On Faithfulness (A Brain Dump)


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

I’m still not over the World Vision thing.  

I’m not over 10,000 children losing their sponsorships in a protest against gay marriage.  Not even close. 

When news of World Vision’s decision to reverse the new policy reached me, I was on the road and just minutes away from speaking for something like the 30th time in three months.  I was as tired as I’ve ever been in my life—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and creatively. I slept for a total of one hour that night, before getting up the next morning and flying to Houston, Texas to speak yet again. 

I remember thinking, “How can I justify speaking in a church when today I’m not sure I believe in God? How am I supposed to carry on this work when I’m not sure I can be part of the culture anymore?” 

And in the middle of all that doubt and pain and exhaustion, right when I felt most vulnerable, Christians delivered some swift and focused kicks to my gut. I was publicly mocked and shamed. People called me a heretic and bid me farewell. They took to Twitter to make fun of my appearance and belittle my husband. They called me a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” “unstable,” and “anti-Christ.” 

This wasn’t about me—I knew that—but still, it hurt. At times I wanted nothing more than to hightail it out of this whole “industry” we call Christianity….which is exactly what many of them want. 

But at the same time, Christians called.  Christians sent flowers. Christians sponsored kids. Christians—conservative and liberal, evangelical and otherwise— offered to help. Christians sent notes of encouragement.  Christians prayed with me and cried with me and cussed with me. Christians apologized. Christians loved.  Christians provided wine. Christians who had a lot more invested in this than I confounded me with their capacity to forgive and their commitment to radical, unexplainable grace. 

They loved in ways I couldn’t ignore, ways that unclenched my fists and cracked my armor.  

And so I stood, vulnerable once again, in that most infuriating and miraculous contradiction of the Christian life: that the Church wounds and the Church heals. 

I’m still not sure what to do with that. 

***

How do I hate the term “celebrity Christian?” Let me count the ways! 

I hate that it reflects a culture that idolizes success. 

I hate that it exposes my own dark desires and unhealthy fixations. 

I hate that once someone decides you’re a “celebrity Christian,”  they use that as an excuse to treat you as something other than a human being. 

I hate that I’ve used it as an excuse to do the same. 

I hate that it comes with the pressure to speak more definitively (even when you’re not sure) and lead more decisively (even when you have no idea where you’re going).  

I hate that it reduces people to “fans” or “haters” when God only gave us neighbors. 

I don't want to live in a world of fans and haters.

***

At the Festival of Faith and Writing I got “enneagramed” by my friend Leigh Kramer who confirmed my suspicion that I’m a solid 3 on the chart, meaning, basically, I have the type of personality that has to WIN ALL THE THINGS.  (If you’ve read Faith Unraveled, you know this goes all the way back to The Best Christian Attitude Award…which I fought like hell to win four times in a row.)  

When I’m healthy, I take my ambition and drive and channel it into being creative, getting stuff done, helping other people, and working on the projects and causes I care most about. When I’m unhealthy, I get fixated on image, approval, and pounding "the competition" into the dirt in ongoing quest to WIN ALL THE THINGS. 

This affects my activism so that, if I’m not careful, I make it less about partnering with people and more about beating people. I make it less about making a good argument and more about proving myself to the skeptics for the sake of improving my status. 

And so, whenever I used my writing to advocate for things like gender equality in the Church, acceptance of LGBT people, ending systemic abuse, creating space for questions and doubts, etc., I found myself asking, what does winning look like?, when what I should have been asking , is, what does faithfulness look like? 

Faithfulness to Christ. 

Faithfulness to Scripture. 

Faithfulness to myself.  

Faithfulness to my family and community. 

Faithfulness to my work and calling. 

Faithfulness to you, my readers. 

Faithfulness to the people whose stories shape the content of this space. 

What I’ve realized over these past few weeks is that God didn’t call us to win, God called us to be faithful. God doesn't call us to change the world, God calls us to serve the world. 

(This doesn't mean you don't make the argument or address a destructive idea. You do. But you do it for the sake of liberation and healing, not for the sake of putting people in their place.) 

So the next time someone asks me about the future of evangelical Christianity or whether I belong in that “camp,” or who’s got the upper-hand, I’m just going to tell them the truth: hell if I know. 

I can’t see the big picture right now. I’m not interested in being prophetic or reading trends or figuring it all out. 

All I can see is the next word, the next post, the next prayer, the next Sunday, the next bit of wafer and wine, the next story, the next need, the next comment, the next baby bird to jump out of that nest in our carport, the next nudge of the Spirit, the next puzzle, the next question, the next random thing that nettles my brain and screams WRITE! 

My job is to be faithful to that. No more, no less. 

And there’s no other way to take it but a day at a time. 

***

I suspect I’m not the only one who forgets that the assignment is faithfulness—not winning, not fixing, not changing other people, not changing the world. 

What’s the idol that distracts you from faithfulness? 

***

Special thanks to Mom & Dad, Dan, Brian McLaren, Shauna Niequist, Ann Voskamp, Mary Kassian, Sarah Bessey, Kristen Howerton, Glennon Melton, Jen Hatmaker, Jamie Wright, Tara Livesay, South Main Baptist Church in Houston, Chris & Tiffany Hoose, and so many others for providing the aforementioned prayers, support, flowers, advice, and booze.

***

Note: Since several of you mentioned it, I'm cutting back on speaking. Taking the summer off and then moving to a pace of one trip per month. 

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