We haven’t talked about my “growing up evangelical” bona fides in a while. I have mentioned things on the charismatic end of the spectrum but not the regular stuff, the t-shirts and how I got up at 5:00 every morning to study the Bible. Once a week, I got to school early and studied the Bible with friends, which, I will have you know, was my idea and I organized it (don’t worry, we got permission to meet on campus because of course I followed procedure). Also I was vice-president of the Bible Club.
I did all the required things like See You at the Pole not because I wanted to, but because I thought it was important to be seen praying at the flagpole so that everyone would know where I stood, what kind of girl I was. I was skeptical that praying for my school would do much of anything, and I didn’t think a revival at school was realistic. But if there was some kind of scorecard, and I was certain that there was, I wanted to have all the right activities on my soul resume.
My scorecard showed an overachiever who didn’t have a lot of activities outside school, church, and family. That was part of what made it so difficult that my church leadership didn’t pay me a lot of attention. In a less hierarchical church, that might not matter, but when everything is top-down and the guy on top doesn’t know your name despite years of faithful attendance (and an impressive scorecard), it’s easy to feel forgotten. It’s easy to transfer those feelings of abandonment to God, because if God’s people aren’t paying attention, there’s no indication that God might find you important enough to listen to, either. No matter how many Bible studies you started or songs you memorized or prayers you prayed, it would never be enough.
I will never know for sure why those were the messages that I was sent–because I went to public school or because I am female or because I am awkward and uncool or because my family lived out in the country–but I do know that I felt more and more hollow as I was more and more desperate for anyone to pay me some attention. If I had ever been “on fire for God” (and I don’t know if I can say that I had, because that’s not really my personality, but I know that I thought I was supposed to feel and act that way), then all that was left was a burned-out shell.
This burned up burned out feeling is what Addie Zierman is talking about in her book When We Were On Fire, which comes out in a couple of weeks. I read a lot of memoirs and a lot of books about Christianity, so believe me when I say that this one is something special. This is a story that is familiar to a lot of who were Christian teenagers in the 90s, but Addie has beautifully written her way through it without forcing easy answers or resorting to Jesusy talk. If you have read her blog, you already know that she has a knack for telling stories and finding grace in ways that can take your breath away. Her book is like that, except even more so.
The details of our faith journeys are different. I have never been on a mission trip and I didn’t go to a Christian college like Addie did, although my first job was at a Christian bookstore, where I met my husband. A lot of the pain she experienced was from boys who were supposed to be her peers, whereas mine was more from leadership and leadership structures. But the feelings, the setting, those are the same. This is the story of an entire generation of people who were raised in the church and then found we had nothing of substance to hold on to when it didn’t work like we were told it was supposed to.
When I first started reading Addie’s blog, I was a little bit jealous I didn’t think of the idea of “how to talk evangelical” myself. I know that lingo, though I have left those days behind. After reading the book, it was easy to see why Addie is the right person to tell this story in this way, because she has such a gift, such strength. Because she still is still part of that world. And because she has learned grace for it, and for herself. Recommended for: all my Jesus Girls (and boys).
I received a pre-release copy of this book from Addie because I shamelessly begged her for one. As always, my views are my own.