I’ve been tearing through Glennon Doyle’s newest book, Untamed, for the past few days and a very surprising side effect popped up.
I developed a new perspective on my true feelings on God.
As a kid, I had a very contentious relationship with God and the church. I didn’t know that I was necessary gay at young age, but I remember feeling different as early as first grade. One of my very first, best friends introduced me to his dad’s Playboys in the closet one summer afternoon hastening my realization that what he was experiencing wasn’t the same as me. It’s really interesting ever recalling this now as an adult and realizing that my analysis of the world around me, and the judging how I differ from it, started very early.
I’ve always seen religion as a major cornerstone of the black experience in America. Historically, when no one that doesn’t look you treats you with dignity and respect you always have God on your side. It’s comforting, inspiring, and helps makes sense of all the evils that have come down on our people in this world. There will be salvation. There will be glory and peace even if you don’t have it now.
But that’s not what was reflected to me from religion. I knew that I was welcome. Henry, the son of a wonderful church-going woman who was polite and smiled was definitely welcome. What always made me afraid and unwanted was this unknown difference inside of me. While I couldn’t name it I heard being different was not what they wanted out of me. I was to follow the rules. Do as I‘m told. I remember sitting in church pews many times as a kid for various reasons and just feeling generally uneasy in my skin.I was certain that I wouldn’t be welcome there anymore if it were reveled who I truly was inside...and let me tell you, maintaining a dam inside which you hold back all the unique things about yourself is tiring. Very tiring.
So what is a ten year old kid to do when confronted with the respect and love of his elders versus what he feels to be true? I decided, then and there, to throw it all away. God, the Bible, any teachings, those who claimed to speak any gospel. If the church was going to be wonderful to my face, then get on the pulpit and tell me how people different were wrong and bad and I must avoid the temptation of them at any cost then I would reject them. And I washed my hands of the whole thing.
I remember about seven years ago, I was at the beautiful aftermath of a wedding held in a national park. A memorable wedding for sure...and I was having a conversation with my then boyfriend and one of his best friends. I tagged along while they talked about the church, God, and how their ideas of what a relationship with God meant after leaving their formal church environment and discovering what it to them personally. I remember this night especially because the stars were so prominent that I thought about the universe, my place in it, and how much there out there exists. Hoping to remain out of the conversation and afraid to offend either of them, I remained silent trying to fade into the background but I was spotted by the best friend.
She asked me, “What about you, Henry? Do you believe in God?”
“Not really. I believe in some force in the universe that keeps this all going but no.”
And it was true. I ignored at that time those feelings of awe in my body when I would look up thinking that I had to put that feeling into the box that I was told it was for, God. I struggled so hard not to put it in that box that I didn’t even stop to think about what faith or God meant to me. Glennon walked me though that conversation with myself through her gentle conversation about her own relationship with God. She had one particular section that hit me like a wrecking ball:
“When you were little, your heart turned away from the church in order to protect itself. You remained whole instead of letting them dismember you. You held on to who you were born to be instead of contorting yourself into who they told you to be. You stayed true to yourself instead of abandoning yourself.
When you shut down your heart to that church, you did it to protect God in you. You did it to keep your wild.
You thought that decision made you bad. But that decision made you holy.”
I felt so comforted and seen in the moment. Usually in times like this, when I’m deep in myself rumbling, I can see my childhood self. Small, smiley, really afraid, unsure how to tell people what he really feels. How to ask for help. I hold his hand in my mind, and we smile at each other. I tell him, “It’s okay, I’ve got you. I’ll be here with you forever, and I’ll never leave your side. Even when you think you’re alone, I’ll be there... and when life is done here, we will spend an eternity together.”
In that very moment I felt Glennon had said in the book, and I had heard many times over my life and rolled my eyes at:
God is in you.
And for the very first time, I recognized how I had built that relationship from the ashes of anger, frustration, and broken relationships to reveal the holiest parts of me. The godly kindness, nurturing, strength that was there all along obscured by internal and external blocks built up over time.
All this has led me to realize a new truth of mine: