God’s Beloved Daughter-Child | Part 4 of 4
I can’t hide from that all-seeing eye of God watching me day and night to make sure I’m being a good little girl. It follows me through life. Not an eye of Goodness and Mercy, but of Judgment and Contempt.
It’s the 1980s. I’m 40-something. I claim I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. Yet I’m lost in fear, self-contempt, confusion, a judgmental spirit, and the vain belief that I can fix other people’s lives. If only they would just listen to me!
When I was a child I clung to my survival theology for dear life. My two small truths are still true: (1) God would never beat me the way my father did; and (2) Jesus loves me no matter what, and wants to spend time with me. But just repeating them over and over doesn’t change anything. It only seems to divert attention from harsh reality: I’m 40-something and lost.
My childhood informal ‘public’ theology doesn’t do it for me either. It’s just another version of theology I’ve heard from my father, the churches I’ve grown up in, and a variety of teachers and preachers. I’ve worked hard to write a personal adult theology statement based on my own study. Yet I’m still lost.
This doesn’t mean my grown-up theology is wrong. Some people seem to like and appreciate it. It just doesn’t seem to work for me—no matter how hard I try to believe it. It has the sound of Goodness and Mercy, though right now it seems to signify nothing.
I’m not growing and thriving. I’m lost, and I’m being stalked by a relentless eye that’s sucking the life out of me. I’ve internalized the enemy. The eye follows me day and night, reminding me of my many shortcomings and failures. Against all logic and reason, I find ever more convoluted ways of trying to hide myself while trying vainly to fix you and everyone else.
I’m not just lost; I’m sinking fast. Desperate, depressed and totally done in. A wife, a mother and a professor; 40-something years old. Body and spirit debilitated by relentless depression, IBS and the desire to go to sleep and never wake up again.
They smile at me!
I remember the first time it happens. It isn’t in church; it’s in my very first 12-step meeting. I walk in feeling nervous, self-conscious and full of fear. My heart feels as though it’s going to beat right out of my chest. Do I really need this group of people? Am I ‘one of them’?
I sit down in a U-shaped semicircle of chairs with about 20 other people. There’s a small table facing us. Two people are already sitting at the table going through some papers.
Others are sitting with me in the semicircle. Still others, old-timers who seem to know each other by name, are greeting each other and checking in. A woman sits down next to me and tells me it’s her first meeting. I smile, relieved, and tell her I’m here for the first time, too. I keep wondering whether someone I know is going to come through the door.
The meeting begins right on time; one of the women up front reads from approved 12-step materials. Then she passes the 12 steps around so anyone who would like can read one out loud and pass it on to the next person. Next we read selected principles of the program, and get reminded about confidentiality. What we see here and what we say here, stays here.
It’s almost time to hear from the speaker. But first come a few announcements, a basket for voluntary contributions, and then the part I’m dreading. We go around the circle giving our first names only and, if we wish, one word or a phrase that describes how we’re feeling this evening.
- “Hi, everybody. My name is Mary, and I’m a grateful member of this program.” Everyone says cheerily, “Hi, Mary!”
- When my turn comes I say, “Hi, everybody. I’m Elouise. I’m a newcomer and I’m not yet sure whether this is for me.” Everyone smiles at me and says cheerily, “Hi, Elouise! Welcome!”
Hearing them greet me is wonderful. But it’s the group’s smile that does me in. Then I get more smiles and a big ‘Thanks for sharing’ when I choose to say why I’m there. And would you believe more smiles and hugs of encouragement at the end of the meeting?
What doesn’t happen?
- No one frowns at me or quizzes me to judge whether I’m in the right place at the right time.
- No one is skeptical or horrified about my being there
- No one asks me what I do or who I am other than my first name
- No one pressures anyone to share anything at all with the group
- No gossip; no sense that some are holier or more advanced than others
- No pity me stories and no blaming anyone else for anything
- No shame when sharing personal truth about themselves or when asking for help after the meeting
- No attempts to outdo the person who just shared
- No holding back tears, laughter, gratitude or encouragement
- No personal or private exchanges between individuals during sharing time
- No pretending things are fine, just fine when they aren’t
- No attempts to change each other
What happens instead?
- Strangers welcome me, smile at me, accept me
- Strangers affirm me, smile at me, share truth about their own lives
- Strangers offer me hope, smile at me, invite me to keep coming back
- Strangers listen to me, smile at me, encourage me
- Strangers offer me safety, smile at me, and offer me the opportunity of a lifetime
Though I don’t get healed overnight, I experience a new beginning. Small and tiny, like the flame on a small birthday candle. Compelling, fragile and beautiful. In addition, my childhood image of God gets dealt at least a serious first blow. God has just smiled at me through complete strangers! Have I just been found by God? In a 12-step program?
One thing is certain: I now have a safe place to work on my life issues. The only requirement is that I keep coming back and working the program step by step, one day at a time. If I choose, I can become a member of this company of other human beings who, without fanfare, learn to keep the focus on themselves instead of trying to change everybody else. I accept the offer.
And what about the smiles? The smiles are crucial. They’re small signs that God looks my way, sees me, hears me, understands me in my full context, and reminds me with yet another smile that I am indeed God’s beloved daughter-child, with whom God is well pleased.
My part is to keep showing up just as I am, willing to risk a level of safety and intimacy that includes at least the following:
- vulnerability, truth-telling, asking for help,
- utter trust and confidence, courage to listen as well as speak,
- acceptance, growth, change, more risk-taking, and
- learning to keep the focus on myself as God’s beloved daughter-child.
What more could I ask for?
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 August 2014