If I were forced to put a title on my life, I would describe it the way I view most things, interesting. I don’t think my life is any more interesting than anyone else’s, but I have to admit that it is just as interesting. It starts out just like almost every Lifetime movie and, unfortunately, it is very similar to many sad stories from those that grew up in broken homes. I believe the proper Christian thing to call it would be an “unhealthy family environment”.
I’ll keep my family life during my childhood confined to a list, because I’d like to focus on a different aspect of it. It consisted of, but wasn't limited to, the following elements to varying degrees: Domestic abuse, the use and exchange of drugs, alcoholism, gambling addiction, poverty, forms of prostitution, divorce, mental disorders, and countless yelling fits. I actually had a whole half-article written up about how I responded to living in those conditions as a child, but I think the way the situation affected me throughout the years is far more interesting and perhaps more profound.
In order to cope with the harsh climate I grew up in, I developed a keen sense of awareness and observation. I watched the way “normal” people and families functioned and tried to mirror it, pretending my life was the same. It started out innocently and eventually got more complicated (pretending turned into flat-out lying), but it was simply a way to try to convince others and myself that my life was meaningful. The key to that, if you’d ask any pathological liar, is to be able to manage what you tell people and know what lie you’ve told to whom. It was very easy to fool people that didn’t really care about me as I grew up, but things got tricky when I got older and had to face people that loved me for who I was. As some young people these days would put it, the struggle was real, and it led to many internal debates that flooded my thoughts.
Do they actually love me for who I am, or just who I am pretending to be? I wish that they’d love me for me, but how can they know if I’m not being who I really am?
That’s an awfully shitty place to find yourself in- wanting so desperately to be loved while feeling so ashamed of who you are. I wrestled with many possible ways to fix it, all of which involved maintaining my reputation and none included coming clean to anyone about my actions. Covering lies with lies, that’ll do it.
I’m going to side step for the second half and add a very critical element to the story. The fact that I’m a Christian adds a whole different value to the equation of my psyche and how I dealt with the milieu around and within me.
I’ll start with a very short introduction to why I became a Christian to set the stage a bit. I have faith that Jesus is the savior because of what I believe to be a supernatural experience with him. To be very short, and to try not to sound too “Christiany”, I felt the love of Jesus one random Sunday morning when I was 9 years old. I call it supernatural because there weren’t any perceivable “natural” conditions that led to my encounter with Jesus. There are certainly many more details to the actual story, which I will elaborate on in a post to come, but there are just a couple important facets we will focus on for our purposes here. One is that this was the first palpable feeling of love I had felt up to this point in my life. Even to this day, the encounter with Jesus on that random Sunday morning stands as one of the most tangible occurrences I have ever had. The other aspect to take note of is that the love I experienced from God that day was the only knowledge I had of him. To repeat and to sum it up, it was the only feeling of love that I knew and it was the only insight I had of who God was. Those points are critical because that view of love and Jesus was pivotal in how I saw everything around me.
Later on, I got a Bible and I read about Jesus’s interactions in the Gospels and noticed there seemed to be a resounding theme: Jesus loves people despite themselves. The concept made total sense since he revealed himself to me when I definitely wasn’t looking for him and didn’t deserve his revelation. In fact, it seemed like all of Jesus’s actions didn’t make any sense at all and were kind of counter-cultural even for that time. Since I was somewhat of a socioeconomic outcast, I was very attracted to how Jesus seemed to rebel against the rich/religious and their systems.
Fast forward a few years and take a teenager with this perspective and plug them into an American-Conservative Christian culture. In my limited view, I saw these other Christians as a culture that tells you that “Jesus loves you”, but acts as though “Jesus loves you IF (fill in the blank)”. A culture that says:
Always act as if everything is “all-good”
Only hang out with other believers
It felt as though the people that called themselves “Christ followers” were the exact people that I read about Jesus rebelling against in the Gospels. Of course I’m generalizing, and I was only a teenager, but there were many things that I couldn’t relate with as I got involved within Christian community. All this time, I thought being Christian meant solely that I understood my need for a savior, that savior being Jesus, and that Jesus loves me and died for me. But as it turns out, Christianity seemed to be more about acting and looking like Jesus, instead of acting and looking like we need him.
Avoid this. Don’t talk about that. Don’t date them. Can’t watch that. Don’t vote for him.
At first, I wasn’t necessarily against what I was seeing, I was just utterly confused by it and I even bought into it for a while. Eventually, though, it became more of a struggle of trying to understand how to deal with the constant conflict. No matter how much I tried to fight it, I couldn’t get around the fact that I felt different than how I saw other Christians living. I was not even close to perfect; I saw sin all over my life and, in my heart, didn’t truly hate everything I was told to hate. Most times, I found that I could relate more to “sinners” than I could with the “saints”. It became pretty clear to me that I was the type of person that we were supposed to avoid.
This is where the lying really came into play. I believed in the same God as these people, but I wasn’t nearly qualified for the standard that appeared to be set, so I pretended to be. I figured I could learn to look Christian over time and, with enough practice, I could get away without having to face my problems. That line of thinking was obviously very flawed and led me down very weird paths. The logical and hyper-analytical side of me knew I was wasting my time, but there was still that part that felt stuck.
To bring this to a close, I’ll admit that the things I lied about weren’t always as dramatic as they sound, although sometimes they were, too. Surely there were physical “sins” that I would keep to myself. They ranged from things to do with sexual activities with girls to minor money-oriented problems. Those things definitely had their consequences, but the larger portion of what I would keep to myself was the huge part of me that felt doubts, fear, tension with the church, feelings about people and just about anything else. My biggest problem was that I didn’t trust people with the finer details of my life and I kept every dark part of me enclosed, often even hiding it from myself. The battle went back and forth throughout my teenage year until around the age of 21, when reality caught up with me and actually flung me in the completely opposite direction.
Through friendships, spiritual occurrences, marriage, and other random experiences, I was eventually forced to face these issues that I had with revealing my hand to people. In fact, through the processes I learned how beneficial transparency is in the grand scheme of life, not to mention that Jesus calls us to be transparent and full of truth. Nowadays, I am compelled to run a race of complete honesty, no matter how brutal it can be or how naked it could make me feel. I can see the double standard I set, saying that Jesus loves us no matter where we are, while I didn’t believe that about my own position. I also understand the pain and struggle of maintaining a false identity, and just how selfish it really is to be unwilling to burden others that love me, including my savior.
Despite the realization of the importance of honesty, the tension I feel with church culture hasn’t necessarily subsided. In some ways, the growth I’ve had in these areas has contributed to a greater, yet different type of separation than there was before. A progressive would probably call it “maturity”, whereas a fundamentalist might label it as “rebellion”. I’m almost positive that it has to be a combination of both, but I also am not standing here claiming to have any answers. There are still many struggles that I sort through daily, it should make for great writing material to come. If you end up following Christianpig, you’ll hear all about them as I continue to wade through the huge part of me that feels doubts, fear, tension with the church, feelings about people and just about anything else. In the very least, it should be interesting.