I was 13, new to the high school ministry and eager to be part of it. I’d been back in the holding pen of 8th grade for a year, the lone girl in my grade, anxiously awaiting the time when I could move up to high school ministry and be with the girls again.
I was thankful the wait was over.
It was October, finally, and I was on my first church retreat of the year–my first retreat ever, really–our whole youth group packed into a picturesque cabin in the woods. We were going to spend the weekend sleeping in bunk beds and playing rowdy games and crunching through fallen leaves and talking about Jesus. I was ready.
We piled off the school bus, unloaded our bags, and began to get settled. We were city kids, and I was happy to see it was rustic, but not too rustic. Wooden beams and unfinished floors, but a full kitchen and–thankfully–flushing toilets.
We hadn’t been there an hour when I was sitting on one of those toilets behind a locked but rather low door when an older girl–a senior to my freshman, one of those girls I’d looked up to for a long time–popped up over the low door and snapped a photo of me, on the toilet, with my pants down.
“I’m gonna show everybody!!” she shrieked. “This is gonna be awesome!”
I have no idea what I did next. All I can remember, thinking back, is stunned silence as my brain struggled to process what had just happened. I was on a church retreat, for God’s sake. And I was sitting on the toilet–naked, embarrassed, exposed.
And I still had to wipe.
I must have gotten up, because the next thing I remember is our group gathered in a circle under the rustic pitched roof as our youth minister spoke to us about following Jesus, about living “on fire” for him, about how we’d spend the weekend exploring what that meant.
But I was too worried about that picture to listen.
***** ***** *****
I’ve spent a lot of time unpacking that church in therapy. (And we didn’t even talk about that photograph! Yeah, she printed it.)
It took me a long time to realize I needed counseling, because nothing terribly dramatic ever happened back then.
But I eventually realized the emotional toll those comparatively small–even commonplace–adolescent dramas had taken on me, largely because they happened in church, and asked for the help I needed to untangle my faith from my bad church experience.
It’s been a long road.
I think that’s why I resonated so deeply with Addie Zierman’s memoir When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over. Addie’s gift is to make you feel the emotional weight of seemingly no-big-deal events–like so many I experienced–common to Christian adolescence and young adulthood.
When We Were on Fire releases today. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in 2013, and if you resonate with any part of the story above, or have your own complicated memories of growing up evangelical, I recommend you grab yourself a copy. Grab it for Kindle here ($7.99) or in paperback here ($11.24).
Books mentioned in this post:
This post is part of the When We Were on Fire synchroblog.