My dad tells this story from when I was five years old. He was teaching me and my two sisters about the Garden of Eden. In the middle of the story, I interrupted, “Wait, if God didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat from the tree, why’d he put it in the garden?” And thus my impulsively inquisitive nature reared its head.
Such questions and concerns have never quite left me. I’ve always felt the need to ask why? until I get a sufficient answer. I consider this a gift now. Curiosity and questioning are what have led me to deeper truths about God and about myself and others. But when you grow up as a pastor’s daughter, there are expectations.
My father, Max, has been the pastor of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio for almost 30 years—my entire life. I do not know life apart from church and apart from being a visible member of the church. For the most part, this has been a wonderful and enriching place for me and my growth as a believer in Jesus. But somewhere along the way, while being raised in front of the congregation’s eye, I began to carry the weight of expectations. I needed to act a certain way. I need to look a certain way. And, I needed to believe a certain way. My faith needed to be strong like my mother’s and father’s. It needed to match my poised exterior.
So I kept my doubts to myself. I talked to my parents about them, but few others. I grew inward in my faith. I kept it private for fear of others knowing that I asked questions like that one when I was five years old.
In the church of my childhood, and still today, there is a prayer time at the end of the service. Several members of the congregation called “prayer partners” line the front of the auditorium, and the rest of the church body is invited to come forward for prayer. No one told me I shouldn’t go forward for prayer during that time, but because I had internalized those faith expectations, I didn’t think I was allowed to. I never even considered it. Not once.
What would people think if I, Andrea Lucado, went forward for prayer? They would think my prayer life was not strong enough on its own. They would think something was wrong with me or my family. I saved the prayer partners for those who were brave enough to be prayed over in public.
I wonder if this happens to other pastors’ kids. If somehow in the midst of all of the church people we know, we end up living private spiritual lives. I had quiet times. I read and studied and prayed, but I did so alone.
I lived my private spiritual life for as long as I could, until it didn’t work anymore. Until the doubts grew overwhelming.
I moved to Oxford the fall after I graduated college. I went there for a master’s program in English literature at a school called Oxford-Brookes. During the year I was there, the questions that had been rumbling beneath the surface came out in full bloom. The world of Oxford academia will do that to you. Being plucked out of the Bible Belt and dropped into post-Christian Europe will do that to you. Being the only Christian in your class for the first time in your life will do that to you.
Why do I believe what I believe?
Would I still be a Christian if I had not been raised in a Christian home?
Why do the atheist and agnostics I know seem more peaceful and loving than many of the Christians I know?
These questions swirled round and round in my head. My nights turned restless with them. And my quiet times, the ones I had been faithfully keeping since high school? They turned, well, quiet. So quiet that they only echoed my own voice back to me. “Anyone out there? Anyone out there? Anyone?”
What I wanted instead, what I needed, wasn’t God, but someone, a physical real-person someone, to show me the way. I wanted to talk to someone who I knew was talking to God, even if I couldn’t or just didn’t want to.
I found that in a friend in Oxford. He was kind. He was fun. And his faith was not in turmoil as mine was. He had a steadiness to him that I craved. We didn’t talk much about my own faith. We went on walks and ate out at restaurants and drank tea on my couch to keep our hands warm in the winter months. It seemed that being near him was exactly what I needed that year. I needed to simply talk to someone who was talking to God.
The people who talk to God, as I learned, can do a lot for you and for your faith if you let them. I once heard author and pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber speak. During the question and answer session at the end, a guy stood up and said, “I had faith and it was strong, but now I’m doubting. I feel weak in my faith. What should I do?”
Bolz-Weber’s suggestion? “You can take a break now. Let someone else on the pew be strong for you.”
I like this idea of giving each other permission to take a break from trying and let the others on the pew be strong for us for a little while. This is not something I gave myself permission to do growing up as a pastor’s daughter, but it is something I am a strong advocate for now.
I left Oxford with a deeper faith than I had when I arrived. The restless nights eventually led to a knowing and a peace, largely due to that friend and a few others on the pew I let be strong for me for a while.
I still find it difficult to go forward in church for prayer. I default to keeping up appearances and appearing strong and fine, but I’m getting there. God has been gentle and patient with me and I hope that one day, when the pastor calls for the time of prayer, I’ll be the first running down the aisle.
© Andrea Lucado, 2017
Andrea Lucado is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. She is the author of English Lessons: The Crooked Path of Growing Toward Faith and blogs regularly at AndreaLucado.com. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter: @andrealucado.