How to Become More Human
On the reconstitution of self after a season of disintegration
It’s the 12th day of March, year 2020. We already expected this year to be uncomfortable, but I mean, dang. Nearly a quarter of the way through, and it’s become a pandemic political season. What better time to write and read, yeah? This letter addresses a few things that are uncomfortable for me to tell you, but I’m following through because I do intend to keep true to my vocation and my voice.
I can only share a little at a time about my past few years because I find that when I rehash it all, even only to speak in bullet points, factually and nonemotionally, my body tends to react with exhaustion and immobility. Even if I feel fine mentally and spiritually, I’ll feel it as physical pain. Our bodies do tend to know better (keep the score), don’t they?
When we found our new priest at the end of 2017, the leaders in our congregation had given it our all, and we were tired. We had worked hard to find him and were so relieved when he came; many of us were doing the work of spiritual counselors; we were the set-up and take-down crew; we organized the schedule and sent the emails. We were church planters, an hour early and an hour late. We were leaders, but we needed someone to lead as pastor. Though several of us have pastoral giftings (I was well on my way to seminary to mature in those), none of us were qualified or yet educated to do that kind of work for as many people as were gathering together every Sunday and throughout the week.
We searched for a priest and found him, and I continued doing what I had done the three years prior. I was meeting with women, serving, opening my home weekly, sending emails, tired but as full of joy as I had ever been in my life. I began preaching to take up some slack, and of course, I loved it so much, so much that maybe I was especially set up to take the bait. The planned was that I become “the associate pastor,” and my position in the meantime was as “the Curate.” I worked this job without pay. Everybody get out your biggest red flags, run in a crazy circle, and make loud alarm sounds with your mouth next time you hear this situation happening.
Fast forward through a million details to a version of myself I no longer recognized under that priest’s leadership. My ability to preach or speak with authority siphoned from my body. Overly intimate language repeatedly disarmed what boundaries I had in place (mind you, this is especially easy to accomplish in “egalitarian” churches where a woman might find herself feeling most safe with such enlightened leaders, even leaders who are hailed for their particular stance on women in ministry), and every effort I (and my husband) made to confront the language, manipulation, and narrative control was met with shoulder shrugs by the priest and with similar responses from others. My power to change things had been removed. It wasn’t that I was insecure and believed that my voice did not matter. I have always believed that my voice matters, but the reality as it happened is that I spoke, over and over again, and my voice actually factually did not matter to the people I loved the most. Not enough to change anything.
The way a friend and I have been describing that season is by referencing the Avenger’s movie, where Thanos snaps his finger and half the human population just disperses into the air, like a handful of dust thrown up and away. Only for me, it was slow motion and over two years. I was incredibly happy and confident in my giftings. I believed the promises and affirmations. I trusted my priest who was my leader and boss, and then I endured the reworking of my definitions, erasal of my boundaries, and then a confusion about whether or not my voice or calls for help mattered. This pulled me sideways and up away from my core, and I began to disperse into the air. I began playing along in a story I wanted to believe was true (a story that said that I was in the safest place in the world) because my identity and the job I loved with everything in me was tied to that story. This working relationship with my priest took up hours of every week and all my energy, and I became permeable and disappearing.
We (Seth Haines and I) addressed it repeatedly alone with him, and then we brought in other leaders. It is true, my friends, that a groomer doesn’t merely groom one person or two. A groomer grooms the whole shebang, especially those to whom he or she might be called to give an account. Maybe it’s also important for me to say that if you think you couldn’t be hoodwinked, you might geehaw real well with our crew because I swear these are the best people I know, full of love and integrity.
I share this with you to give you context. I also want to tell you that this Lent has been the hardest of all because the word “forgiveness” finds me around every corner, and it seems to be the thing we can’t shirk. I share this with you, too, because we have been talking here about waking in bodies (or marriages or jobs or whole worldviews) we no longer recognize, and many of us are in seasons of restoration and recovery. Forgiveness has everything to do with this restoration and recovery. It isn’t so main stream to say that following the way of Jesus is actually the way to becoming more human, to find our truest selves, but it is the way.
I’m describing this new season as one where my parts are rejoining themselves. I’m being reintegrated or reconstituted like a bouillon cube dropped in water or like a great glacier that is un-melting and full of pure water, finally back to myself and finally back to my joy in God. So what is gathering me up? It is the way of Jesus. It is forgiveness. It is going the way of his body and blood: the church. It is also understanding that what I do actually matters. But more than that, I matter.
What’s hard to understand is how forgiveness releases us - but not so much from the pain. The pain ebbs and flows but keeps its throb. Shauna Niequist is one to follow right now for some powerful language around forgiveness. In her latest instagram post, she says:
Forgiveness is a radical, brave acceptance of reality -- this isn’t how I wanted my story to go. This isn’t how I wanted my relationship to end. This isn’t what I wanted for my life. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive.
It feels like releasing your power but it’s actually what makes us powerful. It unlocks us from the cages of revenge and rage, and sets us free to live with open hearts …
Shauna nails it. She also writes, “even though it hurts.” It’s encouragement to me to hear that forgiveness doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still hurt. We ourselves are forgiven, but that doesn’t mean that when we’re off course, we aren’t seen or felt by the heart of God. What we do actually matters - now more than ever. The incarnation of Jesus tells you so. It’s okay that it hurts.
Tell me what it is you’re doing to be reconstituted, and I wouldn’t mind, too, if you rattled on for days about forgiveness. I need it.
With love and lots of hope,
PS: Most of you are only set up to receive my free emails, and those will not stop! I did also set up my monthly paid membership to have it in the wings to begin after Easter, but since a few of you have found that link already and signed up, I’ll go ahead and send you something special at the end of this month. Thank you for supporting me, in all the ways you do, and thank you for sharing my work with others.
Be sure to also follow along on Instagram. I like that place.
More to come.
I am just so sorry! Church trauma is painful in deep and weird and such hard ways.... unfortunately I know it too. I am 3 years out from the latest wound and grateful that it doesn't still consume my every day. Forgiveness has not come as quickly as I have desired, but I continue to lean forward and to "my work". I rejoice with each realization that another step has been taken. Thanks for sharing!
Thank Sweet Jesus, finally a space.....to spill out the hurricane in my soul. It’s a loooong story and I’m grasping for the belief that God can, God will, and God desires to breathe His life into my convoluted messy life.
Forgiveness/letting go...I’ve cried more tears in the last 2-3 years and trusting God that those tears are healing areas that I don’t yet recognize.
Trusting God.... I’ve no where else/ no one else to go to anymore.
I have a tattoo on my arm that I crafted:
Jesus, grow your hope in me
For I have none of my own
Jesus embodies forgiveness, and He is that door to get to whatever He has in store for me.
I listened to a sermon by Steve Furtick “Trust Me, I’m Trying” and God whispered sweet words of comfort and so much understanding....my will needed to be healed. I lost it somewhere in the day to day survival of the last 7 years or so.
Thank you Amber, for creating this space. Thank you for casting your vulnerable heart out there once again.