Don’t get left behind! Catch up on the Devangelical 11-Step Survival Guide first:
Step 3: Make a choice to get over it, why don’t you?
I have a problem with getting over things. If somebody is upset with me or I know I’ve done something really crappy, I will dwell on it for a long time. If pity were stew meat, mine would be the most tender, insipid variety you’ve ever sunk your teeth straight through.
Of course I blame my mother for this. No reason, really, except that she’s my mother and daughters are supposed to have issues with these. But if I look past her slightly raised eyebrows and rightfully bewildered expression at this news, I can see that this habit of failure to move past things can at least partly be traced to the church. Specifically, to the hellfire. To the brimstone. To the altar call that was at the end of every service that beckoned us to make things right with God once again lest we land in the undesirable combo of the two.
I had to make things right, of course, because I was always naturally making things wrong. I was born wrong, which is why I needed to be saved. And since sanctification—the act of being cleansed of my desire to sin—is a process, chances were that if had breathed within the last 5 minutes, I had thought or done something wrong then, too. In a way, it wasn’t my fault that I was so wrong. It was just my nature, poked along by invisible tridents, and hooked by the bait of the world. But it was my fault if I didn’t make it right.
How to make it right? In my church, as in some of the other denominations, we had an altar—a long, wooden railing at the front of the church for the purpose of prayer. The way a person ends up at the altar is via an altar call. This usually happens at the end of the sermon during prayer and/or music. People go alone, and often end up in prayer clusters. These people may or may not know the person praying, but may be seen listening with intense interest as the pray-er purges their soul of all of their sins. (If you’re Catholic and are having trouble understanding the altar call, think: confession by committee.)
It is worth mentioning that an altar call also acts an important meter by which a preacher may gage whether he totally rocked—or totally sucked. There is nothing worse for a preacher’s ego than an empty altar.
And so, week after week, I was regularly encouraged to make my way to the front of the church to ensure that if I got hit by a cement camel on the way home, there would be no question about the destination scratched out and re-written over and again on my ticket. So when I talk about not being able to just drop an issue and let it lie, let’s just say that I have a trained tendency to weightily reexamine it from every angle as if the depth of my suntan depends on it. It’s constant and…it’s tiring.
Truth be told, it’s hard to live a life that way. It’s why these days—no matter where I am in my journey—the one thing I have latched on to with both hands is a little concept called grace. Sure, I’m going to question the decisions I’ve made. I wasted a lot of time fretting over whether Gorbachev was the antichrist, what my status in heaven was, or whether my hot pink short shorts might cause the boy who lived down the street from me to sin (and whether that was a bad thing).
These things, they just were. They are what made me…me. And if I learn to laugh about them with grace, I may even learn something from them. The thing I have had to learn above all else is that it’s some of my greatest “mistakes” that have helped me stumble onto some of my greatest discoveries.
Just like in nature, it’s the deviations that make things interesting.
So, since we determined in Step 2 that sanity is an option (sort of), it’s time to make a decision to actually get over the hold the past may have on us…and look forward.