XXXI: Church Persona

I tend not to think of life in years as I do lifetimes. Currently, I’m on my third lifetime. I was watching some videos over at IAMSECOND, and one of the speakers brought up the point of not really understanding God’s grace until you release your church persona. It wasn’t until I heard that, that it really clicked with me.

In 2009 I was the model American Christian; I went to church, I knew scripture, I could maintain theological debates, I was in the right place. Two years following I gave up on the church image and walked away, hence the beginning of FilingThePapers.

Similar to the open road this has become my sanctuary, my reminder that God exists, that God is love, and that God cares about my repulsive, sinful soul. The rest of the world laughs at my mistakes, I personally tear myself down daily, but I can still wake up knowing God loves me for the flawed person I am.

It starts by removing the church persona. For individuals like myself, growing up in a Southern Baptist church meant that you would be there all day Sunday, most of Sunday night, and Wednesday nights. As you got older you’d find more time to be there. After all, if you’re at the church surely you can’t be getting into trouble.

I think that belief really triggered the beginning of the decomposition of my soul. The idea that I was protected from God because I did His bidding in church. In several ways, how I conducted, acted, and hid so many things of my life within the walls of that church kept me from understanding His grace. That’s not me blaming a pastor, preacher, or deacon; that’s me expressing that I used a church as an excuse not to focus on grace. If I entered the building and shook enough hands throughout the week I was good. No one taught me that, that was the lie I found myself believing.

My friends were gossiping? At least I’m not like them, I’m at the church where I’m holy. If I can keep from lusting and looking at porn while I’m at church camp or a mission trip versus the other 51 weeks of the year, that’d basically make up for all the times I messed up.

These were real thoughts, very real thought. Thoughts I treasured and held onto way past my teenage years. I was manipulating myself and it didn’t hurt anyone else. I fed myself lies, put on a great image, said the right things, and lived a dark, hidden life once the doors locked and the music stopped. That exact concept bled into my marriage, don’t think for a moment that things changed just because I got married. If anything it got worse. The lies that the world can tell you about marriage, women, and sex can build a facade of dreams that are shattered when reality hits. Your wife didn’t do anything wrong, but your mind was already corrupted. You created these unrealistic expectations for an individual, and when they couldn’t meet them, you gave up and went back to the life where you knew pleasure lied.

That’s a very real, close look at my life in 2010 and 2011. I never met a hooker, but I did think often about one-night-stands. While nothing played out in the real world, the thought of it itself was enough to continue the corruption of the soul. I paid a dear price for all of these hidden transgressions that I chose not to bring out into the public, or even confide in with my wife. That squeaky clean American Christian was ruined and there weren’t enough mission trips to cover up that mess.

Here’s the thing, God loves and God heals, but there isn’t some magical barrier that happens through repentance that makes temptation go away. When the devil knows what your trigger point is, he’ll make you suffer in ways you didn’t even think were possible. One of the hardest things I had to do, when I had been dating Darco for a while, was being honest and truthful with a very dark past. It was, and still is, one of the hardest things I ever had to talk about. However, I had to do it. This woman, who truly gave me a second chance at love, had to know my inner demons.

She didn’t hold them against me. She didn’t judge me for them. She didn’t push the topic, but what she did do was stay constant. Even to this day she knows situations that I shouldn’t be placed in, and she keeps a balance of trust and expectation of me. I’m fine with admitting that, and husbands…whatever the case may be, I’d expect the same to be said about you and your wife.

Life required me to remove the covers, the masks, the fake imagery of some life that I had slopped together because it wasn’t real. Additionally, the facade of a life was damaging to God’s kingdom. People should know that the guy in the choir has a serious temptation issue with lust, or the worship leader deals with gossip, or that your best friend fights off so much negative about themselves that they can’t continue much longer on their own.

There are several eventful moments coming at FilingThePapers. July marks the third year anniversary of this site and we’re on the cusp of 30,000 views. Maybe even here there needed to be an acknowledgement or confession that I spiritually messed a lot of things up in my life, and I’ve done a lot of damage to God’s kingdom. I’m a man who has struggled with lust and a very painful imagination since at least 1998-1999 area, and those hidden vices caught up with me, and my life crumbled before me in 2011.

I said from the beginning that FilingThePapers was about being brutally honest, and sometimes it requires me to throw myself out there to see where my body lands (this should also clarify the recent post about the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition post and the other open letter to Alex Morgan).

Also, as I hope has been noted in here over the more “serious” topics, God is still love. When I mess up, make mistakes, hurt someone, hurt Him, etc…there’s a ton of things I do wrong each day. God is still patient, God still shows me grace, and God is still love.

That’s enough to know to calmly fall asleep at night.


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