It’s been six years since I first prayed to Jesus on the bathroom floor, and I’ve let go of my childhood desire to be the first Jewish saint. Or any kind of saint, really.
In some ways I feel I’ve outgrown my fascination with Joan of Arc. She’s still my favorite historical figure, but I no longer desire to be her. Maybe it’s cheesy, but I can only be myself: contradictory, fantastically screwed-up, always curious, still somewhat prodigal, but never boring.
Every day is a process. Every day is a challenge.
I realize today that there’s more to Christianity than evangelicalism, but it’s hard to decipher what’s true Christianity and what’s Christian culture. I think I’m okay living without the latter–many of its precepts are damaging: unhealthy instructions about submission (abusive Christian relationships were rarely mentioned), sexual education was driven by shame for our bodies rather than appreciation for being made in God’s image, relations with non-Christians were treated with an “Us vs. Them” mentality.
The more I wrestle with faith, the more I start to believe it’s better to be the kind of Christian who admits “I don’t know,” rather than throwing out the parts of the bible that don’t make sense. I really struggled with this when Dad was diagnosed with cancer for the last time, just months before my wedding. I longed to be Jewish again, to return to my roots: I even had the Hebrew word for “life” tattooed on the inside of my wrist–the same symbol Dad always wore on a gold chain around his neck (a gift from his father).
Watching his health rapidly deteriorate, I realized I didn’t know for sure what I believed about the afterlife anymore. I also realized there are some things Jews handle better than some churches I’ve attended recently: things like grieving. Jews, who are no strangers to suffering, don’t overly theologize pain. In my experience, Jews don’t have the same pressure to reframe it in a more sanitary context, assuring the sufferer that there’s a higher, holy purpose for this awful situation. Rather, they accept it for what it is. They aren’t afraid to simply say, “That really sucks.”
I wish more Christians realized that sometimes it’s perfectly okay to say that. Sometimes empathizing, not theologizing, is the most Christ-like response.
But I won’t go back to my pick-and-choose habits again. I continue pressing on because, as confusing as Christianity can be, I still believe Jesus is a man worth knowing. A man worth living for. He’s the original anti slut-shamer: a man who talked to prostitutes, humanizing them while the rest of society would have preferred to have them stoned. He’s a man who, after rising from the dead, chose to appear before a woman in a time when a woman’s testimony in court was worth the same as a criminal’s. He’s a man who championed underdogs when he could have had a direct way in to the Pharisees’ Cool Table.
He’s unique, this Jesus. And God willing, I will continue pursuing him until the end, no matter how difficult it gets.
I believe in a God who embraces our questions. It shows we are serious about seeking him.
Excerpted from Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter, revised edition