I’m fully aware that this is a click-bait title. However, it is also true.
I also wish that I could give you all the details of what I mean by this, but I’m choosing to only paint in broad strokes for the privacy of the person who changed me. I realize that this decision to withhold all the details may dull the impact of my story. But, I’m choosing to be OK with that for the sake of this person. I hope that God would speak to you through the story of my experience and that He would overcome any distractions in the limitations of my words.
That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ, all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least o’ my brethren, that I do unto Christ.-Carl Jung
But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yeah, the very fiend himself, that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved. What then?
Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed: there is then no more talk of love and long-suffering; we say to the brother within us “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world, we deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves, and had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed….The very thought can make us sweat with fear. We are therefore only too delighted to choose, without a moment’s hesitation, the complicated course of remaining in ignorance about ourselves while busying ourselves with other people and their troubles and sins. This activity lends us a perceptible air of virtue, by means of which we benevolently deceive ourselves and others. God be praised, we have escaped from ourselves at last!
There are countless people who can do this with impunity, but not everyone can, and these few break down on the road to their Damascus and succumb to a neurosis. How can I help these people if I myself am a fugitive, and perhaps also suffer from the morbus sacer of a neurosis? Only he who has fully accepted himself has “unprejudiced objectivity.”
Many of us can point to an event we might call “the worst moment of our lives”. I’ve had my share of painful experiences in life. There were challenges during childhood. Loss of people I loved very much. Heartbreak. Very scary health events in my young marriage. To name a few. But about six months ago, I found myself in a place where my internal world was falling apart, and I felt completely out of control. I had spiraled into severe sleep deprivation and was suffering from out-of-control anxiety and terrifying panic attacks.
This might come as a surprise to people that know me. My life was very well-managed. Good husband, beautiful kids, nice house in a nice neighborhood, successful career, confident in my skills and abilities, etc., etc., etc….
It honestly came as a surprise to myself. I had heard people describe panic attacks before–like you feel as if you’re going to die even though you know you aren’t dying. I didn’t understand that. It seemed like you could solve the issue by just telling yourself you aren’t actually dying and that it’s all in your head. It’s amazing how a personal experience can change your perspective… and also amazing that I’ve often dismissed the personal experiences of other people because it didn’t make sense to me based on my own experiences. How prideful is that? How transformative would it be if we actually just believed people when they told us how they felt when something happened? And then just accepted that how they felt was OK and valid and true instead of devaluing the feelings of others? We often do this because their feelings threaten our own fragile egos… but that’s a post for a different day.
Back to my story. Back to the worst moment of my life. Once again, I’m choosing not to disclose details and hoping you can believe me when I say this was the most terrified I have ever been in my life. I had slept probably 10 hours total over 5 days and on this particular day, I was suffering from panic attacks that wouldn’t cease. I felt totally broken and helpless, and this was, by far, the most vulnerable moment in my life. How could a competent person like myself not be able to control this or pull myself together?
And that’s when God revealed Himself. The person who showed up to help me during my lowest point in life was a transgender woman. My first reaction to this was fear. You see, I grew up in the evangelical Protestant church and got “saved” at 7 years old. My understanding of the evangelical message is, once you “accept” Jesus for your salvation, you are a new creation and your job is to follow Jesus and be a light to other people who haven’t found him. With this frame of mind, I viewed myself as the rescuer. My fear came from years of a church background which perpetuated the idea that I was different from those in the LGBTQ population. That in some way, they needed rescuing. In my ignorance, I thought this was a loving, compassionate view.
It’s hard to be vulnerable about your own struggles, when you’re supposed to be the example of someone who has Jesus and, therefore, has a leg up in life. In church world, I feel that the emphasis on Christians to behave a certain way is shortsighted–or incomplete. We like to look at our faith as if accepting Jesus was the starting point, and it’s a gradual progression up from there. That view is very dangerous because when you are representing something or someone, it’s nearly impossible to be completely vulnerable. So we bury the darkest parts of ourselves or choose not to bring them to the surface. “Leave the past behind” is a phrase that comes to mind. What I’ve come to learn is that following Jesus is dying and becoming new. Over. And over. And over again. Dying to what we thought we knew. Dying to the convictions that block our flow of love and acceptance towards others. Dying to what people told us we were. Dying to who we thought we were. These things don’t happen in one moment in time (especially when you are a child and not even psychologically developed…is it even possible to become “new” before you’re even finished developing? Again…another post). This is the journey of a lifetime.
In my mind, I had been a Christian for 25 years. But, there I was at 32 years old, dying to my old self radically for the first time and rising up completely changed. This was my Road to Damascus experience. My death and resurrection. My true conversion. And it had nothing to do with a prayer I prayed in church to “accept” my salvation.
In the moment when I was, metaphorically speaking, flat on my back and helpless, the first person God put in my path to help me was transgender. This woman didn’t judge me or feel threatening to me. The fear that showed up as my first reaction to her originated from my belief that I was the one who was supposed to be helping “people like her.” Not the other way around. As I began to speak to her and explain what I was going through, she listened to my pain and empathized completely. She shared that she had gone through the same things as me, and in that moment, I stopped viewing myself as a Christian speaking to a transgender person. We were just two people speaking the language of pain. More than anyone else in my life up until that point, this person saw me in all my pain and brokenness and said, “me too.” I didn’t need to be a light to her. I just needed to receive the love and help she was offering me.
I look back on this moment when the veil was torn in my life and the scales fell from my eyes. There was no “us” and “them”, no church insiders and outsiders. Only us. In that moment, we were one and the same, with external shells that looked very different. So often Christians see someone externally. How they look, their behaviors. We talk a lot about behaviors and “sin” and changing our behaviors so that we are more like Jesus. How about we forget about behaving and let God show us who we already are–who we’ve always been? The danger for me is that behaving correctly earned me a lot of applause and accolades. There were no red flags in my life signaling a problem. Behaving correctly disconnected me from my true self. I suppressed my emotions and myself for the sake of being an example to others. My anxiety was my body’s way of telling me something was wrong. In a way it became the truest reflection of myself fighting to penetrate my persona. It took a while after that to sort out what was going on inside of me. But, that morning I saw myself and Christ for the first time in the eyes of a transgender woman, and finally saw myself the way God had always seen me. And, by the way, I have no idea if she was a Christian, which I think was the point. I’ve always thought that I was the one carrying the love of God around to others. Maybe he’s bigger than my tribal idea of him. Maybe He’s actually the omnipotent, omnipresent God that he says he is, pulsing through everything and everyone ever created. Maybe God is love. And maybe it’s as simple as that. I believe it is.
“Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends…That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man’s psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.”C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Wouldn’t it be more helpful–more powerful–if the church viewed all people as good (Genesis 1), and, instead of labeling behaviors as “good” or “bad,” asked, “WHY”? When I see people now, I see myself and Christ in them. I see a divine spark in everyone and everything that exists. And that changes everything. My hope is that through my story, you can be open to shifting the lens you view people away from right/wrong, good/evil and towards asking “Why?” about every behavior and story you do not yet understand.