From Mia: I’ve known Erica Bartle for a few years now even though we’ve only seen each other face to face a couple of times. I first got to ‘know’ her through her hugely popular and thoroughly engaging blog Girl With A Satchel where she writes a lot about magazines but more and more about her own take on life. Because Erica’s take is not one that receives much coverage in the mainstream media; she is a devout Christian.
She wasn’t always, you’ll find that out in her post, below, but more and more as she gets older, Jesus and religion is becoming more important to her. I’ve always found Erica’s take on popular culture quirky and refreshing and I’m a big fan of her blog and her. The way she writes honestly and insightfully about her own beliefs and struggles on so many different levels…..for a while now I’ve wanted to publish something on Mamamia about Christianity.
We have indeed published many articles that have been critical of the church (and of religion in general) and I’m a strong believer in the merit of listening to and learning from different perspectives.
I invited Erica to run this post about how Christianity is incorporated into her everyday life and being the shy type she is (truly) she was nervous about it. But I was persistant!
Erica (and her husband Jim) will be reading your comments and answering questions if you have them. I understand that religion can sometimes be a hot-button topic and comments are of course welcome. But can I make a special point of asking everyone to remain respectful. Whether you agree or not with someone’s deeply held beliefs, it’s vital we respect them…..
So. Here’s Erica’s post….
Each Thursday night I meet with a vibrant, interesting, gorgeous group of women to discuss life and God in much the same way a book club might meet. There are two flight attendants, a naturopath, a youth worker, a chef, an SES worker and a writer-cum-journalist amongst us. Three are mums, there’s a baby on the way, and three of us are childless. It’s a wonderful meeting of experience and minds and personalities, and we garner strength in each other’s company. Sometimes we laugh, often we cry, but we each leave with the comforting thought that we are not alone in this world, in our struggles, nor in our devotion to the Lord.
Our upbringings were incredibly different: there’s a childhood spent in an African boarding school, one spent in Papua New Guinea with her missionary parents, a farm girl who still picks cotton with her family… Of all of them, I’m the only one who wasn’t brought up in an overtly Christian household, though also the only one to have experienced the very traditional Catholic church.
I attended a Catholic primary school in Brisbane, where I received my first Holy Communion and also my Confirmation, at which time I adopted the new name Francis, in respect for Saint Francis. The only thing I remember from Religious studies at my Catholic convent high school was watching the ABC series The Brides of Christ in absolute wonderment (Josephine Burns had attended the same school) and thinking for a second that maybe I could become a nun, too.
Though I think I’d always had the sense of awe and respect for God, and saw the value in a Catholic education – as much for the wonderful sense of community spirit as Religious studies – I had done the stereotypical convent school girl thing and rebelled. Stubborn, determined and controlling by virtue of life’s twists and turns, and also full of self-doubt, I was the girl used to expecting the worst just in case (I once did myself out of a job I wanted because I revealed I had a back-up plan rather than the confidence I was the right candidate – perhaps that says something about my faith now, but I like to imagine it’s more sure than anything I’ve done).
My own recommitment to Christianity came about after a period of serious contemplation and exploration, which happened after I met my now-husband, a young evangelical and pastor’s son. He laid his faith on the table the first night we met, and I had to respect that. He was certainly not a saint, but there was something about his zest for the Lord that was captivating (or was that his biceps?). You’ve got to hand it to the Baptists for being so overt in their faith; it’s not just church on Sundays.
While for Jim, faith was a matter of life and death (he made a commitment to God after a motorbike accident), my own journey was quite an intellectual as well as a spiritual undertaking. I’m not a scholar by any stretch, but I’m a bookish girl, and a researcher and an avid knowledge-seeker, so God used books and all sorts of interesting people and a well-worn and much loved Bible to nurture and teach me.
Believe me, the idea that God sent His son to earth to atone for my sins, weaknesses and shortcomings wasn’t an easy concept to swallow. And the act of making the commitment itself was quite confusing, too: so, what, I just say out loud that Jesus Christ is the Lord of my life and I’m saved? How odd.
But once I took the plunge, I was filled with an unmistakable spiritual vigour. I literally skipped to work on a Holy Spirit high, dished out good deeds like Pollyanna and attended my own church and Bible study (separate from my husband) with all the eagerness of a Girl Guide on a cookie run. Brownie points! But then my bubble burst. What transpired after that was nothing short of a despairing time of searching and seeking and ‘Why, why, why?’. Little did I know that salvation is a continuing process… hard and enjoyable in equal measure, and God is there persevering with you all along.
My own faith has matured and grown over the past six years as I’ve slowly, often begrudgingly, given parts of myself up to God, who’s done a miraculous cleaning up job and shown me the many errors of my ways. It’s not been easy. As an eager Christian wanting to dispense her faith like Pez, I’ve been humbled many a times when a misfired sentiment was uttered at a coffee table or entered another’s inbox or a blog post… “This blog has become too much like church”, said one of my former followers before trotting off with a, “So long, farewell, this used to be a good blog.” Fair enough.
As someone who was a bit of a people-pleaser growing up, this has been one of the hardest things to let go of – the idea that you will be liked or accepted. As a writer, it’s the idea also that you won’t be listened to. Thankfully, any residual self-pity dissipates when I walk past the Anglican Church where I got married and see Christ pinned to the Cross in a stain-glassed window. What right do I have to complain when the suffering of Christ, for the sake of imperfect, small, insignificant me, is so plain?
There are things in this life I’ll never comprehend and things I don’t like and people who are difficult and new struggles I’ll have to encounter. But when these things inevitably pop up and break through my Happy Little Christian cloud, I take refuge in God’s presence, beautiful word and eternal promises, and remember the wonderful things He’s already done for me, turning my frame of mind from strife, fear, worry and doubt to peace, praise, hope and gratefulness. “You are my defender and protector. You are my God; in you I trust.” Psalm 91: 2