A friend of mine articulated well the problem she and I each fled from not long before we met. In differing circumstances, both of us left one corner of existence as Protestants in America, the corner known as Evangelical Christian culture. We didn't hate the people we farewelled; we didn't condemn them to eternal damnation or anything. We simply had had enough, inside ourselves within that culture, of taking on certain behaviors in order to win God's favor.

Speaking for myself, this had been a troublesome issue for more than a decade. After giving birth to my daughter, I recognized a need to raise her within a faith context. In a genuine way, I think, I had decided to follow Jesus, but for a couple years Timothy and I didn't make an attempt to "fellowship" anywhere. Then, in the late 80s, we found a very nice, family-friendly congregation where a dear, white-haired preacher taught simply from the Bible. Maybe if all things had remained equal we would still be attending there, our kids raised and our world cycling in an idyllic routine toward retirement.

But we moved away. The next years brought my first tastes of volunteerism, political action, women's ministries, homeschooling. I watched my husband baptize our kids. I wrote for Christian magazines. I was determined to reach "success" in a way that would give Christ glory, in a manner that would please God.

I was behaving.

Not that any of those things are necessarily wrong to do. It's just that my attitude, my heart, was aimed squarely at myself. God would surely reward me. I had filled in the blanks correctly on my application.

Interestingly, inside myself I lived with tremendous turmoil. It came out at home -- scrubbing sudsy dishes at the sink, troweling stubborn backyard weeds, reacting to requests from Timothy. Life isn't fair! my turmoil shouted. God shouldn't treat me this way. When will someone notice my goodness?

The gift I received back then, about a dozen years ago now, was permission to see my assumptions and my presumption before God. I began a journey toward the Scriptures in a deeper way, released from the burden of Evangelical trappings I'd got trapped in. I relaxed. I started to let God be sovereign, even if it meant I was truly a little critter (which I was/am) needing mercy that by definition could not be won, could only be received with gratefulness and a sort of fearful joy.

I began practicing.

Probably if all things had remained equal I would still be practicing the way of non-church, non-ritual. But the problem there, for me, became a continuing depression. I was reaching toward God and Life with my mind, on the basis of ideas regarding Jesus Christ, via a brilliant methodology for Bible study. I was seeking to grasp the scriptural authors' original intentions. It was invigorating, in our present time so far from New Testament days. But I'm beginning to understand only now that, after a certain point, I once again was behaving certain ways. Following the rules, and, yes, keeping them, but having run into a wall, into a theological corner.

My mind was squeezed very tight.