For most of my life I’ve thought I was broken. Something was off, and not quite right, and somehow I just didn’t meet the expectations of anyone around me.
I remember as a toddler, crying to my mom, “I’m trying, Mommy. I’m really trying. I try SO HARD to be good.” Of course she showed me compassion. And unconditional love. I didn’t doubt that I was loved.
And still, somehow, the adults around me let me know (with and without words) that I just wasn’t getting it. I was (sometimes) loved in spite of my (many, many) flaws.
I wonder how much these deep feelings of shame were first rooted in the Catholic iconography nailed to my bedroom wall — white Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns, tiny drops of blood on his forehead. His eyes were on me all the time. I tried to be as perfect, pure, as holy as a three year old could. But obviously I was broken, because no matter how hard I tried, I could not meet the standards held communicated by his terrifying stare.
Jesus was problematic for me, always staring, always upholding the ideals of perfection, but God was something else all together.
God was expansive, and vast, and beautiful, and mysterious. God was above me and around me and could hear my toddler voice as I lay on my bed and sang to the ceiling. God could hear me and, I just knew, thought my tiny voice was beautiful. Nothing about me doubted that I was loved, unconditionally.
No conditions. Just as me.
But as I grew, the world seemed to show me, over and over again, that my concept of God didn’t jibe with what anyone else believed. The warm, nurturing God of my bedroom seemed to have such a small seat at the table in Vacation Bible School, in the confession booth, and even at the Bible camp I attended as a teen. Whenever I connected with people “of faith,” there always seemed to be an agenda. Be better. Do better. Don’t listen to your body. Guard your heart and mind, because you are not to be trusted.
And yet. When I thought back over my lifetime, the most impactful spiritual experiences I had encountered were usually away from other people and their conflicting ideas, away from any reminders of efficiency or productivity, away from the trappings of this fast-paced, panicky, patriarchal religion.
Outside, under the trees, with sunlight dappling the ground and warming my skin. Climbing over rocks on the shoreline and watching the water ripple into the sky. Alone, and not ever alone. Warm like sunshine and deep pressure like a bear hug and prickles up my spine like there was electric magic in the air.
This is how I’ve known God is real and with me and safe and to be trusted. This is how I’ve known moments of feeling loved fully, wholly, because of and not in spite of.
Yet, I still felt so broken around other humans. Lazy, selfish, unproductive, inefficient. Compared to the other bright and shiny people in my life, I was wrong. I was wasted potential. I was a stay at home mom with an English degree and nothing to show for it.
I was anxious. Depressed. Mad at the powers that be. Could so many people be right that God was sitting in judgment of all my many flaws? That my responsibility to God, and to my family, was to be better?
I knew, knew, knew that the prosperity gospel was a sham, but what could I do with the reality that some people just seemed to live shiny, happy, perfect lives? Had I been forgotten? Had I been wrong about God, all this time?
Then I learned what an undiagnosed neurodivergent woman could look like. Cluttered houses, unfinished projects, deep regret about lifelong dreams left unfulfilled. I read about young girls who had been dreamy and quiet, chasing perfection and social acceptance. Quiet, anxious, uncertain. Feeling like they could never get it right. Feeling like something was broken.
I learned about masking, about figuring out social rules early and trying my best to skate by, unnoticed. And it occurred to me: what if this is just how I’m made? What if that same girl who sang to her ceiling, who walked through the woods and felt her skin electrified by holy presence, what if she was, actually, made in the image of God? All of her? Quirks and all?
What if, all this time, the compassionate, nurturing, unconditionally loving God I met with in the stillness was like a mother to me? What if she/he/they were beyond all that I’ve been taught by Western society?
What if God had been with me and for me and in me this whole time?
Maybe accepting who I am, with all my limitations, could lead me closer to living with integrity. To communing with God. To living a life on fire.
Radical acceptance. It’s changed me from the inside out. At the same time, it’s taken me back to what I always knew in my soul as a child: I am loved, and I am not broken. No matter what society might teach us.
Different is not broken. Divergent is not wrong. If you don’t fit in to the mold, maybe the system is broken, not you.