Growing up, Christianity taught me to fight my instincts. If I wanted something, it was probably my sin nature leading me astray. I should never do something or want something only because it gave me joy or pleasure. Pleasure is evil. Seeking my own joy leads to sin. People that chase pleasure, that selfishly seek what brings them joy, are the ones that turn into evil dictators and self absorbed rock stars and drug addicts and child molesters. In fact, if I allowed myself to exist in my natural state, without constant upkeep of my defenses against my own desires, I would slowly and irreversibly degrade into some kind of Batman villain.
I couldn’t just be myself, I had to be BETTER then myself. Jim as he was born into this world was bound by his sin nature to seek only the wanton, evil fruits of this world. This, left unchecked, would lead to my ultimate destruction. I needed to remold my wants and desires to what Jesus wanted, not what I wanted. I couldn’t pursue happiness and joy and expect to come to the end of my life and have accomplished something praise-worthy. The more faith I had, the more successful my battle would be, and the more obvious it would be to all those around me. I would be a beautiful shining example of God’s work in my heart by being a selfless Jesus follower.
So, I studied my Bible. I got a Bible degree at a Bible College and hung out with other Bible-believers. I figured if I could just truly learn the Bible and live my life according to it, I would be happy. I learned to talk the talk and I became a good Christian and good Christians don’t mess up, so I learned to hide it when I did. But I wasn’t happy either, so I learned to fake that too. I learned to wear a mask to hide my failings and my lack of joy rather then confront them. And I became my very own Batman villain.
I was a douche-bag on the inside with a perfect pastor’s kid mask on the outside. My “mask” wasn’t scary like the Joker’s but it felt just as destructive. I had shallow relationships with nearly everyone because I couldn’t let them close enough to see beneath the mask. I was constantly exhausted from trying to be someone other then who I was. I was terrified of messing up because I was supposed to be better then that. It wasn’t okay to be wrong or not know the right answer. Jesus gave me all the answers and there was no excuse for living without joy or messing up.
But that isn’t how I find joy and it isn’t how I learn. I don’t learn by memorizing a set of rules about life or having other people tell me how it should be done. I learn by doing. I learn not to touch fire by getting burned. I learn what brings me true joy by following my gut, being true to myself, and doing what comes natural to me. I only learn by putting myself out there and trying new things and risking being wrong. Christianity taught me to avoid putting myself out there and risking the shame of screwing it up. It taught me to avoid the very thing that would make me a better person and bring me true joy.
Am I saying that all Christians are unhappy and joyless? Not at all. Nor am I saying that Christianity is intentionally set up to teach everyone to approach life the way that I did. I’m simply saying that, for someone that processes life like me, the idea of being born with a sin nature that will lead you down a path of self-destruction unless kept in check, didn’t work with the way I need to live my life. It left me a joyless fraud. I’m not interested in debating about universal human nature, but I can speak to my own experience and I can say this with certainty. I’m a good person. Left to my own devises, I eventually figure out what is best for me. When I do what brings me joy, when I’m willing to risk being wrong and learn from the process, that makes it the “right” thing for me and those around me. Sure, I touch a few flames from time to time, but I’m a quick learner and a fast healer. Chasing joy isn’t selfish or wrong, it’s the only way for me to truly live.