Our Struggle Leaving Legalism Behind

Our Struggle to Leave Legalism Behind.png

Last Saturday night Jono and I decided to go on an impromptu date night before the new school year started and I went back to work. We went to a movie theater that Jono is always taking his clients to because he’s always raving about how amazing the reclining seats are over there. I noticed that the theater had a pizza place and went over to look over the menu. Jono finished paying for our tickets and came up behind me. I was still squinting at the options trying to make up my mind when Jono spoke to the cashier without any hesitation, “I’ll have a pepperoni pizza.”

Wait, what???

Immediately, I whipped around to look at him in shock and disbelief. 

“Since when do you eat PEPPERONI? And how come you never told me???” I whisper-yelled with my eyes wide open. 

He shrugged his shoulders with a smirk. “I didn’t want to tell you before because I was afraid you might judge me,” he replied. 

Now, if you’re confused about why my reaction to my husband eating a pepperoni pizza was so dramatic, let me give you some context. 

My husband and I grew up in the Seventh-Day Adventist denomination, a particularly conservative Christian denomination known for its strict rules about diet, entertainment, and a lot of other things. If you grew up Adventist, you may have:

-Grown up a strict vegan 

-NEVER consumed pork, shrimp, or other shellfish on purpose

-NEVER worn jewelry except maybe your wedding ring

-Been encouraged to wear long skirts instead of pants

-Only listen to Christian music

-Never attended school events if they were on Friday nights or Saturdays

-Always gone to church for worship on Saturday, and viewed other Christians as “Sunday keepers” because sunset Friday to sunset Saturday is the true Sabbath, not Sunday

I could go on and on, but those are the main rules that we lived by. We definitely believed in the Bible, and grace, and all of that, but Seventh Day Adventists aren’t usually known for preaching about grace and love thy neighbor; we’re usually known for our strict adherence to the rules in the Bible, especially those in the Old Testament. We’re also known for telling people about Jesus’ second coming and how everything going on in the world today is a sign of the end of the world.  

When my husband and I got married, we were super Seventh-Day Adventists (except for the pants part). We kept all the rules, and we wholeheartedly loved God. My husband even went on a year-long mission trip to pass out religious tracts and traveled overseas to preach the gospel to people in rural areas. 

But when we had kids and started talking about the kinds of family traditions we want to pass on to our kids, we realized that we didn’t want to pass on A LOT of the stuff we had grown up doing and believing. As parents, we wanted to focus more on guiding our kids to love God for themselves instead of forcing a bunch of rules and routines on them. We want them to know above all that God loves them no matter what and that they have gifts and talents that can impact their world. 

As much as we want to do that, we ourselves are still boxed in by a legalistic mindset, this train of thought that goes, “If I do this, I’ll go to hell,” or “If I do this, God will punish me.” And it’s not just us either. We’re surrounded by family and friends that still see God as the Big Punisher who has to be appeased with a moral life in order to bless us. 

It’s so bad that whenever I post a picture of myself wearing a simple necklace or clip-on earrings, I get phone calls and voice notes from concerned family and friends asking if my relationship with God is still intact. 

My relationship with God is a work in progress. I’ve had to take each belief, routine, and tradition I have, and really examine it, and see if I’m doing it out of fear of punishment, rote habit, or if I genuinely find meaning and fulfillment in it. Things like attending church, how we “keep” the Sabbath, and what we’ll tell our kids if they want their ears pierced, or if they want to participate in school functions on a day that we consider holy, are questions we wrestle with even now. I’m at a certain place in my walk with God, and my husband is in a slightly different place. So now we’re both on a journey to re-discover our relationship with God, and how we will encourage our kids to have one with Him. 

That means being okay with my husband doing things that I”m not used to seeing him do (like eating pepperoni!), and being open to living in a way that’s different than the way I was raised. It means being okay with people judging us or looking at us differently when they see how we’re raising our family. 

I think this journey is a great process. My faith is being stripped of all the fluff and I’m focusing on what really matters to God, that I love Him and understand the importance of putting Him first. I’m learning to spend time with God in the morning simply because I like it and find meaning in it, not just because I’m afraid I’ll have a bad day if I don’t pray. 

As a couple, we’re learning to be okay with one another being in different places spiritually. We’re learning to be okay with allowing each other the space to explore what life with God looks like, as opposed to living within the confines of a particular religion just because it’s what we did growing up. We’re praying together and building our family based on godly principles and teaching our kids to think and choose for themselves instead of forcing them to do it our way. 

What about you? What role does faith play in your marriage? How do you integrate your faith into your family? What traditions have you decided to leave behind, or embrace?

Let me hear your thoughts in the comments!

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