“I am inclined to believe that God’s chief purpose in giving us memory is to enable us to go back in time so that if we didn’t play those roles right the first time round, we can still have another go at it now….”
~Frederick Buechner (as quoted in All is Grace)
Before coffee had become socially acceptable, the good kids sat at cafeteria tables over biscuits and Mountain Dew, bibles spread wide. We were sharing prayer requests on a particular Monday morning when I heard that Alice was pregnant. Our framework of grace and mercy was not yet well established, so Alice’s news came as a shock, like an ice-water bath. The girls asked, “how could that happen?” “Sex,” I explained. “Ewwww,” they responded.
I have never admitted this to anyone, but there was a sort of exhibitionism about our early faith, a constant redrawing of the lines of demarcation to the exclusion of others. And in this holy gerrymandering, we might have believed that we were protecting God from sin, that we were being holy as He was holy. But at the end of the day, when our good deeds were accomplished, some of us would have admitted that all this line-drawing seemed to box God out. We were just like Alice and the rest of them, floundering in a different kind of teenage awkwardness.
We were all alone together, none of us admitting that we had little more than a store-bought belief. That’s the kind of angst that is unrivaled by anything that “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It was uncomfortable, and sometimes I wanted the other kids, the kids outside the lines, to know that I didn’t really have everything figured out. Sometimes I wanted them to know that I doubted, that I lacked confidence, that I was playing a role.
But this was weakness, or so I thought.
This is not to say that I didn’t have a real faith, an active one. But it is to say that I did not appreciate the complexities of that faith. So I white-washed the tomb, maintained an “attractive front door,” and carried the weight of works-based religion.
It is not easy to be the good kid, to carry the weight of an adult religion in your backpack. I wish the other kids could have known. I wish they could have heard the truth, that I was just as crippled as they were. I wish they could have known that, when all was said and done, we were all choking on different kinds of smoke.
We were kindred, each of us broken. If only we had taken the time to realize.
Being a teenager is hard. I wish my frame-work would have included grace and mercy way back then. It would have saved me from a sort of pit later.