Be cautious when you follow others. Perhaps this warning hits a little deeper for me than it would for others, as I’ve been a follower my whole life, always carefully shrinking my own personality and my own thoughts and opinions to emulate instead those of my friends, my mentors, my peers.
I almost changed the trajectory of my entire life based on the opinions of others.
You can’t marry him, she said. You need to marry someone who can lead you spiritually. Abby, he’s divorced!
If you marry him, my pastor at the time told me, you will come to despise him. I reeled back, stunned. His words felt like a curse. A portent.
Verbally, of course, I agreed, nodding as though I was in full alignment with what they told me. My pastor was my spiritual leader, and a man. Boundaries had deliberately never been allowed to exist in my childhood, and as I grew up, finding myself surrounded by a community of wonderful friends who I desired nothing more than to emulate, I had never even thought of considering them. I had no need for them.
Yet deep in my soul, I disagreed. For the first time in my life, I thought differently. Their words stirred a deep unease within me that felt, to a girl unused to disagreement, something like rumblings of discontent. How could I call myself a true Christian but hold someone else — a man, a human — responsible for my spiritual life and growth? That seemed horribly un-Christian to me! I was not meant to be a follower of my husband or my pastor. Wasn’t I meant to be a follower of Jesus?
Without words to express myself, or without knowing ways of setting up safe boundaries, the kind that would have led me to express I love you and I respect you more than words can say, and I am grateful to you for speaking what you believe to be true in my life, but I respectfully disagree and will do what I believe is right, the only option left for me was to withdraw. Separation was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and I know I didn’t do it in the healthiest of ways. But I did the only thing I knew how to do. I followed Jesus instead of people. I followed what I knew to be right, over others who were convinced they were right.
It nearly tore me apart. I do not say that lightly. My mind felt like it was ripping itself apart, pitting the authority of people I loved so deeply, against the words of Jesus. I struggled with involuntary panic attacks, which came upon me when I least expected – usually in the middle of a workday, of course. I lost forty pounds, and for a girl five-foot-ten who has always been on the slimmer side, this put me into the double-digits, which absolutely terrified me. I was wasting away.
But God. Aren’t those the most beautiful words in the human language? But God!
The Lord stood with me, and strengthened me.
And I’m still here. I’m still here!
It still hits me at times, the unexpected tidal wave of grief. Knowing that I am anathema to people I loved more than life itself, still destroys me daily.
A couple years into my marriage (I still don’t despise my husband, incidentally) I came across an article expounding on the view that a woman – a wife – can be, should be, a spiritual leader for herself. That her faith doesn’t rest in the hands of her husband. It was written by a respected woman and theologian in conservative culture, and I figured if I shared her words, which carried much more authority than mine, perhaps I would have a chance at not being torn apart for my heretical views.
The same woman who told me I couldn’t marry DJ commented on my post. I completely agree with this! she said. Great article!
I was stunned. I sat there at my computer, frozen, mouth agape, for several minutes. And my hands shook as it dawned on me that I had once nearly changed the trajectory of my life on the words of a woman who changed her mind!
If there is a point to this essay, it is simply this. Following Jesus is always better than following people. God is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forevermore. People are fickle. Even husbands. Even pastors. Even spiritual leaders. I do not say to ignore their advice. We need people to help us through life, and oftentimes our friends can see what to us is a blindspot. But if you place other people’s opinions above God’s, you will live and die on the whim of others.