Phantom Limbs

On occasion, I hear hymns. I hear Hosanna Integrity and Dayspring songs on AM radio. I see an infomercial about purchasing the latest Christian Contemporary compilation CD and watch as seas of tear-streaked faces gaze at ceilings with their arms upstretched and their fingers splayed, while 30-second snippets of Third Day and MercyMe songs play.

Other times, I find myself in a room full of people, and I happen to hear one guest greet the other.

“God is good!” the woman in the knee-length skirt calls.

“All the time,” the lady standing next to her answers.

“And all the time?” a man nearby chimes in.

“God is good!” they happily exclaim in unison.

Recently, I asked a fellow adjunct professor if she was considering the pursuit of a PhD, and she answered, “Only if that’s what God wants for me. I’d have to be intentional about it and make sure it’s His will. Otherwise, I’m not sure how far I’d get, trying to do it on my own.”

These are commonplace occurrences, though every time I hear a hymn or see a commercial full of earnest, tearful worshippers serenading Jesus with the lyrics of Jars of Clay or I try to make small talk with someone who only speaks Christianese, I feel like I’m having an out-of-body experience.

It’s like my Past is asking my Present for a divorce, and my Present keeps insisting we just need counseling.

I am one of many displaced souls, navigating life with phantom limbs and estranged innards. Just because certain childhood teachings no longer ring true doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten them. And even though it’s far more difficult for me to relate to people who insist that God’s voice leads them everywhere they go, I still kind of believe and envy them. When my straits are especially dire, I no longer expect God’s dramatic “rescue.” I no longer assume He’ll “send someone into my life” who’ll fix things. I no longer think that just because I pray and beg, full of hope and contrition, I’ll be “delivered.” But that doesn’t stop me from whispering or wailing, “Please, Lord, help!” as I frantically pack boxes or fill out applications or try to figure out how I’m going to eat.

My body is a mass of discord. My mind revolts, its suspicion and cynicism coloring everyone’s Christian catchphrases and making their earnestness seem foreign and inaccessible. My heart is as desperately wicked as my Bible said it would be. Pangs of guilt, sadness, and mourning routinely puncture my soul and I lament my reluctance to rejoin the Amen corner, where clichés bring comfort to all. My spirit ails, because it no longer knows how to treat itself. It’s no longer sure that the Lord will make a way. It cannot distinguish the Voice of God from internal monologue. It doesn’t know for sure that any of what’s happening is “God’s will for my life.” It wonders whether or not my decisions are the result of work, planning, and free will—and maybe when things work out well, God is just looking on, approvingly, rather than decreeing or decrying my job choices, writing topics, or romantic leanings.

This is a shoreless state. I am in a holding pattern, numbing myself to the voices that have so convicted me, yet finding myself feeling unexpected guilt, at turns, nonetheless. I drift through days, encountering other escapees, other grown church children meandering uncertainly through decision after decision. We are falling in love, having sex, choosing cohabitation over marriage, and we are secretly condemning ourselves. We are covertly questioning our worth, still half-believing we’re doomed because we’ve “fallen.” We are both cringing and crying whenever a choir begins to sing.


5 responses to “Phantom Limbs”

  1. Hey Stacia. You captured how hard it is sometimes to reconcile past and present beliefs. It’s very moving. Hope you find your peace whatever it may be.

  2. I encounter this more and more since moving back to Texas. It can be very awkward! Last week I talked to someone who told me all about how the Lord helped him sell his house.

  3. i really don’t read your blog enough, at all.
    i can definitely relate.
    especially now that my siblings are reaffirming their beliefs and relationships with christ, while i remain as fervent in my willingness to question as i am in my urge to continue to pray

    …though at this point it is more of a personal affirmation from me to myself and the universe at large. so i feel that in that sense we can all meet on common ground, given the basic human need to feel that those things that’re out of our hands are somewhere in someone else’s, whether i always believe that deep down or not.

    but, you know
    in a way it really doesn’t matter
    because in their minds my belief (or lack thereof) equates to my inadequacy as far as salvation and the like are concerned.
    while for me, it just equates to being comfortable outside of complacency and blind faith…and being okay with that.

    i find i can still pray and be thankful just as easily without a jesus. i just think that the way christianity pervades our general american culture, has made it more difficult for me to convey that when i am asked to speak about my views publicly. or at least to convey that i haven’t grown three heads and am indeed still human and worthwhile.

    it’s hard to hit reset.

  4. My parents took me to church sporadically as a child, and Christianity never really took root.

    Most people I know self-identify as Christian, and I hear lots of “God’s plan for my life” and whatnot. I’ve always felt like an outsider, partly because I wanted to identify with that unquestioning faith, and partly because I felt I’d transcended religion.

    It’s interesting to read something from the perspective of a person who was once unquestioning. I don’t see a lot of that.

    But when I hear people greet each other with “God is good” “All the time,” I smile. I dunno. I guess the simplicity of it is nice.

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