At the SoCal Christian writers conference, I had a conversation with a fellow writer. Something she said resonated with me. “We used to write how to books.” For so long our Christian living titles populating Christian bookstore shelves were didactic. How to be a better Christian–seven easy steps. Formulas for parenting. Tactics to have a better marriage. How to.
Christianity had been blessedly dissected into little obediences in chronological order. Follow the steps–find freedom. Simple. Easy.
But a shift has happened in our midst in the past few years, and it hasn’t merely birthed from the #metoo hashtag. It’s a cultural shift, a corrective that is reacting against spiritual formulas. We’ve begun to realize that you can’t surgically create spiritual fruit. Formulas demean the process of the messy growth we experience in real life.
In the past, if you didn’t “grow” right, you blamed yourself. You saw all the cliched frameworks that you failed to execute and self-chastised. You simply couldn’t follow the rules right. (This smacks of man-made religion and borders on excessive legalism). Or maybe this: you followed the seven easy steps only to STILL feel suicidal or trapped or confused. Even when you did everything perfectly, you failed–which then led you to question the goodness of God. Because why wouldn’t he answer your prayers? You did everything right!
Truth: God is never a formula.
Our lives are wildly creative and nuanced and different. We all have stories laced with pain and joy, hope and despair, failures and victories. Since we are so varied, wouldn’t it follow that our growth would be varied too? And what did we do with those internal cadences of doubt that we tried desperately to tamp down, though they kept rearing their heads in questions like, “Why do I keep doing this one thing–the very thing I hate?” or “Why does everyone else seem to fall into line, get with the program, and live perfectly acceptable lives while I struggle so much?” or “Why am I the only one who questions or worries or balks at sappy Christian platitudes?”
We used to write HOW TO books, but now we write #METOO books. We do this because what we really need is to let go of formulaic, one-size-fits-all religion and jump headlong into the wild story of God’s great continuing redemption. We need to know we’re not alone. We need to find community in our stories. I don’t believe lists ultimately change a heart, but my life has been radically altered by stories. Through your stories, I found out I’m not the only person who has been sexually violated. Through your stories, I know I am not alone in my struggle with body image. I know that many of share similar insecurities, hopes, wishes.
The most powerful aspect of #METOO is the incarnation. The Lord gave us statutes and laws, but humanity could not keep them, enslaved to sin. The law simply pointed to our inability to save ourselves. It created longing for a better story, a redemptive one.
Enter Jesus–not spectacularly, but in the non-enviable body of a dependent infant. God became a baby. That baby grew up to live life alongside us, walk dusty streets, experience sibling rivalry, loss, betrayal, sunsets, disappointments, abuse. He tabernacled among us, pitching his tent on our soil.
His example is our example. Laws became a person. Words manifested as the Word-became-sinew.
So we write by telling our stories. We go first so others can say #METOO. We tell those stories not to water down the gospel but to elevate it to its proper magnificence–that God loved us so much that he enfleshed himself, becoming empathetic and available to us.
I still struggle against laws and statutes. I still make lists trying to be a better me. But I grow best in relationship–with my Creator who loves me enough to live in this world, and alongside you who bear his image.
We are all just pilgrims on a rocky path, doing our best, failing, getting back up again, embracing grace, praying for the broken, and along the way telling the great, great story of our redemption.