I used to think “finding myself” was part of that asinine new age crap that permeated the early 2000s as a part of the whole “like, just love yourself, man” movement sweeping the nation.
The bad part was that the church was buying it. I saw it as a poisonous strain of thought emanating from parts unknown, meant to build confidence in the flesh, rather than the infalible bastion of God’s indomitable bulwark. Another one of Satan’s lies intended to turn an otherwise good field into a scandalous meadow of thorns and thistles. But perhaps, put less poetically, I thought it created narcissism inside us. And after seeing enough of that growing up, I wanted to embody the polar opposite.
This “anti-narcissism” I had begun to model was nurtured by the church around me. I grew up during a period where “self-reliance” was akin to idolatry. If God wasn’t the source of your confidence, strength and identity as a human being, there was something seriously wrong with you. Self loathing was a form of humility perfectly exemplified by revulsion of one’s own reflection. I had this recurring vision where I’d stand before my children someday and look into their eyes and see mirrored back the contemptible abomination I was as a man. It wasn't a pleasant idea.
As a whole, I lived in a world of extremes, and I felt that same shaming snicker from the church. Verses in the gospels, such as John 3:30, were the poster child of what I would describe as the process of “self-erasing.” Evangelist Ray Comfort told me that Buddhists embodied this idea, that you must become a drop in the ocean of Brahma, an ant squished into the mud until distinction between the two is eliminated. Back then if you asked me if I believed that, I would adamantly reject it. But as far as my behavior was concerned, I lived that ideal every day. I mean, that's what God wanted, right? How could it be bad? If God demanded everything of and from me who was I, the clay, to refuse him? Could I even call myself a Christian if I did?
I thought I was doing the virtuous and noble thing, worthy of the highest honors of heaven. “Less of me, more of you... that's the right thing isn't it, God?” It was perceived as humility but the reality of it was that I hated my own existence and I thought the Bible justified that belief. So on my self destructive crusade I went, never once questioning the fruit these seeds were producing.
Things really didn't start changing until I left my childhood home at 14. My verbally abusive mother remained a part of my life, but a continually decreasing one. When I became a camp counselor, the cracks around my ideology began to crack. And when I left my home church 5 years ago, it was then that I really began to think for myself.
I never left with the intention of leaving God behind, rather, I left to find the deeper fruit of God wherever it bloomed, often leading me to places that were not stamped with a pastor's seal of approval but were undeniably filled with God's presence. It was then I began to realize that the church doesn't have a monopoly on the truth, and that God is a lot bigger than party lines can contain.
Being on the other side of the fence hasn't been an easy transition. Openly questioning and wrestling with the Bible hasn't been either. Walking away from the safety of my comfort zone on a regular basis has been the hardest. And with all the changes that have happened in my life, the knowledge that God is still beside me is astonishing.
I've always thought that Christianity was a religion contingent on trusting a Being you can't see. Even to this day I still think so. In fact, my faith in that Being has only deepened. With the guy I’m beginning to see in the mirror, I'm starting to see for the first time in 24 years why He likes me so much.
I thought He was only concerned with me giving him glory, or me evangelizing everyone I met. I thought He only cared about results and converts and morals and ethics and doing the right thing always. But as I begin to dig deeper, I realize he wants something a lot deeper and heck of a lot simpler, too.
He wants me.
And the funny thing is, for the first time in my life, that's actually okay.