Tonight I recalled this piece, which I wrote probably ten years ago. Hope you enjoy it.
I was sitting at one of those minuscule McDonald’s tables across from Mary (not her real name), a regular in our youth group. I could see her debating whether to let me into her soul, but after a few moments of silence, she started pouring out her heart.
Mary began by confessing that she had been faking her faith all these years, wearing a mask that made her look like a ‘good little Christian girl.’ Now she was telling God to f____ off. She looked at me with a steely glare, as if to say, “Deal with that!”
So I told her that she was closer to God now than ever before, which made her eyes bulge right out of her head. “It’s true, Mary.” I explained. “Now you’re finally being real with Him. He’d rather you spit in His face and tell Him to f______ off than put on a mask and fake your relationship with Him.”
Next she insisted that she was finally getting somewhere in her life since she had stopped pretending and ditched God. Things were clicking, she had more willpower, and she felt more confident. I told her that Christian or not, life just works better when we’re being real. Her new success had more to do with the fact that she was being authentic than it did with her being godless. And of course, her faith shouldn’t have worked when she was pretending. So in a very real sense, I told her, “You have never actually tried faith at all.”
Next she said she was sick of all the hypocrisy, game playing, gossip, and legalism in our churches. She didn’t want anything to do with it anymore. I asked her what would happen if Jesus would come and hang out in our churches for a few months. What would He think of all the hypocrisy, politics, game playing, gossip, and legalism? “He’d hate it,” she said. So I asked her why she was turning her back on the one Person who agreed with her most. She was speechless.
Next she said that she had outgrown God. I looked her right the eye and said, “You’re right.” She had, in a sense, outgrown God—her child’s conception of Him. She had moved past her parent’s faith; the church ‘party line’ wasn’t enough anymore. Now, I said, she needed to find Jesus for herself.
At this point she said she was mad at God for not answering her prayers and revealing Himself to her, expressing a profound disappointment with Him. She was tired of waiting. I basically said, “Join the club.” I told her that one of the most frustrating things in life is that God is God—that He alone is sovereign and that He won’t do what we tell Him. But then I also said that He wouldn’t be worth giving our lives to if we could push Him around. Part of faith is learning to deal with disappointment.
Next she said she just had to be herself, so she was trying to be different than others. I reminded her that there is a big difference between being yourself and being different. Whether we’re conforming or rebelling, we are still using other people as our measuring stick. I said that being yourself takes very little effort. You just are. So if you’re trying too hard, then that’s not the real you. She said, “Then I have no idea who I am.” And I said, “That’s true. And you never will, apart from the One who made you.”
Then she said that she didn’t want to be close to God. I almost laughed. “Of course you do,” I said. “If you didn’t want Him closer you wouldn’t be so mad at Him.” I told her that she was expressing more desire for God in her anger than in her years of game playing.
By this time, her mind was literally reeling. She slumped her shoulders, looking defeated. “I guess I just want to be selfish for awhile,” she confessed. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” I said. And I can’t talk you out of that.”
After a long, awkward, silent stare down at the table, she spoke. “So what should I do?” And before I had time to say, “That’s your job to figure out,” she said, “Never mind.” She was tired of doing what other people told her. She didn’t need another answer. She knew them all anyway. What she needed was to become a seeker for herself, to start asking the questions that give the answers a place to stand within herself, for herself. Our conversation left her at the precipice, but somehow I knew she’d be OK.
Today, Mary still has her fair share of teenage struggles and faults – but she is pursuing and serving God in beautiful ways. It took a lot of guts for her to admit to herself, “This isn’t working,” and begin the quest of finding out why. We need to affirm honest seeking and questioning. Often that kind of love can take the teeth out of rebellion before it has a chance to take any kind of root in a young person’s soul.