Left Behind

I honestly will be returning to the 1 Peter fiction series soon, but this week I wanted to join with Addie Zierman’s synchroblog to celebrate the release of her book, When We Were On Fire. You can read others’ experiences of evangelical subculture on her link-up. This is mine:

Soul Survivor Conference, which began when I was a teenager

Soul Survivor Conference, which began when I was a teenager

We were at the back of the hall, both of us, huddled up, our backs against the wall. Her coat smelt faintly of the secret cigarette she’d smoked before she came in. I propped up my head, tired, against the cold wall and we watched the rest of the youth group worshipping at the front. It was some Matt Redman song with joy in it, and I could see a wall of hands raised in an ecstasy of worship. One of the youth group led the worship, eyes and hands lifted to heaven, as though they had an open channel to paradise.
I looked at them all at the front and bit my lip, feeling my resentment grow. It had always been me at the front.
At school I got the top grades, but I never felt comfortable to be myself, whereas at church, I felt like I belonged. When I was 9, I was playing the recorder in the worship band at our new church plant; at 10, I started leading Sunday School for the under fives; at the age of 13 I went on conferences on ‘how to grow in your prophetic gifts’ (though I’m not still sure that I ever had any); at 15 I went on my first short-term mission. By the time I was 16, I was leading Bible studies in the youth group, leading worship in church services and city-wide youth mission events, and leading the school CU.
I had been the ultimate keenie Christian, been to all the conferences, done the missions, bought the corny Christian T-shirt. I had been the leader, the one at the front. And then, in my final school year, it had all gone a bit wrong.
I had collapsed under a virus and a mountain of assignments and expectations, swapped Eden Burning and Jars of Clay for Alanis Morrisette and Nirvana, swapped Matt Redman and Mike Pilavachi for Silvia Plath and Sartre. And so here I was, still going to the church youth group, but at the back.
****
“Do you need me to give you the history notes for Tuesday?” she whispered, while the singing continued.
I was still recovering from a bad bout of glandular fever*. It had been months, now, and I was only just back at school part-time. I was getting so behind.
“Thanks,” I said. “That would be really helpful.” I could catch up on the English Civil War when I was resting in bed later in the week.
I watched the face of one of our friends who was jumping up and down in a frenzy of happiness, bouncing to the beat. And for some reason, I thought of those movies we’d watched as a kid.
The films were called ‘A distant thunder’ and ‘Thief in the night’, and they were a fictional imagining of the End Times, starting with all the Christians being raptured up to heaven, and those that were left behind having to escape helicopter chases and forage in bins for food if they had refused to take the mark of the beast. The second film ended with the sound of the guillotine swishing. It was truly terrifying, and I watched them both when I was eight. When the LaHaye ‘Left Behind’ series of books got popular in the 90s, I gave them a wide berth.
The message of the films was clear: stay close to God, stay on fire, because you don’t want to get left behind.
And that’s how it felt, at the back of the hall, that night, like I had been left behind, and I was watching all my friends get raptured and caught up into heaven. I was the only one struggling and lonely in my doubt, the only one missing months of school from illness.
Why was I the only one not full of the joy of the Lord? Why had God rejected me?
I felt completely alone.
****
But I wasn’t completely alone. I was sitting next to my best friend.
We could hear one of our youth leaders speaking at the front.
“He has prepared good works for us,” he was saying, “And – if you take out just one letter from ‘good’, you get ‘God’ – he’s prepared God works.”
Some of the others were nodding vigorously. I could feel my stomach tensing in bitterness. God had prepared nothing for me, I was just sitting round all day in my room doing nothing.
I whispered to my best friend, “Hey if you take just one letter out of ‘works’…you get ‘woks’.”
She started giggling, and then I started giggling, and then, because a few people were turning their heads, and we knew we shouldn’t, we giggled all the more.
We giggled because otherwise we would have cried, and we wouldn’t have been able to stop crying. We giggled with the relief of having someone else struggling alongside us.
****
We are both still Christians, and I think that is at least in part because of what happened at the end of those meetings where we’d sat at the back. Everyone in our Christian youth group, including the leaders milling around at the end, would hug us, and chat to us, and ask us how our week was, with no agenda other than that they were pleased to see us. No one told us to leave, or come to the front with the others, or stop being so darn teenage-angsty and just get over ourselves. We wandered, we wobbled, we wavered, but we were not despised or belittled; we were not left behind.

Our youth leaders loved Jesus, and they loved us, and were completely genuine in both. And that helps. Love helps.
****
I thought that there was a huge dichotomy between those two states of being: the teenage me leading up at the front, on fire for God; the teenage me sulking at the back, all burnt-out. But looking back I can see there was wasn’t that much difference: both ‘me’s were scared of doing wrong and being wrong, both wanted to belong and succeed. The only thing that changed was the way I masked those failed desires: through zeal when I was at the front, and through cynicism when I was at the back.
God had not left me behind, as though God were a train that had puffed away with the holy kids. God was there, in the places where I was not looking: in the whispers and the silences, in the friendships and the tearful giggles and the hugs.
God is not a train but a shepherd, and He walks with the wanderers.
*glandular fever = infectious mononucleosis, the virus that kicked off my M.E.

Over to you:

 

  • Can you remember feeling like you were ‘left behind’? What helped you?

 


 

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49 Responses to Left Behind

  1. Natalie Trust 16th October, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    You had me in tears at the end. So, so beautiful, Tanya.
    Natalie Trust recently posted…When God Fell From the #1 PositionMy Profile

    • Tanya 17th October, 2013 at 9:49 am #

      Ooo – thank you! I’m so glad it spoke to you.

  2. Marie 16th October, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    “No one told us to leave, or come to the front with the others, or stop being so darn teeaage-angsty and just get over ourselves. We wandered, we wobbled, we wavered, but we were not despised or belittled; we were not left behind.”

    This, right here. The church (in general) is so bad at disciplining true offenses and so good at freaking out over the small things.

    The last time I really felt “left behind” was a few years ago, when the hubby and I were in the process of leaving the first church we’d been part of as a couple. Even though we were moving, it felt like…being turned out. Friendships ended. It was painful. Sometimes it’s painful even now. What helps me is recounting all the things that Lord has done in our lives since the last time we set foot in that place. We might have ended up frozen out, but the chill drove us into His arms.
    Marie recently posted…FuzzyMy Profile

    • Tanya 17th October, 2013 at 9:48 am #

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Marie. Being frozen out of church sounds really painful. I’m so glad that, as you said, you turned to God in it. It’s so sad the way that we Christians can end up freezing others away from God. I’m glad God is so gracious to His church.

      And I think you’re right – so often the church is poor at disciplining the true offences, and it’s easier to seize upon the little things. I hope we get better in this area. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. Rebecka 16th October, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this so honestly and beautifully. I too have sat in the back wondering why I couldn’t feel the joy the others were singing about. I’m not sure what helped me, probably my parents.

    • Tanya 17th October, 2013 at 9:45 am #

      Sending you a solidarity ‘I can’t feel the joy’ high-five! I’m glad your parents were so helpful. Thanks so much for using your energy to comment.

  4. Shar 16th October, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

    Oh, wow, Tanya, wow, wow, wow. “The only thing that changed was the way I masked those failed desires: through zeal when I was at the front, and through cynicism when I was at the back.” YES.

    • Tanya 17th October, 2013 at 9:44 am #

      Thank you, Shar! (I was particularly glad for that realisation – I’m glad that it spoke to you, too.)

  5. Jo Royal 16th October, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    I totally get where you are coming from! Although I never felt like I ‘was there’ in the first place to be honest. I had attended our youth group for sometime before becoming a Christian – and always felt like the baby, the newbie, the one who really had so much to learn. I viewed everyone else as ‘super spiritual’ and felt as though they had been given a ‘fast track’ pass to the presence of God – whilst I was left at the back, slowing working things out by myself, afraid to even hope that one day I would be like them! Great post – bringing back some interesting memories!

    • Tanya 17th October, 2013 at 9:44 am #

      That’s so interesting! It’s weird, isn’t it, the hangups that we still uncover from our past, when we least expect it. I’m glad I’m not the only one who can identify that feeling of being ‘behind’. I wonder what unconscious messages our current churches give to the people therein?

  6. tallandrew 16th October, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    Thanks for this Tanya – and I love the ‘woks’ line! Made me laugh.
    tallandrew recently posted…A cry from the depthsMy Profile

    • Tanya 17th October, 2013 at 9:41 am #

      I’m really glad my sardonic teenage humour made you laugh! I’m proud of 17-year-old me 🙂

  7. Mark Allman 16th October, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Tanya,
    I was always friends with everyone but never had a best friend. Kinda still don’t. I never felt left behind just left out. I was ok with that in that it made saying no easier. I think life inflicts scars upon us all and kicks the fire out of us. It is when we realize we can burn passionate about something at the same time we are being beat down that we feel we understand something about being a person who can take on this life warts and all. That life is not about being “on fire” but more about keeping the embers alive doing the things we should do regardless of how we feel.

    • Tanya 17th October, 2013 at 9:41 am #

      I always think you are so wise. I think you are right, that probably for all of us life kicks out fire, and there’s both bad and good in that fact. This makes me wonder about you – what is the thing that you burn passionate about, in the embers of your life? I’d be interested to know.

      • Mark Allman 17th October, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

        Ok… I’ll try to put it into words and email you sometimes.

  8. Helen 16th October, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Oh Tanya, I love your honesty and the way you say what we’re all thinking. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and as you say, still a Christian and thanking God for all that’s under the bridge.

    • Tanya 17th October, 2013 at 9:39 am #

      Thank you, Helen! It’s always helpful hearing that I’m not the only one!

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