Churchy by Sarah Condon
MAY 27, 2017
In the deeply religious culture of my high school, it sometimes felt as though everyone was falling off some Christian righteousness wagon on a regular basis solely for the thrill of dramatically climbing back on.
One day you would make out with a guy from geometry class in the teacher’s lounge and that evening you would find yourself conveniently in front of a worship band, hands in the air, singing something about Jesus being awesome and you giving yourself to him. Again. As though Jesus needed to be reminded of his awesomeness and as if your new Christian goal setting was going to get you anywhere.
I was never very good at hanging with these crowds. Partly, because I liked making out with nerdy guys in the teacher’s lounge. Also, because I felt like Jesus already knew that about me and so re-re-re-dedicating myself to him in front of strobe lights and a fog machine was not going to help my case.
Only once did I attend a Bible study in high school. It was hosted by the local (giant) Southern Baptist church and was the only option for socializing one could find on a Wednesday night in Mississippi. I don’t remember which passage we studied, but I do remember that the subject was about how we could always do more for God. This cattle call for Jesus begged an unanswerable question. I asked the leader how we could know if we loved God enough. I can still remember the desperate swelling of my heart as it longed to be sufficient for Jesus. “Well,” she paused, “just do your best!” I remember thinking, “I don’t even do my best for me. How in the world am I supposed to do that for God?”
Instead of offering me a word of consolation or compassion, instead of telling me that, as the old Methodist hymn goes, “Jesus Paid It All,” she offered me more challenge in the form of a platitude. I remember feeling lonely and heartbroken. If my failed attempts to walk the moral high ground could not save me, then what could? If my moments of rededicating myself to God that I would do enough this time kept failing, then what was the point of Jesus, anyway? I don’t know what emotional state I returned home in that night, but my parents never encouraged me to go back.
When we come to Christ, it is because we are done doing our best. It is because we cannot even pull off our most mediocre. It is because we are done doing anything ever period the end. It is because all of our magnificent moments have failed us and we long for the sweet relief of Jesus.
The movement towards faith is less of a decision we make and more one that was made on our behalf, on a cross many, many years ago.
Some churches seem to position our conversion as a kind of a before and after photo a la The Biggest Loser. On the left, we see a sad, pudgy sinner and on the right, we see a smiling body builder for Jesus. I wish that was the way Jesus worked. But it is not. There are many days that believing in Jesus means I keep finding parts of myself that I despise. More sin, more brokenness, and more inadequacy make themselves known. So often the Gospel feels like I just keep holding up my broken heart to Jesus, waiting for him to tell me I have hit my forgiveness threshold.
“But you know this part about me too, Jesus? Right? Doesn’t this make me ridiculous?”
“Yes,” Jesus responds, “even for that you are forgiven.”
The longer I am a Christian, the more I find myself identifying with the sad, pudgy loser version of myself. Because the more I digest the fact that Jesus came to save me, the safer I feel in his love and the more I can see my sinful heart for what it is. I am broken and longing for relief. My relationship with Jesus does not make me feel like a Baptized Superhero. It makes me feel like a redeemed villain.
Excerpted from Sarah Condon’s book, Churchy: The Real Life Adventures of a Wife, Mom, and Priest.