I grew up in a small town. In that small town, there was one post office, one school district, one small movie theater, and only one thing to do on Sunday mornings.
And there was only one place to do that one thing on Sunday mornings—or so it seemed to me as a young girl growing up beneath the tent of conservative evangelical faith—and that, of course, was my church (or, to put it correctly, the church I attended, but a child never sees it that way).
It stood in the center of town at three-stories high, making it the tallest building in the area, along with the dormitories at the conservative evangelical university of the same denomination just a mile down the street. (That was, until they built the four-story bank on the edge of town—that skyscraper along the highway.)
My church was my world—I knew nothing else (well, except for the “Doxology” from visits to my grandmother’s church in a much smaller town a few hours north). As far as I knew, my church was the church, and consequently our way was the way, the truth, and the light.
This was my experience as a child who “was blessed to grow up in a Christian home” (the opening line of my go-to testimony)—not necessarily what I was taught (although…maybe a little bit). But this experience shaped my faith and made me feel like a misfit if things didn’t fall into place.
Luckily, I was a rule-abider with a fear of getting in trouble from the start. Note: this is an excellent quality if you’re trying to fit into a mold. By the age of 11 (thanks to Bible Drill), I’d memorized a sizable collection of verses and key references and could find any book of the Bible (and also name the books nestled before and after) in less than ten seconds flat. I had the “Romans Road” marked in my Bible—upside-down, so I could still read the references while the one I proselytized stood across from me, should the opportunity to witness arise. (I also had it “hidden in my heart” just in case I was without the Good Book or needed the occasional reminder of my own depravity.) I closed my eyes as I sang in the praise band, signed pink abstinence cards in the presence of an accountability partner, and rededicated my life every once in a while just to make it stick.
To the outside world, I fit right in, and on most days, I felt as if I fit, too. But as I left that small town for college and beyond—growing into myself in the process—the distance between the faith of my childhood and the spirituality that God was birthing within me seemed as great as the literal distance between the small town of my youth and where I landed on a map.
While my relationship with God seemed more intimate than ever, when I visited faith communities similar to my childhood church, I felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. If I wanted to fit, I’d have to smooth out my newly-formed edges—if not every day, at least for an hour on Sunday mornings. I’d have to silence newly held beliefs and pick up ones I had left behind, and I wasn’t willing to do that any longer. Instead, I chose to remain true to my convictions in hopes that I might find a square hole that might welcome my newly-formed edges.
Over the past few years, I’ve drawn closer to that hole, and I slipped right in before I even knew its name. It was as if God had formed me for this path from the start, and I had finally found my way. It is the path of contemplative spirituality—a path that is ancient in practice, yet rooted in the present moment—and in it there is room for my edges, my doubts, my questions, and my longings.
We are still in the honeymoon phase—contemplative spirituality and I—and I am learning and loving more with each new day (though not always without a fight). And as I look back on scripture and my Christian roots with a contemplative lens—at those verses and key references memorized so long ago—I’m starting to experience the depth of the Gospel in new ways. I finally feel like I have good news to share. But this time it’s not a list of verses, written upside-down in my Bible for optimum delivery—all of the boxes checked after you “admit, believe, and confess” (thanks VBS).
This time, its an invitation to journey, the Sacred Guide beckoning me each day.
“The soul’s journey in Christian spirituality is a journey of becoming, not simply doing or even being.”
David G. Benner
When have you felt like a spiritual misfit? Share your response to the question or the post in the comments.