I suppose I was born a goody-two-shoes. The day I asked my oldest sister, Sara, to pray with me I vowed to always be one.
“You have to pray with Mom and Dad or Jesus won’t save you,” my second sister, Nikki, insisted. But at four years old, I knew her logic was flawed and was strangely too embarrassed to talk to my parents. So I prayed with Sara. I’ve never doubted obeying God was always best.
At first, preschooler me thought being a goody-two-shoes meant people would like me. Who wouldn’t like someone who was nice to them? Didn’t everyone want to be good more than anything else? Apparently it was more complicated. Conscience stricken, I tattled on my siblings. Soon I was excluded from secrets and became an outsider.
Being good is more important than being an insider, I told myself. But sometimes I failed to be good. Then I wetted my pillow with tears. How can God love a sinner like me? My little, black journal was scrawled with apologies of an eight-year-old’s sins.
The teenage years were even more confusing. Obedient me watched in horror as my friends and siblings rebelled. Once, my sister hid a Jessie McCartney CD from my parents. I couldn’t understand why.
Another time, my entire soccer team sat at the playground in defiance of Coach’s instruction to run three miles. A civil war exploded inside my head. I cannot sit here and lie to the coach. But my entire team will hate me if I tell him. I can’t keep running without them; Coach told us to stay together. The captains circled us up.
“Put your pinkies in the air,” they said. “Repeat after us.” They made us promise not to tell. Remaining silent, I hoped they wouldn’t notice my pinky was missing.
Still my conscience burned. What would I do if they sat at the playground tomorrow? I had to do it. With sweaty hands and a pounding heart, I dialed Coach’s phone.
“Please don’t tell them who told you,” I asked. But I still wondered if his daughter, one of the team captains, would find out. The next day Coach had a different girl lead the run.
“I trust you won’t be lazy like you were yesterday,” he said.
My teammates, even my cousin who ran beside me, gossiped about who must have told on them. I realized my conscience created a divide between us. Could we ever really connect? I didn’t need to be cool, but I wanted to at least be liked.
Even Christians did things my conscience prevented. Once I went to my sister’s house to watch a movie. I sat in horror not knowing how to escape. A man and a woman were in bed kissing. I had never seen that before. I felt like my conscience had been sliced in half.
As I grew older, I either became less naïve or desensitized, I’m not always sure which. Still the problem remained. How could I follow my conscience when it makes others feel judged? At times I’ve hushed it to be more accepting, but then I feel shut down and distanced from God. Is my conscience a cage? Why did God plague me with a conscience so much more rigid than other good, Christian consciences?
I knew if I did anything with guilty doubt, I was sinning. Slowly I began to realize maybe others could act in faith, when I could not. Some people can eat meat sacrificed to idols, but not me. Maybe God gave me a strong conscience to ignite my passion for purity in the church, but often I’ve felt like a hated, Old Testament prophet.
Over time, God has softened some sharp edges. I’m learning to disagree but let God hold the gavel. I’m finding love can build a bridge even when I take a stand on the opposite bank. But conscience and connection still battle.
Photo credit Adam Woodrow.