I still wake up terrified.
This is my default setting: hyper-vigilant. The moment my eyes open each morning, my brain begins its relentless scanning: look for threats, stay alert, watch therefore for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come…
Yes, my brain still thinks in KJV English.
I’ve been preparing for the End of the World since I was a little girl. I gotta be honest, I’m super disappointed Jesus didn’t show up in 1988. Or even Y2K. I was ready to go, man. Grab me my Rapture ticket and blast straight on up to Glory-land.
But the End of the World didn’t go according to plan. I’m still here. The world’s still here. And the news is still bad. The only thing that’s changed is now I spend money on therapy instead of stockpiling.
Whenever I tell my story to Christians they are predictably shocked or concerned. They express sympathy. They feel compelled to tell me not all Christians are legalistic fundamentalists. The normal, happy Christians quickly distance themselves from their wacky, fundamentalist brethren and assure me that their church is different. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” they tell me.
I appreciate their concern. I’m thankful that at least Christians are listening to my story. But I’m here to tell you that what I experienced inside fundamentalism happens everywhere. No church is immune to the fundamentalist mindset and cult-like behavior. My story isn’t as unique as many Christians would like to believe. My story is everywhere—you only need eyes to see.
And sometimes? Sometimes the only way to “move on” is to completely deconstruct everything. Sometimes it’s not enough to try a different flavor of the same religion. Sometimes before you rebuild you must question everything.
I dared God to prove that the Real God was different than the God I knew. I dared the Real God to show me love.
It didn’t happen in the usual way Christians find God—or, at least, not in the way we most commonly hear Christians talk about their conversion experience. I didn’t have a mountain-top moment of enlightenment. I never once heard the voice of God speaking directly to me. Nothing magical happened. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that I experienced a slow dawning awareness of mystery. I began to see differently.
Fundamentalism crushes mystery. It beats out the exquisite beauty of faith by trying to codify and contain God. It takes the inexplicable and binds it in tidy, black-and-white explanations. But if faith is the substance of things hoped for, by very definition it cannot be bound. It cannot be perfectly explained.
Eventually, I found my way back to faith in Jesus Christ. Or, rather, the love of Christ found me and carried me safely Home.
And though I still wake up terrified, I’ve learned that if I gently turn myself toward God, the fear dissolves into awestruck wonder.
Elizabeth Esther is a mother of five, award-winning blogger and author of Girl at The End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future. Her writing has been published in newspapers, parenting magazines and online. In 2011, she appeared on Anderson Cooper’s TV show to advocate against abusive “Christian child-training.” She lives in Southern California. You can find her at www.elizabethesther.com or on Twitter @elizabethesther.
Amanda Cine says
I just found you through InCourage today! Wow! I feel like you are telling my story! I can’t wait to read your book!
I have experienced freedom in Christ, like never before, in the past 10 years. He has truly “broken every chain” and continues to knock down walls of legalism in my life.
Are you my long lost sister? I couldn’t help but laugh at this part because it is so my default mode: “I’ve been preparing for the End of the World since I was a little girl. I gotta be honest, I’m super disappointed Jesus didn’t show up in 1988. Or even Y2K. I was ready to go, man. Grab me my Rapture ticket and blast straight on up to Glory-land.”
All of this ISIS stuff right now is freaking me out..especially since my brother is deployed to the Middle East right now.
The pastor who has helped me (and I believe God used his sermons to save my life) to begin to experience freedom from legalism is Tullian Tchividjian (Billy Graham’s grandson).
Putting your book on my reading list. Thanks
I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, I was disappointed Jesus didn’t show up in 1975! At the time I was 21 yrs of age married with one child. After that I began calling myself an agnostic. It wasn’t until 1991 I found or was found by Jesus. I do watch and listen to world events in the Middle East but with a true understanding of of what we should be watching and praying for as Christians. I will get a hold of your book when I can. Looking forward to it. Thank God for deliverance from false and/or legalistic religion!
“I never once heard the voice of God speaking directly to me. Nothing magical happened. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that I experienced a slow dawning awareness of mystery. I began to see differently.”
YES! YES! YES! I always felt like odd girl out when people talked about that moment. I didn’t have a moment. At least not one I can pinpoint. I just began to see differently.
There is so much beauty when Grace finds us… and takes the time to unfurl and unfold us slowly, wrapping us up in awestruck wonder! (And mint milano’s don’t hurt either!)
P.S. – How do I not know you? 😉
I just think that it will be like the twinkling of the eye. One moment here. The next with JESUS. I don’t personally think it’s going to be prolonged. Like a snap.
One moment I’m looking over the still still waters of the harbour outside my study.
The next, woala. Gone.
Then I’m just gonna ask all these questions. Ask JESUS questions. Talk. Converse. JESUS is my best Friend so it will be easy to continue our discussion.
I do not think the experience will be horrific but lovely. Like going back home. Like a place of peace and contentment. A place of excitement cos there will be so much to see and explore for all eternity.
Like the universe is expanding, I don’t think heaven will be just a small city. There will be so much to see and do and experience.
It will be a different kind of life. A new one.
Beth Williams says
Interesting post! I have never heard of Fundamentalism child rearing before.
Love your writing. I, too, have been waiting –more recently than before–for the return of Christ. There will be no more pain, work, etc. All will be glorious!