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. campbell c. hoffman 18th October, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    Yes, this –>”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.” I get this so, so much. And I’m finding God in all the unexpected places, too. Thanks for sharing.

    • Tanya 23rd October, 2013 at 10:47 am #

      Thank you so much for stopping by! I’m so glad that bit resonated with you especially.

  2. Susan Schiller 18th October, 2013 at 2:41 am #

    I can relate to being full of zeal, burning out, and feeling left behind. I think so many of us can relate, and it feels so good to find someone else who has walked a similar path. Sharing stories like this builds bridges… hopefully one day no one will feel left behind, left out, or overlooked.

    I’m glad your youth group accepted you both in your zeal and in your cynicism… what a blessing!

    • Tanya 23rd October, 2013 at 10:46 am #

      Thanks, Susan – lovely to see you on here! I love what you said about building bridges – that is a big hope of mine. And my youth group were great! – it has been really good to reflect on what a blessing they were to me.

  3. Shelly Hendricks (@Renewed_Daily) 17th October, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    I think by knowing, really experiencing, what it is to feel left behind… it leaves us in a really awesome position to be able to minister to others. It helps us to recognize each other, and know what to say or when not to say anything at all. It helps us to BE the love that is needed to hold people in community and in Christ.

    “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” – 2 Corinthians 1:4

    • Tanya 23rd October, 2013 at 10:44 am #

      oo – i LOVE the wisdom here. Thank you for this. 2 Cor 1:4 is one of my favourite verses.

  4. Becca 17th October, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    “Our youth leaders loved Jesus, and they loved us, and were completely genuine in both. And that helps. Love helps.” Absolutely. I was blessed with youth leaders who knew how to do this too. I think it made a huge difference.

    • Tanya 23rd October, 2013 at 10:44 am #

      That’s so great to hear! This post has been really good for reflecting on how blessed I was to have good youth leaders at such an influential time of my life.

  5. sandra hughes 17th October, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    Thank you Tanya…as I was reading it, I saw two of my daughters, not me. Both struggled with ill health in their teens, and were very frustrated and depressed as no-one seemed to understand….my eldest daughter was trying to do A levels and had to watch her dreams of training as a Dr slip away…and my youngest daughter struggled all through GCSEs….and then A Levels. There is an age difference of 16 years between them, and we saw a big difference in medical help later on…My first daughter was finally diagnosed with ME after 3 years, and for her it was a huge release and relief, she had an answer…but it didn’t help with her education. Fortunately, many years later, she has got her degrees, whilst working and having a family. She received her MBA this year. My youngest, is still struggling, having been asked to leave school before she completed her A levels, as she was very rarely there. It did not matter, that both daughters were still able to study when they could, and at home. Alice is now at the start of her 2nd year in a BTEC course, and they are much more understanding of her ill health, and problems. Both daughters have been amazing, and I admire them both.
    My struggles and diagnosis have come much later in life, but when understanding of ME has increased. But personally I am struggling with my position in Church, being unwell most of the time to attend. I am a lay preacher and am not often fit enough to take a service, and I am currently asking God whether I need to take more time out.
    Reading your Blogs, your writing, has been most helpful and inspiring, and I am very fortunate that two people in my church have run the local ME support group for 25 years.
    My relationship with God is a close one…I’m the one attempting to make sense of things and see the way forward….trusting in Him completely. Sorry, there’s a novel here…too much to explain, but I could just see my two daughters as you described your time as a teenager. Thank you…
    and God Bless

    • Tanya 23rd October, 2013 at 10:43 am #

      Thank you SO much for all this. And man – I ache for your daughters. I think they’re amazing to have achieved what they did. I only had two months off school, and freaked out enough about that. I am frustrated that so often schools don’t support people with ME well. There is so much potential to do so now that internet and social media are available – I wonder why they don’t take advantage of that for sick kids… (I feel a rant coming on…)

      Praying for you as you discern how much to do in church.

  6. Gill 17th October, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    Oh Tanya – your blogs about the struggles with faith and illness never fail to ‘hit the spot’ with me and my experiences. Your openness and honesty are awesome and today, not for the first time, have brought me to tears. Still a Christian although struggling often to know where God is in it all but it’s comforting to know that I am not alone.

    • Tanya 23rd October, 2013 at 10:40 am #

      Thank you so much, Gill for saying this. And you know? ‘Still a Christian’ is cause for celebration. Still a Christian is enough. Still a Christian is a statement of triumph in the midst of a fog of doubt and suffering. Sending you much love in the struggle.

  7. Liz Eph 17th October, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    I so missed leading worship. I so missed Bible studies, prayer meetings, leading home groups, prayer walking. I so missed being ‘where it’s at’, in the thick of things, at the business end, even if it’s just cleaning the toilets at the church offices and helping at the new creche. I think I’m over it, then I read this and I get the pangs all over again. And yet, and yet … would I swop ? I’m not sure I would. I want to be well and do things, but I don’t think, having experienced what I have, that my priorities would be the same anymore. Our generations, we helped open the doors in our different ways, and many people have walked through them. Part of me would have liked a bunch of flowers and a bit of recognition instead of ignominy, or worse – a bunch of nettles ? Another part of me says – well I did it to bless people, but I didn’t do it for their praise. And when it boils down to it, none of that is going to decide whether I’m a sheep and get in to the party, or a nearly sheep looking goat who didn’t give the cup of water, shelter, food, care, visit, ….

    • Tanya 23rd October, 2013 at 10:38 am #

      I would want you to have a huge bunch of flowers, for what it’s worth. No nettles for you.

      Thanks for sharing this – I’m feeling the solidarity. I can definitely relate to the ‘I miss this’ – but would I do it the same again? I suspect not, though I don’t know exactly what would be different. It’s a good question to ponder. thank you.

      • Liz Eph 24th October, 2013 at 9:18 am #

        xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  8. Kim Sullivan 17th October, 2013 at 12:43 am #

    I loved reading this. Your summation is brilliant, “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.”

    It gave me a better understanding of my present cynicism. I thank you for that.

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

      I am SO glad to hear this – thank you, lovely Kim.

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