Everyone Should do xyz in order to be a good person.
- Fear: If you or they don’t, they’re wrong. They’re going to hell.
- Reality Check: Chances are millions if not billions of people could hear this message and find their life looking very different from the picture painted in #1 and land in a bucket of shame. Because if you can’t live up to those expectations when clearly your maker, God, thinks you should be able to, you must be a flawed model of human. There is your existential shame.
- The fix: Believe that Jesus is the Son of God and ask him into your heart.
I had grown out of that storyline. A message of guilt, fear, and of inherent separation; from each other, from our true nature, from God, from other life that apparently God also created. Which creates even more separation; a wedge banged in between Christianity and the rest of the world. And then instead of offering some form of healing balm of Love, sticking a fear-fed band-aid on top of the wound; believe in Jesus or else.
This version of Christianity is like giving a diet book to a bulimic and expecting it to make everything better. ‘All you have to do is follow the meal plan. Then you won’t binge anymore. Then you’ll be fine again.’
If you’ve ever tried this approach you know the drill. Trying to stick to the diet doesn’t solve the problem of feelings of unworthiness, fear of rejection, and shattered sense of self that drive the disordered eating. And then when you mess up for one day and don’t stick to the plan, all it does it reinforce that original belief: I am worthless and there is something inherently wrong with me.
Preaching, ‘accept Jesus into your heart’, is pretty much the same thing. The miracle-diet-pill version of Christianity. It is a quick fix that doesn’t go deep enough to solve the problem of separation. A cognitive belief doesn’t heal the feelings of unworthiness, fear of rejection, and shattered sense of self. Which means that if even for one hot minute you question the story of Jesus, or you slip up and fall off the Jesus wagon, you’ve just confirmed the separation from God you were trying so hard to resolve.
This is what I couldn’t do anymore. It’s what broke me. It’s what breaks us. This recipe of should, shame, fear; wherever it infiltrates, there you will find disorder. Whether in our media, politics, religion, economics, or just the far corners of our own mind; this faulty reasoning that reinforces a storyline that we are lacking, and must do something to make up for the lack, is like a motor that runs us into the ground.
The attraction of this story line is that it puts you in the driver’s seat. It makes you think there is something you can do to fix the situation. Run more, eat less, pray more, sin less, do more, rest less.
It sells you the promise of Control. A warped sense of power from staying in the ‘right’.
Which at first feels totally logical. Of course there is a right and wrong, justice and injustice. It’s even proven by science. I learned this as a 13 year old in accelerated summer school getting a head start on my high school electronics curriculum. Everything boils down to a zero or one. Off or on. Dark or light.
What you don’t see at first when you peer down these seemingly benign and parallel roads, is that over time, they end up worlds apart. You end up seeing everything through a very specific binary lens. Each road holds a very polarized view, supported by divisive wedges. It’s how the story of Separate is perpetuated.
In this storyline there isn’t an option for the possibility of wholeness.
That perhaps I am already whole.
And if I am whole, then perhaps you are whole. Perhaps each of us individuals, is actually a whole person. Equals. Different, sure. And also equal.
If that’s the case, then I can drop the stance of right and wrong.
Which means I can also let go of the agenda to fix or control.
Instead of trying to convert the other, we can learn from each other. Instead of trying to capture the other, we try to share with each other. Instead of trying to earn my worth, I can get on with life and love what already is.
I didn’t stumble upon that alternative storyline in the mainstream. It just came one day. In a rare still moment as I stared into the mirror on yet another Saturday night chagrining the body I was looking at.
‘It’s OK to Let Go.’
This rather cryptic message made its way into the room.
My rational mind didn’t have to understand. My heart knew. I had to let go of the jeans lying in a crumpled heap next to my bed. I had outgrown them years ago, yet each week I attempted to slip into them, because there was a magic number printed on the label that held all my power. If my body could be defined by that number, then I was good to go. Permission to like myself and exist as a human being.
Of course week after week, my reality was quite different to what those jeans required of me, and my self-esteem would plummet, making me the perfect candidate for a counterproductive midnight binge.
‘Just get rid of them.’
Oh I wanted to hold onto them so tight. They were the first pair of brand-name jeans I bought. They were a signal to the world that I was trendy and cool. And proof I had some right to exist because at one point, I actually did fit into them.
‘Just let them go.’
Eventually I did.
Which made room in my closet for a new pair that my body slid into effortlessly. I didn’t like the number on the tag, but this time I didn’t give that number my power. It didn’t throw my self-worth into the gutter.
What I was actually making room for by saying goodbye to those jeans, was wholeness; a melding of the zero and one, into just 1. That my body, and I, were neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, large nor small. It existed, as it was. And that was enough.
And that’s how it began.
A somewhat silent revolution that was fuelled by a part of me I had never really listened to before. In contrast to the more developed part of me that knew how to mastermind it all out, this was the part of me that was inviting me to wade through the unknown together.
Labelling these parts of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ is probably the easiest way to describe the difference here, and it doesn’t feel quite right to keep defining that divide. For now I will think of it as Relying on the Logical, or Trusting the Mystery. At times we need one or the other to lead the way, sometimes we need both together. In this instance Trusting the Mystery paved the way.