I just started reading Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott, and it is making me feel so much safer inside of my skin. She has a way of embracing her fears and flaws and turning them into something humanizing. The book is a story of her struggle to keep it together as a single mother with a newborn baby. She’s a recovered addict, an enthusiastic Christian, and most of all, a raging liberal. I love it.
Sometimes it seems like books find me at just the right moment, when I need I really need to hear the information. Ten years ago, this book would have flown right over and above my head. But, now, I have so many questions about what it’s going to be like to be a parent. So many questions about how to deal with tough things in my past and fears about the future. And though Anne doesn’t claim to have many answers, in a way, this book is a clear testimony to her faith and sense of absurdity. She retells bits of her frustrations and joys, and lays her thoughts bare with a courage that I can only admire.
As a writer, I wish I had her honesty. Even in my little blog, which very few people stumble onto and only one other person in my real life knows about, I’m afraid to share my truths. I worry that my husband will spill the beans on my blog, after I’ve poured my soul onto this space, and that my mother and father and–god forbid–my in-laws will get to read what I really think of them. I hide so many small insecurities and so much pettiness inside that I can’t seem to do a damn thing about. I worry that some faceless troll will find this blog and ridicule the softest parts of me, until I don’t have the guts to write anymore. And I’m sure just having those fears draws those things to me faster than if I didn’t give a damn. It’s hard to make someone feel small if they just don’t give a damn. But I’m still young, and I still give way too many damns.
Another chord this book struck with me is Anne’s faith. I’ve been struggling with my faith lately. I wan’t to believe that there is a benevolent, loving presence in my life that watches out for me, that accepts me and loves me. Who wouldn’t want that? But when I try to plug myself into Christianity, I feel so uncomfortable. I have known too many Christians who, in their evangelical zeal to save the world, managed to look down their noses at me because, despite my baptism and many hours of confirmation class in the Methodist Church, I had not been officially saved. Having not been “saved,” therefore, I would be joining the hoards of heathens that crowd together in hell. This experience came from my best friend in high school, who was artsy and beautiful and increasingly involved in her scary church. When I tried to press, to understand exactly what being saved felt like, I was told it could happen at any moment, as soon as I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. Being open to the possibility, I went home and attempted to do just that. When it came up later, and I claimed it had worked, she didn’t believe me.
She wasn’t the last person to not believe me, either. I wanted to get married in my grandmother’s church, and during pre-marital counseling, her pastor ignored the issue of me and my husband’s relationship, and instead focused on our personal relationships with Jesus. Once again, trying to be a good person while attending church weekly as a child and growing up the granddaughter of his church organist was only camouflaging my glaring lack of acceptable saved-ness. I ended one of the sessions in tears, and to this day one of my only regrets about the wedding is not finding someone to marry us who made me feel comfortable. And in my fantasies, when I’m feeling really ballsy, I even tell him to go to hell.
So to read about someone whose faith is as vital to her as breathing, but who also embraces her homosexual friends and rails against George Bush, made me feel better about Christianity. It made me feel more willing to explore my roots, and to not cringe a bit when someone assumes that I’m Christian, and all that the associations that has come to encompass, which have much more to do with Fox News and embarrassingly literal interpretations of the Bible than the heart of what I believe Jesus was trying to say.
So I’m glad this book found me, for $2 at a used book store, at just the right time and place. And sometimes, when things like that happen, I think maybe God does have something to do with it.