Death of the Church Lady

By:Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

During my kids’ early years, I’d been able to pull off the church lady gig, or at least my concept of the role. I knew the Bible and I knew the rules. Thinking this would be enough, I forged ahead, confident that if my husband and I took our children to church every time the doors open, just as my parents had done with my sisters and me, all would be well. And for the most part it was – until they hit adolescence and I came down with mommy terrors.

My babies were growing up, and it was both exhilarating and terrifying. Everywhere I turned the culture around us was laughing at what I considered sacred and celebrating what I found immoral. Increasingly our kids were exposed to things outside our home that neither their dad nor I approved of, and it frightened me to realize the temptations they faced could potentially wreck the futures we had always dreamed of for them. I tried to placate myself. We had taught them our values. If they were strong in their faith, they would be OK come what may, right? I had already purchased this holy life insurance myself, hadn’t I? I simply needed to make sure they had taken out a similar policy. I needed to know they believed me when I said that the fullest life was one lived in God.

Such logic should have brought peace, and it would have, if not for one overgrown, peanut-eating elephant loafing smack-dab in the middle of my living room: I had zero life experience to offer as evidence for what I was advertising. As much as I disliked admitting it, any spiritual direction I was offering my kids came strictly from the biblical head knowledge gained through my years in the pew. I was merely regurgitating what I’d heard my whole life.

In short, I was a hypocrite! 

Though the news came as quite a surprise to me, the ugly truth was undeniable. An internet dictionary offers the following spot-on definition of my true state in that telling moment: a hypocrite is  “a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.” 

Bingo. If I were to be honest, the faith I was experiencing wasn’t satisfying my deepest longings at all. My picture could’ve been pasted right beside that entry. Say “cheese,” Church Lady.

Even as I came face to face with the realization that I couldn’t pass on something I didn’t have, I was also painfully aware that young people are like mini lie detectors, capable of spotting anything short of the whole truth and willing to call you on it. My Big Faith Advertisement must have sounded as weak in their ears as it did in mine.

This sobering realization about the lameness of my own faith stared me down without blinking and prompted some serious soul searching. Why wasn’t my faith satisfying? Why was it that my God and I were friendly acquaintances at best? Why didn’t I know this One I called my Savior? Worse yet, why didn’t I love Him? Oh, I liked Him well enough. I appreciated the Gospel, and I was grateful for the promise of a secure eternity, but love this Jesus in the here and now? Not really. In light of all my years of churching and being churched, I wondered how on earth that could be true. And why did some people seem so passionate about Jesus when all I could muster for Him on my most spiritual day was a healthy respect?

I knew people who talked about Jesus with the kind of affection normally reserved for a flesh-and-blood person. Me? I could sing “Oh, how I love Jesus” as heartily as everyone around me (albeit off-key), but deep down I knew that I could just as easily be singing “Oh, how I love watermelon” for all the fervency in my aching faking heart.

If this is all I had to advertise for my abundant life, I realized I was going to have a hard time selling God to my kids, or to anyone else for that matter.

I don’t remember the exact day I sat staring at John 17:3 (I do know it was shortly after I identified myself as a hypocrite), but I’ll always remember the challenge I heard in Jesus’s own words: “This is eternal life, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” That scripture was familiar to this church girl, but the hope I heard in it was brand spanking new. For the first time I saw in those words a way to get off the spiritual merry-go-round I’d been riding my whole life and strike out on the biggest adventure of all time: to actually know God. I saw this as the way I would learn to love Jesus, to crazy love Him.

The rest of my life began with a single prayer and an honest admission that surprised neither of us: “I admit it. I don’t love You like I should, but I want to love You. Help!”

I finally admitted that I had nothing to offer God. Zero. Zip. All I could bring was my weak, broken want-to. Here’s the beautiful reality: it was enough. If you want to love Jesus, it’s enough for you too.

  

Adapted from “Heart Wide Open: Trading Mundane Faith for an Exuberant Life With Jesus” by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson. Published by WaterBrook Press. Copyright 2014.

Shellie Rushing Tomlinson is the author of the award-winning nonfiction humor titles “Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On” and “Sue Ellen’s Girl Ain’t Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy!” She is a popular blogger and speaker, and the host of the radio program “All Things Southern LIVE.”  Shellie loves sharing humor and hope with audience across the country. She and her husband have two grown children. The live and farm in Louisiana.