It was the second day of a week-long memoir-writing workshop, and I was struggling to pinpoint the heart of my story.
Of course, on a very basic level, I knew exactly what it was about: my life. But memoir should transcend a simple telling of life experiences, so I was faced with an important question (and it’s a question I think everyone should consider, even if they aren’t writing a memoir):
What do all of my formative moments have in common? What is the overarching theme that could transform a series of personal experiences into a story with universal truth?
“It seems to me your story is all about your struggle to do what you thought God wanted you to do, rather than be who He created you to be.”
The answer came from the mouth of Maria, sitting a few seats to my right at the foot of the seminar table, but it rang true as if it had come straight from God.
Maria was right. I had spent much of the first 30 years of my life trying to figure out what I was supposed to do as a Christian. Every question that life posed felt like a trick on a test—a multiple-choice dilemma with only one right answer. Every fork in the road sparked a painstaking search for clues and the potential for regret. Every significant move I made felt closely examined, scrutinized to see if it held up to my claim of being a Christian.
When I failed—a regular occurrence, at least from my perspective—I took to hiding behind a Christian façade, hoping no one would notice the person crumbling beneath (and all the while wondering how disappointed God was with me).
But the years following those first three decades? They will be different.
They already are, as I’ve learned to let go of the “good Christian girl” template I was painfully contorting myself to fit into. Instead, the focus has shifted to uncovering the unique me God created. What I’m discovering, little by little, is that it’s a me who’s able to accept God’s love and grace and who trusts the inner voice of the Spirit—without the comparisons, the checklists and the noisy doubts.
This column I’m launching today is about how we can embark on that journey together—because I know I’m not the only one who has tried too hard to be who I think God wants me to be, only to lose myself in the process. I’m also not the only one who has struggled with the guilt that comes from failing to live up to that perceived Christian image, nor am I the only one who has avoided God and His community because I haven’t—and feel I can’t—live up to that image.
That’s exactly why this exploration is so important. It isn’t just a feel-good exercise in “finding yourself.” It’s at the root of what gets between us and God. It not only impacts our relationship with God, but it also impacts our relationship with others—Christians and non-Christians alike—and our ability to participate in bringing more of God’s Kingdom to Earth.
In other words, I believe discovering and celebrating who God created each of us to be as individuals opens the door to freely knowing, loving and trusting God and living fully for Him.
So, are you in?
Because this will be an active process. At the end of each post, I will leave you with a short 5-to-10-minute exercise that you can write in a journal, discuss with a friend or just spend time mulling over. If you want, you can share your discoveries with everyone here in the comments, too.
Here’s this week’s exercise: thinking about yourself in the context of God’s universal truths. Spend a few moments writing about or listing thoughts around your particular response to these truths.
1. God commands us to love others. What are some of the ways you are able to best demonstrate love to those around you?
2. God deserves our gratitude and praise. Where/in what context are you most freely able to praise God? What activities, for you, are most conducive to praising God?
3. God gives us glimpses of his kingdom here on earth. When do you most clearly feel that sense of harmony, that everything is right with the world? Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing?
Discovering who God created you to be is a personal task, but it shouldn’t be a solitary one. Part of the process involves understanding how you are different and giving others the space and grace to be not exactly like you.
Remember, there are no “right” answers—there aren’t even “better” answers! There are only answers that speak truth in your heart.
Grace and peace to you in this process!
Kristin Tennant has been making a living as a freelance writer for 10 years. She lives with her husband Jason and their three daughters in Urbana, Illinois, where she leads a weekly Bible & Beer discussion, plays her viola at church, and loves sharing meals and conversation with friends. She blogs at Halfway to Normal, and you can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.