A week ago Sunday, I stood in front of my church congregation and gave my testimony. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
I have attended the same, small church for over 18 years. My children were raised in this church. Like most small congregations, everyone has to pitch in to do their part. I have sung in the choir, led the woman’s bible study, taught Sunday school, and served as an elder. The list goes on and on, but what I have done for my church is nothing compared to what they did for me this week.
Most of the congregation these days is of retirement age, people I respect and want to please like surrogate parents. I figured if they heard of my past I would be thought less of and admonished. How can someone as screwed up as me teach the bible study, lead the children, or serve as elder. I was damaged and disgusting, coming clean to these people meant facing the rejection of people I loved.
Why, if I felt so much trepidation, did I go through with it? My Pastor asked me to. I hadn’t even told him the story. I asked him if he wanted to read about my past first before I got up in front a room of older, established people. I didn’t want to shock them. They were so white bread, I was so tainted. I had loved listening to each of them tell their story when he called on them, but their stories were so different than mine, so much nicer. I was judging their hearts the way I thought they would judge mine.
“Pastor” I said. “I don’t know if I can do this.” It was the Thursday before my D-day and I was scared.
His response came in broken English with a thick Polish accent. “Is okay. Yes, no? You tell me.” Then he smiled at me. His broad face expectant. Moment of truth. I have prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide me. I had even told God that I would gladly tell the world of my past if asked during one of my brave Morning Prayer sessions. It was time to put up or shut up. How could the Lord use a silent witness? What good was a mute messenger?
“I’ll do it.”
Sunday rolled around and there wasn’t enough anti-perspirant in the house. I had barely slept the past two nights, I was a bundle of nerves. How do I handle the trauma of my past coupled with my past drug and alcohol use and subsequent suicide attempt? I was a fraud and soon the entire congregation would know.
I went over in my head how to tell about a seemingly idyllic childhood that was marred from molestation without actually saying that ugly word. How do I come clean about a life that has looked for the wrong solution to cover my depression almost every single time.
I prayed silently before he called me to the podium. Usually, the September Sunday that he chose for testimonies was crowded with multiple people sharing their lives. Not this time, I was the only one that was called. This September was all mine.
I put on my reading glasses so that the faces in front of me were an unfocused blur and began to speak. I had asked God to guide my words and he did. I glossed over the gross and focused on the Grace. Intimate details weren’t necessary, just a sufficient understanding that things had happened. When I came to my stoner past, I hesitated briefly then continued. All or nothing, this was it.
When I was done, the two men with substance abuse problems in the congregation gave me a standing ovation. And several others clapped. This was worse than being shunned. The glory was for God not me that was not the response I expected. I left the sanctuary to prepare for children’s church with blazing cheeks and a quivering chin. One friend gave me a high five on the way out. I had made it through without crying, but throwing up was still on the table at the moment.
After the service was done, I hid in my office counting the offering. I was already regretting my decision to open up my life to these people I admired. I was completely vulnerable and it was uncomfortable. When you lay your soul and your life down in front of the world, you face rejection. Their rejection was something I didn’t think I could handle.
A few popped their heads in my open door to tell me thank you, and a lot of hugs were given. The most comforting was from an old marine that bear hugged me like a father. Instead of comfort, my mistrusting mind jumped to conclusions. They simply feel sorry for me, I had screwed up again.
Over the course of the next week, I was at the church several times for funerals and my administrative duties. I avoided eye contact for the most part. I was so full of anxiety that my odd, leg shake returned, I couldn’t sleep at night, and I consumed a large amount of carbs and sugar. I had convinced myself that the next Sunday I would be asked to step down as a Sunday school teacher, and people would be standing in circles gossiping about me as I walked by. Images of Hester Prynne floated through my over active imagination. When people get to know the real me, they inevitably bolt. What if it happened again? When will I ever learn?
Amazingly, the next Sunday, I was greeted by smiles and more hugs and even a few “I love yous”. One of the really sweet little ladies I admired, grabbed my hand and said thank you. They liked and admired the real me. I wasn’t trying to be the perfect person I could never be, but the justified person that God wanted me to be.
It was the most glorious revelation for me. God forgave me, I had forgiven me, and now my church family had accepted me as the person I really was. I didn’t have to hide behind busyness to get approval. I didn’t have to pretend to be something I was not. I was at home, and I was loved.
Even if my worst case scenario brain had accurately predicted their reaction, it was okay. God loves me. And that is truly enough, but being accepted by humans validates that choice was the right one .
Nothing is too gross for God, trusting him as I reveal my innermost self to people is essential. I have no doubt that some will judge me for what I was, but the acceptance of what I am by the people that matter the most is incredible. I have an indescribable joy in my heart and an eagerness to share God’s blessing with everyone.
Sharing with the fellowship of believers is essential for healing. It doesn’t mean trying to outdo another with the most shocking past, it simply means being transparent so that God’s love can shine through you. My pride and my past are stumbling blocks to a closer walk with Jesus. His will not mine. I will gladly share when he leads me to do so. Rejection from men may come, but my righteousness with Christ is guaranteed.
I am a Christian, a wife, a mom, and a part-time basket case who wants to be a full time writer.