By the time I was 16, I had learned that there was a meaning behind each of the looks that appeared on my mother’s face. She’d always been animated that way, and needless to say, she’d have a rough go at a poker game.
I arrived home from school on a warm spring afternoon, outfitted in a pair of navy cargo shorts, fresh white K-Swiss sneakers and a graphic T from American Eagle. I greeted my mother in the kitchen with a kiss, as I always did, but the look on her face immediately made me realize a conversation was coming.
She didn’t seem angry, but she was apprehensive about telling me whatever was on her mind. That much was clear. Then, she spoke.
“Sweetheart, I’m not mad and I trust you first and foremost, but I wanted you to know about a phone call I got today,” she said.
My heart sank a little bit. Here she was, preemptively giving me her support without any qualification for why, but also telling me she had my back. The possibilities for what she was going to say felt endless.
“I got a call from (not saying her name here, from church) and she said she heard that you planned to have sex with (not saying the name of a church Deacon’s daughter) after prom,” she said. “But I’m not telling you because I believe that. I’m telling you because I want you to know, so that if someone asks, you’re not caught off guard.”
I believed my mother. I always have. But it couldn’t undo the sting of hearing that something I held so dear – my quest for sexual purity and ‘saving myself until marriage’ – was being called into question. And it was by a woman from my church – a youth leader no less – who happened to be flat out wrong and devious, intentionally or not.
The truth is and was that I had no intentions of having sex after my prom, or doing anything of the sexual variety. I, like all of my fellow youth groupers, had been indoctrinated in the way of the evangelical church. Sex was strictly for marriage. The desires of our flesh outside of that context were, well, sinful and wrong.
The church had set a high, confusing bar for morality. But I was intent on honoring it until there was a ring on my hand. The rumor about me hadn’t changed that.
But that day, my spirit was broken, as was my comfort and feeling of safety in the church. It’s something that the 30-year-old version of me can identify as trivial. But for a naïve 16-year-old who’d put a great deal of trust in the same people who were now spreading rumors about me – to my own mother, no less – the experience was crushing.
I was defiant but deflated. I knew what I valued; I knew I still intended to wait for marriage. But the aura of safety and comfort that I felt in church were gone, though I wouldn’t fully grasp that truth until years later.
The church I was being groomed in had emphasized over and over again that hypocrisy, among other sinful behaviors, weren’t qualities that Christians should have. But how do you reconcile that information when the people imposing these values on you are the ones being hypocritical toward you?
In my mind, I separated the truth from the lie. But in my heart, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I’d been betrayed. A piece of my innocence had been taken from me, and in time I learned that I’d never get it back, even though I’d move beyond it.
Sadly, 14 years later, the affects are still there. I gradually withdrew from the church, emotionally at first, and physically by small increments as the years went by. My faith hasn’t wavered, but my attendance has.
Every time I step into a church, I listen intently and pray earnestly. But now, I intentionally stay to myself. As childish as it feels, all these years later, I have no desire to get involved in community with other Christians. To me, there’s too much hypocrisy, along with a weird obsession about what other people are doing with their genitals (abortion, pre-marital sex, gay marriage), along with a lack of care for any human that isn’t a fetus (I know, the irony).
The truth is, my world is still filled with Godly positivity and love; people who are doing good in the world and good for others, selflessly, which is something I was always told that only Christian people do.
What I’m willing to concede is this – I’ve unfairly ostracized numerous Christians for the misdeed of one. I’ve abandoned a (mostly) wonderful community because of my fragile ego. But I’ve gained perspective, balance and authenticity.
I’m still on my way – and sometimes going the wrong way – but I haven’t given up my quest for God. I’ve always wanted ‘good’ in my life, along with people who would be true to me when I’m right and especially when I’m wrong. In a life outside of the church, I’ve had that.
Ironic? Maybe. A blessing? Definitely.