Archive: High standing in low places: Rethinking evangelism

Archive: High standing in low places: Rethinking evangelism

Archive: High standing in low places: Rethinking evangelism

By Maggie Taylor Schroeder
January/February 2000
Good News

If I weren’t feeling low already it might be difficult to ask for the lowest place. But recently I’ve been questioning my salvation and that’s a deeply contemplative place to be. The Hebrew word for salvation is Yasha, it means, “open,” “wide” or “free.” I’m a Christian. I have no doubt about that. I’m just wondering when I will begin to feel open, wide, and free. I sincerely feel like I’m hungry for that uninhibited aspect of salvation, and my desire for it has only grown with the wrestling.

I have to admit that my questioning is not new. It’s a contemplation that stemmed from a very broken point in my life. Three years ago I contracted meningitis, an inflammatory virus that affects the membrane around the brain and the spinal cord. Because of this virus l was temporarily stripped of my ability to read, move, listen, and live a self-sufficient life. Overnight I went from having a sore throat to a nearly paralyzed body. I feared the tightening grip on my spine. It felt as if it would never release. Exhausted by the intense pain, l could only move with the help of someone moving me. The unbearable throbbing held my brain captive. It kept me from thinking clearly. When I arrived at the hospital I was told that if my fever had been any higher I could have faced brain damage. What started as an itchy throat had quickly become a life-threatening crisis. It had a grip on my body and my life.

Life: I felt that it was just beginning. I had just graduated from college and had decided to transition into the work world by spending that summer working for the college. It seemed the safest way to enter into “the real world,” while still having some time to make those necessary decisions for long-term work. I was optimistic and willing to take charge of my life. I enjoyed the freedom in making my own decisions. Meningitis was not even in my vocabulary, let alone my life plan. I had wanted to step out and embrace life, not sickness. The thoughts and feelings from those two naively optimistic weeks between graduation and the rush to the hospital are now carefully frozen in time. Without wanting to forget them, l have locked them away. They now remind me to pursue that fullness of life I once assumed was effortlessly assured. I was released from the emergency room and sent home. A few days later I had to return to the hospital because l had become unresponsive to my parents, and the words that came out of my mouth were morose. In a delirious state I struggled to tell my mother goodbye, for I sensed that I was dying. By the depth of her agonizing I knew that she feared the same.

Salvation takes on a new meaning when you’ve felt your life slipping away. In that hospital I was definitely open and wide, for the sake of salvation. My nakedness was not a question of modesty, it was of necessity. Frail and helpless I was given into the hands of someone who knew better than I what would save my life. l had to be entirely vulnerable, and that isn’t something that came easily to me. The truth was that I avoided vulnerability altogether. I had approached life from a defensive strategy of pretending. It was my way of hiding my frailty, and convincing others that I had it all together. Sure, I can self-disclose, I just haven’t known many people who want to share my pain as willingly as they would my laughter. Sometimes my laughter hid the pain.

Pretending kept me from being vulnerable with others. I tried to present a perfect front so that no one would sincerely get to know me. I wanted them to be too busy admiring me, for admiration is how I measured success. Yet the further I got from allowing anyone to enter my private self, the harder it became for even myself to enter. Pretending creates a strong facade and I now mourn that aspect of my life. It’s not living at all.

And so I wrestle with who I am and who I want to be. Having meningitis forced me to grapple with those issues. I spent many months recuperating-often sleeping 18 hours a day. The time that I was awake was spent trying to measure my self-worth as an inactive, sometimes immobile person. As someone who finds meaning in doing things, I quickly plummeted to a hollow state by being stripped of my ability to “do.” Not only did it create physical insecurities but also spiritual ones. I was unable to know if and when my sight, hearing, and movement would return, and I was unable to feel God’s presence, wondering when I would again.

My prayers consisted mainly of repeating “help,” over and over again. I didn’t even have enough energy to apologize to God for my simple prayers. I imagined him looking upon me with the same disdain that I felt for myself.

But my worst enemy was self-created. I had a fear by the name of “failure.” My definition of success lay in my being a good pretender, by knowing how to insulate myself from others. I didn’t have room for salvation, for being open, wide, and free. Self-disclosure, in my mind, equaled failure. That’s why I thought that I had to be able to present a perfect person to God before he would ever be able to love me. Now, with my desires for perfection and admiration disabled, I longed to know a God who would accept me in my brokenness.

To my surprise God audibly answered those cries for help. He told me that he loved me in my helpless state. I finally understood that my belovedness did not change with my inability to pray, kneel, or read my Bible, that God’s love was not performance-based. He loves me no matter what I do, no matter if I can or cannot do.

I learned in those moments of poverty that I could accept my brokenness and begin to reconcile my frail inner self with my pretending outer self. I allowed room for a God who longs to draw all of us out of ourselves and into him. The salvation came when I laid down the anguish within myself. I had to stop pretending to be something that I was not. l had to learn to become what I was, a beloved child of God. Out of that brokenness I found wholeness. I found freedom.

Just because I have begun to learn these simple truths does not mean that it is now easy for me to change and live in the fullness that they offer. I continually strive for that place of open salvation. But turning from my captive self has now become a delight. I no longer equate success with pretending to be someone others can admire. I’ve learned that in being known by others I am open, wide, and free to accept who I truly am, the beloved. Frail and helpless, I have now placed my life in the hands of One who knows better than I how to save my life. I have found the Savior.

When she wrote this article, Maggie Taylor Schroeder was the editorial assistant at Good News.