2015 was quite a year for our family.
At the start of the year, I happened to write about the transition that was then underway, still unaware of all it would entail.It would indeed be “starting over.” But I homed in on another idea in that post, one that would turn out to be especially accurate: 2015 would be the year of “dying all the way.”
And it goes without saying, but dying kind of sucks.
Of course, I’m not talking about physical death here (though the physical death of a friend or loved one can accompany/trigger this) but an emotional, psychological, and spiritual one. I’m talking about the death of a season of life, of a way of being, of the patterns and routines and places and relationships and dreams that have come to define your entire perspective on everything – torn away, piece by piece, until you and your ego and your identity are laid stripped bare in the grave.
Ready for resurrection.
It happened. Accept it. Move on.
Not exactly the most revolutionary string of words but somehow of utmost profundity to me at this moment. Because oh have I tried to maintain some kind of grip on at least some pieces of that old season. Sure, there are good memories I will treasure, good work that was accomplished, important steps that were taken, and some vital (and vicious) lessons learned. But last year was characterized by the last gasps of that emotional entanglement and looking back; or as Brené Brown puts it in Rising Strong:
During the process of rising we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to that moment before we walked into the arena. But there’s nowhere to go back to.
There’s nowhere to go back to. Do you feel the weight of that? Everything has changed and no amount of wishing or analyzing or reliving can reverse that. If you’ve experienced some kind of traumatic shift in your life, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
And so here, at the start of 2016, I can honestly say that genuine and thoroughgoing acceptance has finally set in. It happened. It really happened! There’s no denying it. There’s no spinning the narrative or tolerating the false narratives that others have tried to apply. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen. Accept it. Really accept it! Accept it in all of its jagged, scarring reality. Hold its pain close, and then hold it closer, until it is absorbed into the astonishing reality that I am still here, I am still breathing, I am still alive! Integrate it into the truth of my true self, into the wholeness of my whole heart, into the bedrock of my belovedness in the Beloved.
And then – and only then – move on.
In the midst of 2015’s fuller, more complete dying, though, we could feel something else – a groundswell, a shift, a progressive kind of breaking through. Namely, we were beginning to arrive.
The first real glimpse of this came with the birth of baby Willa – or Bae Willa, as my middle child is fond of calling her. Willa’s conception (calm down) was nothing less than inspired. My wife Kalen and I decided to go for number 3 because of an overwhelming sense that our family would be incomplete without her, and having her would bring us into the fullness of our family’s calling and destiny. And Willa’s arrival was something like a refreshing wind of the Spirit in the precious incarnation of what had theretofore only been a thin promise: that hope is alive and help is on the way and homecoming is near.
The second glimpse came like a bolt of lightning. Literally. I’ve told the story in my newsletter The Letter Z, but the long and short of it is this: at a moment of personal and career crossroads, lightning struck a tree a few feet from our house, shook the walls and surged the power, and fried my (surge protected) internet router. Which, through a domino-like series of strange events, forced a choice that we were leaning away from – the choice to keep writing as a central focus in my ministry and career. This would in turn lead to committing and pressing forward with my book proposal, seeking representation from an agent, and finally…a two book contract with Zondervan. Light(ning), clarity, fulfillment – and the power of “almost.” Arrival, indeed.
The third and final glimpse is more etherial than the first two – a feeling more than an event. But it goes a little something like this: I just want to belong. The desire for belonging is kind of a miracle in itself; it is only possible to want that when acceptance has set in, when moving on manifests itself as more than distant potentiality – as actual reality. The deep desire to rejoin the world fully is something like a heat-seeking missile that begins to home in on a target. When that desire arrived in late 2015 – and it surprisingly did – all kinds of strange and powerful things were set into motion. You could almost hear the stone rolling away.
I am done with evangelicalism.
While that probably sounds like an epic pronouncement, it is more like a realization; this is simply where I find myself at this point in the pilgrimage. I wrote some months ago (perhaps kinda prophetically) on graduating, on being done with “evangelical church as usual.” I also wrote this:
It’s time to allow whatever additional elements of allegiance to an institution or organization or a form of religion to die, so that I will not stay too long, so that this will not need to become a messy(er) divorce.
And now, I stand at the point where allegiance to evangelicalism has died all the way.
I emphasize the -ism because what I am not leaving behind are any and all of the ways my faith bears certain marks of evangelical identity. In fact, this is precisely why I am done with evangelicalism – because it, as a somewhat anxious and defensive category, often practices the “forced teaming” of demanding conformity to its major points and players. To hold some of those points in common but not others, or some of those players as friends and accomplices but not others, is to find oneself outside the bounds.
But the fact is, I have woken up. I have progressed. I can’t deny it. And the reason I can’t is because I want to belong.
See, belonging begins with knowing thyself. It begins with being thyself. It begins with, dare I say, loving thyself (something that is incredibly hard for me to do). In this context, it begins with accepting all the ways in which your real, embodied experience has shaped your faith. It begins with living that faith, and living it to the full.
This is what the experience of death – and resurrection – is all about. The death of old identities and ego-masks leaves you finally ready for rising strong as your true self. And that’s what leads to belonging – to a place, to a people, to a way of life. The more we embrace the true self, as we have been created and re-created in the Beloved, the more we begin to walk in fullness of joy and flourishing life.
The fact is that I hold those evangelical elements of my faith near and dear, even as I hold the liturgical and progressive elements of my faith just as near and dear. I am leaving behind both the inner and outer struggle of being doubtful and double-minded or oscillating back and forth to try to please the “teams.” Instead, this tension is becoming an integration – not a battle. And it is precisely this personal integration that will create an integration in connections, community, and calling.
Which is to say, belonging.
And that, at long last, here in 2016.