Let me hide myself.

Let me hide myself.

A woman’s heart should be so hid­den in God that a man has to seek Him just to find her.
~attrib­uted to both Max Luca­do and Maya Angelou

I was 15 years old, sit­ting in the front row of the church, star­ing skep­ti­cal­ly at the woman who was preach­ing to us. This wasn’t my youth group, of course—the assem­blies would nev­er allow a woman to speak like this. I deter­mined that per­haps she was like Balaam’s don­key, and did my utmost to pay atten­tion to what­ev­er word of the Lord she might iron­i­cal­ly speak despite her unfit­ness for lead­er­ship.

She walked over to her pro­jec­tor and held up a trans­paren­cy sheet. “This rep­re­sents you,” she said sim­ply. “Your lives.” She picked up a few dif­fer­ent mark­ers and start­ed doo­dling on the sheet, explain­ing that our sins and deci­sions and actions were like the marks on the page. “Every­thing is here—from the clothes you wear, to the words you say, to what you do in your every day life. They all show up here.”

The speak­er placed the sheet back on the pro­jec­tor and turned on the light. “This light is Jesus,” she con­tin­ued. “Notice how you can’t see him through the ink, only through the clear parts?” I stirred in my seat, aware of how it seemed the Spir­it was mov­ing with­in me.

She took an eras­er and slow­ly began mov­ing it across the mark­er draw­ings. I watched, mes­mer­ized, as the marks dis­ap­peared. “This is what the blood of Christ does”—she point­ed to the now-clean sheet—“so that all that can be seen through you is Jesus.” She spent the rest of her time with us explain­ing how impor­tant it was to make sure that our trans­paren­cies remained clean, that our deci­sions and words and lives were so clean that we would only reflect Christ to those around us.

As I got in the van with the car­pool that brought me to church that night, I was deeply con­vict­ed to start chang­ing my life so that I would bet­ter reflect Christ. It occurred to me that this meant becom­ing a dif­fer­ent per­son. But wasn’t that what Chris­tian­i­ty was all about to begin with, becom­ing a new cre­ation in Christ?

There’s still so much that I’m try­ing to unpack about my upbring­ing. I was com­plete­ly sat­u­rat­ed in a fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­t­ian envi­ron­ment at home, church, and school. Putting words to what’s dam­ag­ing about what I believed is del­i­cate, dif­fi­cult work. I keep com­ing back to, “But nobody meant to hurt you! They were just doing what they thought was right!” Unfor­tu­nate­ly, inten­tions aren’t mag­i­cal, and they don’t erase the dam­age that actions cre­ate.

In past months, I’ve kept com­ing back to the con­cept that preach­er so mem­o­rably illus­trat­ed for me. Quite lit­er­al­ly, I was sup­posed to be invis­i­ble so oth­ers could see Jesus. Today that phrase­ol­o­gy puts me on edge and reminds me of a Darth Vad­er Boyfriend, but at the time and even up until a few years ago, I absolute­ly didn’t blink an eye. Of course I was sup­posed to be invis­i­ble. Of course noth­ing was too big a sac­ri­fice for my Lord. It was so easy to swal­low because it’s absolute­ly indis­tin­guish­able from what I was taught in the assem­blies.

The con­cept of being hid­den was dri­ven home so often in so many ways, implic­it­ly and explic­it­ly. The Ply­mouth Brethren taught me that being a Chris­t­ian meant dying to myself, focus­ing on spir­i­tu­al things and not on phys­i­cal things, hid­ing myself in Christ. My friends and I all worked so dili­gent­ly to make sure noth­ing was dis­tract­ing us from Christ­like­ness. The ser­mons we lis­tened to, the Chris­t­ian fic­tion we read (because sec­u­lar fic­tion was cer­tain­ly of dubi­ous moral­i­ty), the Chris­t­ian music we lis­tened to (if it wasn’t deemed too world­ly), the devo­tion­al and escha­to­log­i­cal books we stud­ied, (non) dat­ing books, mar­riage  and fam­i­ly talks, fam­i­lies we grew up in and around, even the way we were taught to read the Bible…all of it pushed us to erase our­selves, sup­press who we were, change who we were to become more like Christ—because being our­selves was in and of itself sin­ful.

To be clear, this kind of teach­ing isn’t lim­it­ed to the Ply­mouth Brethren, or even to Chris­t­ian fun­da­men­tal­ism. It is present in vary­ing degrees all through­out evan­gel­i­cal­ism, as well, weav­ing era­sure and shame into the hearts and lives of thou­sands upon thou­sands of believ­ers who accept it because Christ must be pre­em­i­nent, no mat­ter what.

In an effort to be spir­i­tu­al­ly dis­cern­ing, my friends, men­tors, and I would cre­ate rules to help guide us in our path to right­eous­ness and a clos­er walk with God. I had friends who decid­ed that going to the movie the­ater was a dis­trac­tion from holi­ness, so that was cut out of their lives. The enjoy­ment of a motor­cy­cle or car or even TV was con­sid­ered idol­a­trous by some and was thus dis­card­ed. We worked so hard to be who we were told and who we believed we had to be: the best pos­si­ble exam­ple of Christ on earth. All sorts of nat­u­ral­ly amoral activ­i­ties and objects were sud­den­ly mor­al­ized and scru­ti­nized and mea­sured against whether they could lead us clos­er to the Lord. If the answer was “no,” the spir­i­tu­al thing to do was remove it from our lives in any sort of mean­ing­ful way.

Of course, being an inher­ent­ly patri­ar­chal sys­tem, there were more rules to keep women in line. Our bod­ies had to be hid­den lest we cause men to stum­ble. In church, our hair had to be hid­den so that the only glo­ry vis­i­ble to the angels was Christ as typ­i­fied through the uncov­ered heads of the men. Our voic­es were to be hid­den with­in a church set­ting, and many of us believed we were nev­er to have any author­i­ty over any­one but our chil­dren and per­haps younger sis­ters in the faith.

This focus on hid­ing every aspect of our lives man­i­fest­ed in nit-pick­ing of epic pro­por­tions. I remem­ber a cou­ple friends and I dis­cussing in wor­ried tones whether our desire to wear con­tacts was van­i­ty or even world­ly, and whether make­up made us too notice­able. One mem­o­rable evening at a youth con­fer­ence, the guys were ush­ered out of the room so the camp direc­tor could plead with the girls to dress more mod­est­ly because when sit­ting in the grass watch­ing a sport­ing event, some of our shirts would ride up and our pants would ride down and he could see our skin, which was dis­pleas­ing to the Lord and could cause him and oth­er broth­ers in Christ to stum­ble. Even­tu­al­ly I stopped singing or play­ing piano pub­licly because I was afraid that I was tak­ing a posi­tion of author­i­ty.

At this time, “Rock of Ages” became my favourite hymn. (As rewrit­ten by the Ply­mouth Brethren, of course.) Look­ing back now, and con­sid­er­ing the part it played in my favourite book at the time, it’s all too telling:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me
let me hide myself in Thee.
Let the water and the blood
from thy riv­en side which flowed
be for sin the dou­ble cure:
cleanse me from its guilt and pow­er.

So often in my prayer jour­nals, I’d repeat that stan­za. I longed for noth­ing more than to be com­plete­ly hid­den in Christ, com­plete­ly trans­formed from the wretched being I believed myself to be to become that blank trans­paren­cy, to become that clean ves­sel of hon­or for the Lord.

I didn’t rec­og­nize it then, but it was a sys­tem­at­ic dehu­man­iza­tion of our­selves in an attempt to con­form to a spe­cif­ic inter­pre­ta­tion of Chris­tian­i­ty based on a “plain” read­ing of Scrip­ture. And at least for me, I hid myself so deeply that even after leav­ing the move­ment 4 years ago, it’s still a strug­gle to find myself.

Related reading:

I belong to me: learning consent and agency outside Christianity.

By and large, Chris­tian­i­ty as a sys­tem in the West­ern world teach­es peo­ple to run roughshod over the bound­aries of those with­in and with­out their camps under the guise of love. The con­sent of its mem­bers and non-mem­bers alike isn’t required, as clear­ly demon­strat­ed by the past almost 28 years of my exis­tence. And that’s a mas­sive prob­lem, enabling (and at times com­mand­ing) the manip­u­la­tion, mis­treat­ment, and abuse of count­less peo­ple.

In fact, I’d say one of the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of Chris­tian­i­ty today is that it has a con­sent prob­lem.”

Credit to whom credit is due.

I think we real­ly do a dis­ser­vice to our­selves and the peo­ple around us when we attribute the good or bad things actu­al­ly done by peo­ple to the super­nat­ur­al, or even to some sort of intrin­sic good­ness like hard work. I don’t begrudge peo­ple the com­fort they take in believ­ing a divine cre­ator has orches­trat­ed their life to their ben­e­fit, or even want­i­ng to believe that bad things have hap­pened due to an invis­i­ble malev­o­lent force. I just can’t help but notice how this ten­den­cy to cred­it the super­nat­ur­al with what man or chance has wrought often serves to cre­ate a dis­con­nect between us and our com­mu­ni­ties.”


Posted in Fat Girl,