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From the Pews | Moving from Your Either/Or World to a Both/And

When I became a mother, I was a mother and I wasn’t a mother.

I married my amazing partner five years ago and became a mom all on the same day.

In my fundamentalist upbringing, my journey of motherhood wasn’t mentioned and certainly wouldn’t have been considered “God’s will.”

Having heard my whole life that the crowning moment of my life would be when I became a mother, I found myself searching for a way to fully embrace the new identity of mother. You were either a mother or you weren’t.

As a teenager in the ’90s, I was encouraged to share the road of salvation with my friends who went to the Catholic church down the road and the Presbyterian church too.

Either you were a “believer” and believed what we believed and were a member of our community or you weren’t.

I can remember being wracked with anxiety and fear during my senior year of high school as I discerned the different colleges where I had received acceptances.

I knew this was one of those big decisions. One of the decisions that would shape the rest of your life.

My anxiety stemmed from making the right choice. The choice that would be God’s will because either you were in God’s will or you weren’t.

This dichotomous thinking served me well as a youth. It was reassuring to know that I was right and that I was a believer and that I knew where I would go after death.

As an adult, this dichotomous thinking has caused cognitive dissonance and distance from the faith of my childhood. Our 3-year-old is both a first child and a third child. Our 4-month-old is both a second child and a fourth child.

The more I find the Divine whispering to my soul, the more I realize I am a Christian and mystic. Sometimes, I discover the Divine in the most unexpected ways and the most unexpected places.

More often than not, now I don’t know what faith is, but I know what faith feels like. I can’t define the Divine presence, but I can feel when the Divine is present.

For someone who could recite the Roman Road and the plan of salvation from memory, this is a transformation. I can be both certain that God is with us and uncertain as to how that happens.

As a pastor and a woman, I have been told too many times to count that I am not in God’s will. I am not in my proper place. I have not discerned what I am supposed to be doing.

I was so scared for so long to be out of God’s will and here I am both out of God’s will by the definition of my fundamentalist upbringing and more fulfilled than I ever thought possible.

As my being continues to be transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2), I hope more people can live into more than one thing being true and that those living in and using dichotomous thinking to hurt and harm whole groups of people will experience something that causes cognitive dissonance and leads to whole living.

Merianna Harrelson

Merianna Harrelson is pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, South Carolina, editor-in-chief of Harrelson Press Publishing, and an EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board member.