I Tried Being a Church Girl

 The picture I took the the last time I went to church.

The picture I took the the last time I went to church.

This past year, I’ve had the most transformative experiences of my life. It’s befitting that this all happened during the beginning of my college career, right? Anyways, a year ago, I was in a completely different space. I was so aloof from the girl that I am today that I have no idea who that girl used to be.

Okay, I have some idea. That girl was shy and quiet. That girl was focused and determined. That girl had a closer relationship with God and her mom.That girl graduated from high school with honors about to attend college. That girl was in a self-proclaimed “I ain’t got time to fall in love” mood. However, most of that shattered like broken glass during the end of summer 2016.

Now, as I am a month into my sophomore year of college (I didn’t realize how fast I would approach it), I’ve distanced myself away from the church and my mom, and I have a boyfriend whom I love dearly. I’m still as focused as I am timid. There will never be anything that gets in the way of my success, and I can’t help being introverted. In fact, some people have decided to keep their distance from me. However, I left out a key descriptor of the girl whom I was a year ago-----she was broken. Since I’ve had that realization, I’ve been trying to repair myself.  How does a girl who is on a journey to recovery from brokenness wind up losing valuable relationships along the way?

I have no fucking idea.

I do know that prior to college, I wasn’t living my life. It took me a year to realize it. I was too busy trying to live up to everyone’s expectations of me. For my family, especially my mom, I was trying to be the best example for other 18-year olds. That meant getting good grades, not focusing on boys, and being God-fearing. I put heavy emphasis on that because it overrides everything in my family. Christianity dominated my life. It was absorbed in it, revolved around it and I ensured that I was doing everything possible to maintain my relationship with God. Thus, I read my Bible every day, studied devotionals, attended Bible study and Sunday school regularly, volunteered at church events, and tried to become the epitome of the perfect “church girl”.

 

The church community only coaxed my attempt to be this perfect church girl. Involvement in Sunday worship was encouraged because it was what God deserved and not being involved would only inhibit our blessings. I did that. Wearing the best outfit (by “best” I mean the most appropriate for the church’s standards) was emphasized simply because God deserved the best appearance presented before him on Sundays. It was a struggle, but I eventually learned to strut in heels and became comfortable wearing “nice” dresses to church. Additionally, there was this sentiment within the church that a woman’s value was directly associated with her romantic life. Virginity was the key to success in God, and marriage was the presumed goal for every “wholesome, Christian woman” (that Proverbs 31 woman).

Instead of doing those things out of devotion to God, I did them because I was afraid of the reaction not doing them would invoke. I feared being judged. In fact, I meticulously  judged others who weren’t doing those things because I envied their decision to live their lives. What would my mom,  who preached “keeping God first” to me every day, say if I stopped doing those things? She’d say that God isn’t pleased and there will be repercussions for my actions.

That’s what she’s been telling me for the past year. Of course, she wasn't alone. The judgment from everyone is a bit overwhelming at times, but I’m learning to understand that my happiness is a priority. In this learning process, I’ve understood why the hell I was broken in the first place.

It hit me during the first couple months of my freshman year, but it really slapped the shit out of me just recently. I am incessantly concerned with what others think about me, and I finally know why. It’s simply because the people around me would judge every thing that I did, and it was under the guise of Christianity. Basically, if I let those people down, I was letting God down. Thus, I had this unspoken loyalty to people regardless of how they made me feel.

Furthermore, when I lost my virginity, I felt like I had all of these eyes gazing down upon me. I could imagine the woman from church who forced me to go to the altar to worship on the last Sunday I was in attendance, looking at me with a disappointed grin. I could imagine the pastor who called my name to run around the church in response to my acquiescence to worship ignore me. I could imagine my mother’s tearful plea to save her “rebellious” daughter. In that moment, I could sense the instant disconnect of my church family from myself as if they had already come to their selfish conclusions about the woman I was becoming. As if they knew, better than me, who I was supposed to be.

However, losing my virginity to an atheist made me feel even more culpable. It was counterintuitive to anything involving Christianity. I shared one of the most sacred experiences a girl can have with someone who doesn’t believe in the God I was trying to escape judgment from my entire life. That someone is my current boyfriend. In what felt like a relief, that moment of passion gradually loosened the shackles of oppression from the church that I couldn’t break off by myself.

When I stood in my first silent protest on campus for the LGBTQ+ community which the church so publicly castigates, I still felt those eyes heavily surrounding me. I remembered the brief grimace I'd received from a minister when she saw I was wearing my “Free Black Woman” t-shirt to church, insinuating that the words “free” and “Christian” could not be associated.  I remembered the “Amens” from the church when the preacher criticized Black Lives Matter by saying that black lives didn’t matter until black lives mattered to black people. I could imagine those same people looking at me like I was doing something wrong as I silently stood there, protesting the way that a trans woman was treated on campus.

I became more liberated as aspects of myself started to be pieced together. During that process, the last thing I wanted to do was find a church home near campus, although I was telling my mom otherwise. I didn’t want to return to brokenness while I was in the process of being restored. I didn’t want to be re-introduced to that burden of moral and Biblical pressure to the point where it decimated my relationship with God. I wanted to discover God in my own way, without anyone forcing a relationship between us. I wanted to redevelop a relationship with God because I truly loved him and not because of the consequence I would face if I didn’t.

That girl from a year ago was broken from years of unhappiness that became the reward in the race to live up to everyone’s expectation. I’ve since taken a detour to the finish line of my happiness without any pressure, and instead of having a fearful and oppressive relationship with God, I’m rediscovering His goodness on my own.