As I said, I had this great idea: I would adopt Bad Attitude Christianity as my beacon to guide me through the teenage coming-of-age worm hole. It seemed like everyone was doing it. And it gave me this great toolbox full of coping mechanisms: tools like sarcasm, disengagement, keeping aloof, and feeling smarter than everyone else, while not actually doing anything. Brilliant. I was my own little island of awesome, letting no one very near until I could sort out this whole growing-up mess. I’m sure God would understand. I just needed a little alone time.
The problem was, this alone time stretched on for years. I had no plan afterwards. When I popped out in my twenties as a married woman, I had this funny feeling that by now I was expected to function well as an adult. But what once was my beacon to guide me had lost its charm: turning into an unfriendly mob boss, claiming to offer me protection, while keeping me chained from doing anything that mattered to me. Uh-oh.
Then I became a mother to two baby girls in two years, and the jig was up. Exhaustion and paranoia set in. As I mentioned before, I snuck into a mommy group at a church we didn’t even attend at the time.
There were ten to fifteen mommies, seated in chairs encircling a quilt spread in the middle. This was where the tiny babies lay or sat, chewing contentedly on objects. There was a classroom next door, in which teenage girls, more mature than I, took care of the older siblings. We sat hugging paper cups of coffee, eyeing the box of pastries, and politely listening to the leader take us through a curriculum about women in the Bible. My mind was fried. But I saw how much work she put into presenting the lessons week after week, so I did my best to answer the discussion questions earnestly – while constantly biting back some fantastic joke on the tip of my tongue. This is church, Steph, lock it up.
At the end of the meeting she asked for prayer requests. There was a silent moment when we all looked at each other, playing the game of, “No, YOU go first.” Finally, a brave soul would break the ice, then Oh Lordy, the flood gates burst forth. The elegant mommy admitted she was dealing with a mystery diagnosis. The fun mommy resented her husband. The quiet mommy was always angry with her defiant toddler. The older mommy said that she didn’t have any friends. “Good Lord!” I thought, “These ladies actually SAY this stuff outloud.” Instantly my head dog-piled judgments of who these sad women must be. I was constructing a platform on which to properly sit aloof and sarcastic, when I strangely noticed what I was doing. Surprised, I stopped.
It was then that I realized someone else in my mind was sitting next to Bad Attitude Christianity. Someone kind. Someone totally different. It was Jesus. They were both talking:
Bad Attitude Christianity: Look at these ladies! See how they pretend to have it all together until just now. Who do they think they are? Don’t they know you’re not allowed to say these things?
Jesus: Come to me, Steph. You are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Bad Attitude Christianity: Oh great. What would they think of you if you just came in here and fell apart? It’s fine for them, but you? You don’t even know them.”
Jesus: This is my Church, the Body of Christ. If one part is sick, the other parts work together to make it well again. You belong here, because you belong to me.
Bad Attitude Christianity: You can’t do this! You can’t do any of this! There is no coming back from admitting to all of your failures! Once it’s done, you’ll be seen for the fraud you are!
But this was my chance. I was too tired to keep it up.
So I took a breath, waited for my turn around the circle, and said the things. In increments, meeting after meeting, it all came out. The tears. The failures. The mommy guilt. The loneliness. The exhaustion. The identity crisis. I know because the other mommies started saying the most surprising things to those admissions: things like, “Me too.” Or even crazier, some would say, “That’s not true, that’s a lie.”
I was aghast. They were like me. And I was like them. On the inside. Where it mattered.
I guess that’s the precursor for trust. I told them the bad things. And they still decided to stick around me. I decided to stick around them too. We organized playdates. We told each other all the bad things. We prayed with each other. We texted each other and sent Bible verses around. We watched each others’ kids. My policy on friendship began to melt down from level-orange security threat, to a strange, welcome relief.
And oh the fun of it! We discovered that each of us came in with our own attitude, something to put up as a front to our true, crazy selves:
- The Sarcastics
- The Perfectionists
- The Free Spirits
- The By-The-Book’s
- The Cool Cucumbers
- The Worry Worts
- The “How-Are-You’s?”
- The perpetual “I’m-Fine’s”
Any “attitude” could be used to block others from seeing our true colors. We got to know each other, and so, we were able to see-through the attitudes, to the heart of the girl.
And guys, THIS is why we need a tribe. THIS is the Body of Christ in action. I needed people to care enough to rattle my cage, to see what’s really going on in there. That’s Jesus’s M.O. It’s what he really cares about.
“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
The deposition of Bad Attitude Christianity began with something like friendship. And motherhood. And marriage. It was the relationships that got close enough to see what was really going on inside us. It was entirely our choice to let them in. The courage to be real, authentic, and vulnerable laced up Bad Attitude Christianity with lead boots and pushed him off a pier. His power, and protection, were gone. What was left was connection, recognition, and love. My mommy friends and I dared to share ourselves with each other while in the trenches of these little years. I have heard each of us say how we are better for it.
But seriously, all friendship bracelets and campfire songs aside, why is this so important?
Well, I’ll tell you.
At its guts, Bad Attitude Christianity keeps us from the power of God working, REALLY WORKING in our lives. Under the protection of the mob boss of Bad Attitude Christianity, there is no sober look at myself. I don’t see that I sin and hurt people’s feelings. It’s always their fault, not mine. I don’t see that I need forgiveness, or a savior, or anything. I’m good. Numb, lonely, detached, resentful…but good.
But if I bring myself as I really am to Jesus, if I admit that I only make it five minutes into the day before committing my first crime, that place of raw confession catalyzes the power of the Gospel to work in my life.
“Come near to God and he will come near to you…” James 4:8
I confess my bad deed to Him, and instead of yelling at me and warning that I’d better pay Him back with interest, He forgives me. No punishment demanded. Wow. With my record suddenly wiped clean, I sheepishly ask Him to teach me how to do it: how to follow His ways. I open up the Bible, and read a Proverb, or some of the Gospels, and as I do, His Holy Spirit brings it alive to me. I feel better, directed, comforted, and hopeful that I just may have a shot at following Jesus, or at least riding piggy-back on Him until I get the hang of it. Is that a thing? Sometimes I think it is.
Bad Attitude Christianity was a counterfeit. It’s protection was a prison. It kept me locked down and alone. The world looked suspicious, gray, and creepy. The possibility that I may be loved just because God chose to love me, didn’t exist under that reign. So I changed zip codes. I’m still practicing to stay in the Light, as He is in the Light, but at least I know more of how this works. I know where a Bad Attitude will get me, and I know where opening up to Jesus, and to His Body, will get me. And the rewards of living in the Light – exposed, forgiven, redeemed, belonging, connected, empowered, assured – are entirely worth the risk of vulnerability and confession: to the Lord, and to each other. What Bad Attitude Christianity had convinced me was a death sentence, I learned was the door into a whole new world.