Where did most of January go? I have no idea. But I do have a random thought for you today.
I recently read poet Maggie Smith’s memoir You Could Make This Place Beautiful, and I was struck by this line:
“I predated this shit, the music reminded me, and I would outlast it.”
Smith is reflecting on her divorce; after the split, she found herself drawn to the music she listened to in high school and college. That is, the music she listened to before her marriage began.
This music grounded her. It reminded her, she reflects, of “the woman who predated not only the divorce but also the marriage.”
The woman who predated the marriage. I think that’s beautiful. I haven’t personally experienced divorce, but I relate to Smith’s reflections—as a post-evangelical. So, so much.
As I have extracted myself from evangelicalism, I have needed to be reminded, so many times—I have needed to remind myself, so many times—that I predated my relationship with evangelicalism.
This is not true for everyone who has felt the need to disentangle themselves from evangelicalism’s tendrils. Some were born into it, and that is a different journey.
But for me, I didn’t grow up evangelical; I stumbled into it as a young adult. (Not unlike getting married young…which I did not do. I got married at the ripe old age of twenty-eight-almost-twenty-nine, thank you very much. But I wandered haplessly into evangelicalism at age eighteen.)
For me, part of the process of uprooting myself from evangelicalism—in the last few years, as a slightly-less-young adult—involves getting to know the woman I was before evangelicalism. And—importantly, for me—seeking to get back in touch with the relationship I had with God before evangelicalism.
Because I knew God. I knew God before I knew evangelicalism. As a kid, and as a teenager, I had a very real sense that a loving God was with me. Evangelicalism did not give that to me. And so, leaving evangelicalism could not take it away.
Part of my journey is also making peace with the reality that I can’t go back, don’t want to go back, should not try to go back and act like evangelicalism was never part of me. I can’t pretend I wasn’t shaped by it, like it wasn’t the driving force of my life for many of my formative young adult years. I am who I am because of it. But I was also someone worth being before it.
I hope to hold these things in a healthy, creative kind of tension: Rediscovering who I was, and looking toward who I might still become. Valuing who I was, while not trying to re-embody that person and move backward.
These are some of the complexities here. But I also find a simple, lovely mantra in Maggie Smith’s words (co-opted shamelessly for my post-evangelical purposes):
“I predated this [evangelical] shit…and I [will] outlast it.”
Amen and amen. That’s a whole word, as some preachers might say, for anyone whose relationship with evangelicalism was perhaps as intense as marriage—and whose self-extrication from it brings up perhaps some similar feelings as a divorce might.
For those who embraced evangelicalism at some point in our lives but have now left (or are leaving, or want to leave): Blessings to you on this difficult journey. Blessings to us.
And remember: We predated it. We will outlast it.
Peace to you,