I slumped on the worn brown couch in the therapist’s office. She sat across from me. Blonde hair, blue eyes, calm demeanor. I crossed my arms and said, “I don’t belong here. Therapy is for people with marriage problems.”
“Ok,” she said.
“It’s not for my kind of stuff,” I insisted. This woman was not getting it.
She shrugged. “Your stuff is your stuff.”
I stared at her. Suddenly, I wanted to weep. Yet I refused to give this stranger that satisfaction. I felt like she wanted something from me.
Then again, I felt like everyone wanted something from me, even God Himself.
I was 25 years old when I first went to a therapy session. I didn’t even go of my own volition at first. A friend of mine saw my downward spiral into depression and intervened. She filled out the paperwork for me, had me sign it, and then took me to my first session.
For this act, I remain in her debt.
By the time I was slumped on the therapist’s couch, I’d been gone from missionary and church work for 3 years. It had felt like a lifetime of firsts. First time having a job. First time having a boyfriend. First time staying out late with a group of friends. First time having a roommate. First time paying rent. First time getting pulled over by a policeman. First time getting kissed. First time having a glass of wine.
When I stepped off the plane from Germany into the United States as a 22 year old woman, I plunged myself into a world of choices. I suddenly was doing things that I hadn’t been doing before. It was exhilarating.
It was also terrifying.
I did all the things that well-adjusted, young adult would do but lived with a fear that very little of it was pleasing to God. I was convinced that, while I was loving the life out on my own, I would ultimately face God’s judgment for it. Even though, amidst all the new experiences, I still went to church every Sunday and Wednesday, tithed my income, and did my devotions every day. I also volunteered at my new church, sang in the choir, and went to Bible study.
The problem with the big world I found myself living in, compared to the small one I’d been exposed to, was that it both overwhelmed and scared me. Sometimes, I couldn’t breathe. Other times, I would just act strangely. At work, I’d run to the restroom and feel my chest constrict. Once at a friend’s wedding, I sat on the floor of the women’s restroom, thinking “I’m not going back out there. It’s too much. They’re dancing.”
My strict upbringing was coming to a head in my daily living. My prior posts have been telling the tale of how I was raised (and more will come). The environment for a strict, fundamentalist woman is not conducive to exploration, questions, or ventures. Any branches formed outside of a husband, a homelife, or the church are considered detrimental to a woman’s wellbeing and must be cut off. I moved from having very little power in decision-making to having all the power of decision-making over my life. The result was stagnation.
I couldn’t even make a choice on what kind of tea I wanted to order from the tea shop down the street from my apartment.
God made human beings in His likeness. We are stamped with the Divine Image of the Creator of the Universe. This means that we should be growing, changing, exploring, and reaching for the heights of accomplishments inside this world that He has given us. I just found myself a tiny bit stunted in the growing area.
Enter my therapist. Whether or not I first felt I belonged in her office, the truth is that I did. I wasn’t moving anymore on my own. I needed help. I needed a launching pad to sort out my place in this vast world. That pad just happened to be a worn, brown couch.
One afternoon, as I conveyed more to her about my “stuckness”, she looked me dead in the eye and said, “God isn’t requiring something of you. He just wants you to be.”
I didn’t have a response to that. Just be? Like just be myself? I didn’t know how exactly to do that since I held to the belief that I needed to be someone else other than me. Ever since my first encounter with Jesus as a child, I’d been taught by His people that I needed to conform to His likeness. After God’s love was poured out on me unconditionally to make me His child, then He provided a list of rules for me to keep, just to ensure He would still love me.
So, if I let myself “just be”, would He still love me?
I didn’t know.
I started to “be” a little bit. I stopped obeying so many of the rules of the church. The entire time, I talked with God about it. I told Him I was angry at Him, that I thought He was mad at me, and that I wanted Him to love me.
In the 2003 movie, “Luther”, one scene shows Martin wrestling with turmoil from his soul. His friend asks him, “Martin, what is it you seek?”
“A God Who loves me!” Martin cries out.
This became my same quest.
I suppose here would be the place to write about a great moment where I was so caught up in the love of God that I had a transcendent experience. Alternately, here would be the spot to write that I lost my faith completely and walked away from it all, because God didn’t exist and who cares what He thinks.
Except, neither one of those things happened.
Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
What happened, as I let myself be the person I was designed to be, was that God’s love showed up around me like a gentle wind on a summer day. Gradually, I saw Him everywhere. In the kindness of my co-workers who covered my shifts when I took personal days off. In the provision of finances when I couldn’t pay my bills. In the care of my friends who came and sat with me whenever I was sad and lonely. In the sprouting of flowers in the garden I planted. In the textbook of the science classes I took. In the gentleness of my new boyfriend.
Love became an ever-present reality. I still don’t understand how it works but it remained, even as I let go of all the rules and regulations. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I found this big world became a little smaller as I experienced life as God designed it. I went after the desires He placed on my heart, and I heard His voice behind me saying, “This is the way! Walk in it!”
Divine Love knows no limits, despite our desire to put it into a box and to tuck it away. It reaches into our humanity, into our brokenness, and into our shattered hearts.
From a place of grace, love reestablishes us.
For me, as I recognized the great love of God, the most powerful, additional realization was that His love had been there the whole time.
Then, one afternoon, I stood up from the worn, brown couch, gave my therapist a hug, and left her office for the last time. “You’re gonna be okay,” she said.
And, she was right.
The Baptist Nun
P.S. I have more stories coming about my past, so please come back for more.