When We Were on Fire
Today’s blog is in support of Addie Zierman’s book When We Were on Fire. Though I haven’t yet had the privilege of reading it, I’ve been deeply encouraged by her blog for some time now. Addie has a knack for saying things my heart has always wanted to scream; yet my mouth (or fingers in this case) has somehow been unable to say. To put it simply: her words have helped me see my self and my past clearer. I encourage you to check out both her book and her blog.
Prior to this, I’ve blogged exactly three times in my life. Once on a dare, again as a class assignment and now. Grace for the rough edges is appreciated.
I suppose the term On Fire for Jesus could be used to describe the entirety of my youth. Especially my Jr. High and early High School years. I grew up in an Evangelical Christian home, went to a private Christian school, and participated in nearly every Christian youth activity under the sun. In fact, both the school and the church I grew up in were in the same building. More often than not, I literally spent every day of the week at the church.
Back then, it felt as though being On Fire wasn’t an option. Everyone was burning, and I succumbed to the peer pressure.
My weeks were filled with the overwhelming frenzy of being On Fire:
Youth group, where I learned essential skills such as how to share my testimony and “save” someone in 5 easy steps.
Ministry where I devoted my Saturday’s to driving around in a giant blue and red bus making balloon animals and playing red-‐rover with some of the disadvantaged youth of our area.
Bible quizzing where my “holiness” was quite literally put into direct competition with others.
Christian concerts and festivals where I joined other Jesus-‐loving youth delirious with the high of perfectly programmed corporate worship.
Purity workshops where I learned Modest is Hottest and True Love Waits. While at the same time making lists of the essential qualities my future spouse was to have, and creating mod—podged collages built from pictures cut out of bridal magazines.
My youth was marked by many “mountain top experiences” with other Christian t‐shirt clad youth. It certainly was intoxicating.
In retrospect, I am both grateful for and disenchanted by my over-zealous Evangelical Christian youth. It provided a foundation and backbone for my faith. However, like other frenzies, constantly being On Fire simply wasn’t sustainable past a certain point.
There are a few definite experiences that caused the flame of my hyper-Christian youth to flicker. Perhaps it was just a natural byproduct of the maturing process, but during my last years of high school I started taking an honest look at some of the professing Christian’s around me.
Some of what I saw was encouraging and faith affirming.
Some of it was hard to stomach and devastated the Christian bubble that had encased my life thus far.
Without going into specifics, I’ll just say that several encounters I had with other Christians at this time seemed nothing but trite, judgmental, and sometimes just plain illogical:
- Tough questions oversimplified and met by clichés such as “Jesus is Truth” and “Just trust God”.
- Pointed accusations from fellow Christians that my life was not bearing enough fruit.
- Older peers making drastic and devastating mistakes even though they were once on fire too.
After a while, these experiences had worn my spirit; the cracks in my Christian foundation becoming more and more pronounced as time wore on.
Why is it that in times of struggle, we too often allow the seeds of doubt to overwhelm the seeds of hope? I don’t have an answer, but this is exactly what started to happen to me. Doubt and angst settled into my life at a frightening rate.
Feeling both burned and burned-out, the period of time directly after high school was difficult for me. I was in uncharted territory. Before, faith had come easily, Christianity felt natural. Now, I struggled with hurt, confusion, and doubt.
Not knowing what else to do, I distanced myself from the so-called Christian lifestyle. I stopped participating in the ministries I played a role in; I fled from the Beth Moore Bible Studies often forced upon me by well-meaning women of the Church.
I took a breather. Knowingly or not, I needed to create some space, some time to look back on my Evangelical Christianity-saturated journey thus far. I needed to separate the good from the bad and to make amends with some of the experiences and people I’d been burned by.
Though difficult, I firmly believe taking time to leave and welcome the space was one of the healthiest things I could have done. If I had kept “pressing on”, I know the aftermath would have been far more devastating. I needed to question, to doubt, and to let the anger and hurt work itself out. I needed the burns to heal.
Salve for the Burns
Like burns often do, the ones in my life have left their mark. These scars come in the form of cynicism and distrust of many of the things most Christians eagerly embrace. But more than that, they also serve as a reminder of where I’ve been, and how far I’ve come. It would be too easy for me to have never moved on from the time of hurt and anger, to wallow in the injustices I’d experienced.
While I’d love to say I was able to move forward on my own strength, it would not be the truth. If it weren’t for a few dedicated people in my life guiding me through and out of the times of struggle, I would probably still be wallowing.
If I were to wrap the moral of my experiences up with a neat little bow, I would say this: fellowship is invaluable. And by fellowship, I mean the real (and often messy) kind where you’re free to question, doubt, and feel angry if necessary. Find someone to walk through your struggles with you. You are not alone in this. There are others who have been burned too. It many seem hard to do, but keep talking and questioning until someone recognizes what you’re saying and comes alongside you, if only just to listen. Simply being heard goes a long ways towards healing. Give someone the chance to listen.
Perhaps, eventually you’ll be able to do the same for another who’s been left with the smoldering aftermath of once being On Fire.