Christian expectations are like ivy
My life currently feels like a bramble branch. Last summer my boss forced me into the thickest of a blackberry bush in the hopes I would return with a bounty worthy of a wedding bouquet. I’m only slightly joking, I wasn’t sacrificed to the berries but we did go foraging for blackberries, and the talented hands that pulled me constantly back to safety created a bouquet worth billions.
A twig of blackberries is how I see myself at the moment. There are so many sharp edged thorns on the stem of my life and I am just in the early stages of seizing a stem stripper and gently but firmly de-thorning my life of everything that is guilt or failure related and which sadly can be narrowed down to the influence of religion, Christianity and Christian expectation.
Let me attempt to explain. I was raised a Christian, some may say born a Christian. It is a conversation that can be linked to that of nature vs nurture. Some could say without much argument that because I crawled with Christian influence I now walk with Christian influence, or simply have a greater chance of adopting this faith as my own because it is comfortable, familiar and welcoming.
I have had 22 years of church, religious activities, friends and community. It is not a bad thing and I am in no way badmouthing the wonderful way in which my trooper of parents brought me up. They guided me and loved me the best way they knew, and somehow I inherited their grace, compassion, empathy and unfortunately my father’s stubbornness. But what I wish down in my soul is that I didn’t inherent or perhaps unconsciously adopt, is the expectations of a Christian life. I have spent the small years of my adult life trying desperately to live up to this unrealistic expectation of a Christian and it has been bruising my heart and brushing so often against my shoulders that I even stumbled into saying goodbye to one of the few things in my life that was well with my soul, simply because I felt guilty that it didn’t fit into my predetermined image of what my life should look like.
It would be incredibly unjust to blame the church and that of Christianity solely for these expectations. People are flawed and church is a mix of the motley and the amazing. It is imperfect yet a place of comfort and community to so many people I have the pleasure of knowing. However, aspects of this constitution, this religion have painted expectations I no longer want. The perfect relationship, the expectation to give more, put others before yourself – regardless of how acknowledged a false hood that is. To look your best on Sunday morning, know everyone’s name that walks in the building and have coffee and conversation with a new person every second day of the week. I could list a few more but am in danger of bitterness.
For the last two years when I pictured what my life should look like I picture countless Instagram pages of young Christian couples, who showcase the bounty of their lives. People, places, pleasures, hardly ever pains. Social media is a dangerous place for comparison and competition and is an entirely different conversation to have, but let’s just acknowledge that unrealistic expectations no matter where they have stemmed from lead to unhappiness and a hell of a lot of thorns.
The cafe in which I work is covered in ivy. The ivy has nestled into every crack, under every windowpane and has even begun to claim the toilet bowl. Ivy roots take hold in cracks and crevices of buildings and common or English ivy can cause damage to brick and wood. The beautiful plant can easily work its way between boards, opening the joints and damaging the structure. If pulled off the tiny roots can permanently discolor and damage most surfaces. Yet at the same time it is insanely beautiful and can turn the mundane into the extraordinary. This image always comes to mind when I think about Christianity.
I often day dream of a faith which was built on a blank slate. That was entirely my own. A relationship with God not one with the church, religion or social media, and this is what I hope to have. I am on the journey of kicking out religion and adopting spirituality, because as I wrote months and months ago,I would rather have a relationship over religion and I do now think it is possible to have one without the other.