Sometimes I think we have mistaken Christianity to be a coping mechanism.
We confront this formidable enemy of death so we flip, flip, flip the pages of the Bible and grab on to the comforts of eternal life. We reel from the pain of heartbreak and turn to an all loving God—in God, our hearts can’t be broken. We are flustered and floored by our anxieties, anger, denial, sadness, discontentedness, and inadequacy, so we recite pithy Scripture verses. We suppress how we really feel and call it godliness.
Jesus says I have come to give you abundant life. But we have settled for so much less.
I spent a good first portion of my life coping with it. Christian Culture supplied a manual-like faith so that we would know how to adequately respond to life’s struggles. If an unspeakable tragedy occurs, the go-to solution was Romans 8:28, how God works mysteriously for the good of all who love God. If bad things happened in the world, you mutter, “Come Lord Jesus”, to hasten the arrival of the eschaton so that all the bad things can be easily taken care of. If you experience any sort of inner pain and struggle, there were answers so please don’t talk about it anymore, shhhhhh… Jesus loves you, pat, pat, it’s all good.
When I felt angry, I prayed until I stopped feeling angry. When I felt depressed, I meditated until I felt some relief. When I am confused, I sought my mentors for answers and was appeased.
I coped, and I coped, and I coped until I no longer knew how to really live.
I got to where I could no longer distinguish whether I felt a certain way because I was supposed to feel that way or because I actually felt that way.
I had lost who I was to the Manual. I became a puppet, a parrot—a shadow of me.
Certain theologies, remnants of Gnosticism, is responsible for driving a cosmic dichotomy between our sinful humanity and a spiritual transcendence. We were taught that in order to become truly spiritual, we must deny ourselves. We must become super-human, one who never gets upset, who always forgives unconditionally, one who shows ultra resilience and strength in the face of the darkest pain. Because only then can God be glorified—when we deny all of our humanity is when the work of God begins.
Which to me moves in the opposite direction of the biblical narrative. Because when God wanted to demonstrate to us how we must live, God became none other than a living, breathing, human being.
I think one of the most spiritual things we can do is to live as deeply as possible into our humanity.
One of the ways I began to practice this was to tenderly lean into life without the manual. For a while I refused to turn to pithy Christian answers of life’s problems, and I sank like a drowning man without a life jacket, gasping for breath. Turns out those go-to solutions helped like a flotation device, keeps you safe for a little while, buoyed on top of life’s rolling waves. But perched on top of a floating tube still leaves one lost in the middle of the vast ocean. To find solid ground, we have to let go and swim.
This is where Brene Brown comes in. She who has burst into the world through her viral ted talk on vulnerability and subsequent notoriety through best selling books and a space on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, Brene Brown is a social researcher whose professional job is to teach people how to be human.
Brene Brown says in order to be ‘whole-hearted’ we must be willing to embrace vulnerability. My interpretation of this is that in order to live as deeply as possible into our humanity, we must let go of the tube. When waves of rejection and grief and heartbreak and yes, sometimes even overwhelming love comes our way, we submit to the waters and learn to swim. It is a terrifying prospect—that is why Brene Brown also talks a whole lot about courage.
As a Christian, I had allowed my religiosity to become a security object so that I could avoid being so vulnerable in this beautiful and brutal world. It kept me safe, and perhaps was necessary when I was a child. But I am no longer content with simply surviving in the big, blue sea, I want to thrive. I want to explore, I want to swim, I want to never stop until I find solid ground.
I want to live as fully into being human as possible, giving myself permission to feel what I actually feel, speak my very real truths, and live as authentically as this world will allow.
I want to live as deeply into being the very ordinary Cindy Wang Brandt that I am, giving vulnerably of myself to the possibilities of danger lurking behind every adventure. I want to be accused of loving too lavishly, giving too generously, being too brutally honest, veering too far beyond orthodoxy, seeing too much faith in the irreverent, finding too many miracles in the small things.
I think we are afraid to let go of God as a coping mechanism, because terrible things happen when we expose our hearts without falling back on trite answers and rote solutions. But what if we allow God to lead us with bold vulnerability into the world?
Perhaps then we will find whole-heartedness, which I believe, is that abundant life Jesus came to give.