Let me hide myself.

Hide Myself

A woman’s heart should be so hidden in God that a man has to seek Him just to find her.
~attributed to both Max Lucado and Maya Angelou

I was 15 years old, sitting in the front row of the church, staring skeptically at the woman who was preaching to us. This wasn’t my youth group, of course—the assemblies would never allow a woman to speak like this. I determined that perhaps she was like Balaam’s donkey, and did my utmost to pay attention to whatever word of the Lord she might ironically speak despite her unfitness for leadership.

She walked over to her projector and held up a transparency sheet. “This represents you,” she said simply. “Your lives.” She picked up a few different markers and started doodling on the sheet, explaining that our sins and decisions and actions were like the marks on the page. “Everything is here—from the clothes you wear, to the words you say, to what you do in your every day life. They all show up here.”

The speaker placed the sheet back on the projector and turned on the light. “This light is Jesus,” she continued. “Notice how you can’t see him through the ink, only through the clear parts?” I stirred in my seat, aware of how it seemed the Spirit was moving within me.

She took an eraser and slowly began moving it across the marker drawings. I watched, mesmerized, as the marks disappeared. “This is what the blood of Christ does”—she pointed to the now-clean sheet—”so that all that can be seen through you is Jesus.” She spent the rest of her time with us explaining how important it was to make sure that our transparencies remained clean, that our decisions and words and lives were so clean that we would only reflect Christ to those around us.

As I got in the van with the carpool that brought me to church that night, I was deeply convicted to start changing my life so that I would better reflect Christ. It occurred to me that this meant becoming a different person. But wasn’t that what Christianity was all about to begin with, becoming a new creation in Christ?

There’s still so much that I’m trying to unpack about my upbringing. I was completely saturated in a fundamentalist Christian environment at home, church, and school. Putting words to what’s damaging about what I believed is delicate, difficult work. I keep coming back to, “But nobody meant to hurt you! They were just doing what they thought was right!” Unfortunately, intentions aren’t magical, and they don’t erase the damage that actions create.

In past months, I’ve kept coming back to the concept that preacher so memorably illustrated for me. Quite literally, I was supposed to be invisible so others could see Jesus. Today that phraseology puts me on edge and reminds me of a Darth Vader Boyfriend, but at the time and even up until a few years ago, I absolutely didn’t blink an eye. Of course I was supposed to be invisible. Of course nothing was too big a sacrifice for my Lord. It was so easy to swallow because it’s absolutely indistinguishable from what I was taught in the assemblies.

The concept of being hidden was driven home so often in so many ways, implicitly and explicitly. The PB taught me that being a Christian meant dying to myself, focusing on spiritual things and not on physical things, hiding myself in Christ. My friends and I all worked so diligently to make sure nothing was distracting us from Christlikeness. The sermons we listened to, the Christian fiction we read (because secular fiction was certainly of dubious morality), the Christian music we listened to (if it wasn’t deemed too worldly), the devotional and eschatological books we studied, (non) dating books, marriage  and family talks, families we grew up in and around, even the way we were taught to read the Bible…all of it pushed us to erase ourselves, suppress who we were, change who we were to become more like Christ—because being ourselves was in and of itself sinful.

In an effort to be spiritually discerning, we’d create rules to help guide us in our path to righteousness and a closer walk with God. I had friends who decided that going to the movie theater was a distraction from holiness, so that was cut out of their lives. The enjoyment of a motorcycle or car or even TV was considered idolatrous by some and was thus discarded. We worked so hard to be who we were told and who we believed we had to be: the best possible example of Christ on earth. All sorts of naturally amoral activities and objects were suddenly moralized and scrutinized and measured against whether they could lead us closer to the Lord. If the answer was “no,” the spiritual thing to do was remove it from our lives in any sort of meaningful way.

Of course, being an inherently patriarchal system, there were more rules to keep women in line. Our bodies had to be hidden lest we cause men to stumble. In church, our hair had to be hidden so that the only glory visible to the angels was Christ as typified through the uncovered heads of the men. Our voices were to be hidden within a church setting, and many of us believed we were never to have any authority over anyone but our children and perhaps younger sisters in the faith.

This focus on hiding every aspect of our lives manifested in nit-picking of epic proportions. I remember a couple friends and I discussing in worried tones whether our desire to wear contacts was vanity or even worldly, and whether makeup made us too noticeable. One memorable evening at a youth conference, the guys were ushered out of the room so the camp director could plead with the girls to dress more modestly because when sitting in the grass watching a sporting event, some of our shirts would ride up and our pants would ride down and he could see our skin, which was displeasing to the Lord and could cause him and other brothers in Christ to stumble. Eventually I stopped singing or playing piano publicly because I was afraid that I was taking a position of authority.

At this time, “Rock of Ages” became my favourite hymn. (As rewritten by the PB, of course.) Looking back now, and considering the part it played in my favourite book at the time, it’s all too telling:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me
let me hide myself in Thee.
Let the water and the blood
from thy riven side which flowed
be for sin the double cure:
cleanse me from its guilt and power.

So often in my prayer journals, I’d repeat that stanza. I longed for nothing more than to be completely hidden in Christ, completely transformed from the wretched being I believed myself to be to become that blank transparency, to become that clean vessel of honor for the Lord.

I didn’t recognize it then, but it was a systematic dehumanization of ourselves in an attempt to conform to a specific interpretation of Christianity based on a “plain” reading of Scripture. And at least for me, I hid myself so deeply that even after leaving the movement 3 years ago, it’s still a struggle to find myself.

7 thoughts on “Let me hide myself.

  1. I think this is why I’m finding the recent discussions about God being a male and how the female can’t show up in God, Jesus, or Holy Spirit to be so triggering and upsetting. If there was one thing that was drilled into me in a spiritually abusive environment, it was my invisibility and my inferiority as a woman in God’s sight. That’s one of the reasons I had to leave Christianity, my insistence on being seen.

    • Absolutely. The recent conversations, while perhaps well-intentioned, definitely reinforce that idea of assimilation into the masculine God, where femininity seemingly has no place. Being seen as a woman was such a big no-no, and yet something all people need. Still working all that out myself.

  2. When I first became a member of a christian student group I found it very hard to pray aloud as there were male students as well. The same for leading the Bible studies of that evening, as it rotated so everyone got their turn. I was amazed that we were equal in that respect and at the same time worried that God would be angry. When I got the chance a few years later to be a leader for a year (more organizational than spiritual, but still) I was worried again: both about whether I would be able to and about if God would approve or not… I did do it, and am still happy that I did; not that it was always nice or fun but mostly because it helped me battle these negative ideas around female leadership in churches (pb in specific). I was just as able as anyone else.

  3. I’m new to this discussion b/c I’ve been offline for awhile. Here’s my memory:

    Our pastor holds up a white paper with the word “SIN” in deep red. Then, he puts a red transparency over the paper, and the word “SIN” disappears. He tells us that the blood of Jesus washes away our sin so God can’t see it anymore. God can only see us as clean when he looks at us through the “precious Blood” of Christ. I was a little girl then. What I took away from that object lesson was that I was so bad that God couldn’t even stand to look at me except for Jesus. I was inherently bad. What a way to explain God’s “love” for us in Jesus! Oh, and he also talked about how our acts of righteousness are like menstrual rags in the eyes of God. Sweet. It’s no wonder that I, at age 59, still struggle with my own indentity in Christ.

    • I don’t think I ever heard that first horrid illustration, but I did definitely hear the second. It’s so important to examine the stories we tell others and ourselves. Do we really want to teach people that they have no intrinsic worth and are evil through and through? How exactly is that going to affect them? Sigh.

  4. I think we might agree that the lady speaker was quite pathetic, as her illustration proves: The light of the projector, supposedly representing the the Lord Jesus, is not really divine, since sin has the ability to “block” the light – this is quite unlike the Jesus of the bible who saves in spite of perceived “obstacles”
    But the sad misrepresentation continues (assuming your version is accurate): The Lord does not wipe out the individual – that is a silly (living) form of annihilation. He wipes out sins, not the saved people who sin. He does this by grace – not by works! It is not by trying, not by amending, not by self improvement, not by dying to self, not “by not” doing anything, not by being invisible – but by grace. Grace is the cause – not any form or thing from man to cause Him to do anything.

    It is sad (and shameful) for the speaker for having wrongly presented a false gospel like that, as sad as it was for you to continue running with that false idea. The Lord does not wipe out the the unique make-up of the person, or make the unique person which He created invisible – He makes them a new creation, in Christ. Yes, God does not see our sins, but rather looks at Christ, the sinless, He who knew no sin – but that does not mean that He wants us to become individually invisible so that He (who is God) can become “visible.”
    You were trying to save yourself, to wipe yourself out (wrongly), in order to make the Almighty “visible” – what a horrendous thought and what a false theology. No wonder most so-called assemblies are is such a bad and ever diminishing state. I can fully understand that such teaching can drive one to all sorts of other problems. I am very sorry that someone has misrepresented Christ to you in that way.

    Dani, the Christ of the bible died for sinners, while they were yet sinners. While. Not when they amended themselves – or any such like. While. By grace. He died for Peter, the same Peter that denied Him. He died for Paul, that same Paul that persecuted the church – while they were obviously still sinners. And Dani – you know what is coming,…..He died for you too!

    He is coming back too – not for invisible people, but to come and collect His own, the church, whom He loves as He loves His very own body, whom He will present spotless and perfect – to Himself. They do not have to go around pretending to be something they are not – He will perfect them and present them, not they themselves.

    The Son of God, God, became a man, He died on the cross, was raised, buried and rose again. He will call, justify and keep those that are His – and the good news for formerly invisible people is that His call is going out to you, Dani, today. He made peace with God for you too.

    • Okay. I’m letting this one through to illustrate to others what’s not okay to say to someone who has left Christianity.

      It’s not okay to tell them that their experiences weren’t True Christianity, therefore if only they had experienced True Christianity through True Jesus, they would still be a Christian.

      It’s not okay to preach at atheists, particularly atheists who were formerly Christians.

      It’s not okay to assume a level of personal influence in someone’s life when you’ve never spent the time getting to know them.

      This entire comment, honestly, is 100% what not to do if you are a Christian who wants to talk to an atheist. It’s condescending, concern-trolling, manipulative, gas-lighting, and downright disrespectful. It’s not okay.

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