For Fear Of Holiness

In the first three decades of life, prior to my surrender to the Lord, the term holly roller, conjured up images of sanctimonious Christians who had a taciturn interpretation in matters which pertained to God. As a Catholic elementary school student from 1958 to 1967, I knew none personally, still they were portrayed in movies as animated beings in their fervency of prayer.

The years progressed and through snippets of information I learned that there were puritanical sects of Protestantism that prohibited certain gratifications of life that partially included smoking, television, movies, dancing, alcohol consumption and card playing. As I sifted through college pamphlets, there was one Christian facility in particular which emphasized the exclusion of those very indulgences. I bypassed it as I knew I would not last for one week let alone an entire semester. My intake of spirits was moderate and the only card game that I had ever indulged in was War which was taught to me by my father during childhood. Still, in those days, as the popular cigarette jingle suggested, I truly would have preferred to fight versus switch from my much beloved Tareyton 100’s. Moreover, I enjoyed dancing as well as entertainment and I saw no viable reason as to why any of these activities should be banished.

Perhaps it was that mindset that kept me from a total commitment to Christ but by the age of 30 I realized that my alternative options were limited. I did not regret the decision in any regard but admittedly the acclimation period hinged on difficult particularly as I seemed to be surrounded by those of an austere mindset within the holiness sect. At their insistence, I was now referred to as Sister Margaret, a born-again Christian. In actuality, I was uncomfortable with that description as I much preferred the reference as a Catholic who worshipped the Savior. Apparently that was not a viable option as Catholicism was regarded by them as heretical. Though daily Mass was part of my repertoire, I was duly apprised that the Church of Rome was spiritually inferior and in order to obey the Savior, it was imperative that I depart from Babylon and seek membership in a Bible-based fellowship. I chaffed and refused though I did visit various nondenominational gatherings.

With profound adjustment, I was able to embrace my renewed existence in Christ as He had redeemed my life in so many facets where sin had previously reigned. My extroverted exuberance, however, became cause for concern amongst the brethren. Indeed the implication was made that I was to adhere to certain restrictions as well as to emulate the characteristics of the Christian women whom I had met…quiet…submissive…docile. Essentially everything was regarded by them as sin and their supplementary list of prohibited items was protracted…pants, sleeveless clothing, makeup, haircuts and jewelry save perhaps for a wedding band and watch. Electrolysis was also frowned upon as I was instructed that the man whom God had selected for me to wed, would love my facial hair. That was so not my persona and I became petrified at the prospect of having to align myself into a role for which I was ill suited. In conversation with a Pentecostal coworker, I mentioned that I was fond of dancing to which she smugly replied “you won’t for long.” Another person informed me how she severely chastised her then nine-year old son for his attempt to imitate the moves of Michael Jackson in the family kitchen.

Clearly I was in an abject state of fear as well as confusion. My desire was to please God and I knew with certainty that some changes were necessary. However the proposed Margaret would have been wholly unrecognizable. To participate in the discussion of current events with these individuals was to nil avail since the perusal of newspapers and popular books was discouraged. Music, other than Gospel, was taboo and that of course included my beloved oldies as well as classical compositions. With rare exception, Catholic hymns were deemed unacceptable. Jehovah’s Witnesses they were not yet some within the nondenominational gatherings frowned upon Christmas festivities as they considered such to be a pagan ritual. Routine dialogue with the saints of Christ was oftentimes a futile endeavor for any given response to my “Hello, how are you?” consisted of the immediate recitation of a Bible verse, or instead words that were seemingly derived from a libretto. Indeed at one point, I had the compelling and perhaps audacious curiosity to query whether the grooms reeled off Scripture in conjugal moments.

Although I wanted to be married, I was neither overly fond or attracted to these men of God. One friend continuously remarked how her husband was a gift from Jesus. In actuality, I was petrified that the Savior would bless me in that manner particularly as her groom seemed allergic to employment and the stank of poverty was rampant in their home. My dismay at the prospect of this type of marriage was further evidenced when, in 1986, I encountered a number of Christian couples at a Fourth of July barbecue. Without exception, the women were dour, plain-featured, and devoid of spontaneity. One such wife, who was wholly sullen in appearance, loudly proclaimed in a speech to all that she was not in need of a companion and had desperately wanted to be left alone in order to distribute Gospel tracts. She then went on to emphasize that she had only wed as her mate was persistent. As I listened, my prevailing thought was “What on earth did he see in her to warrant such a pursuit? Was the forfeiture of joy required to maintain obedience with the Lord”? But, as I was solemnly apprised, these duos represented the depiction of a holy union since love and passion were worldly concepts.

As a means of justification to sever themselves from any trappings of charm, the pious sisters within the pews readily quoted the King James Version of 1 Peter 3:3-5 “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair and of wearing of gold or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time, the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands.” While I knew the Word of God to be absolute truth, there were other adaptations that were not as stringent. Obviously I realized that the Catholic rendition of the Scriptures was considered heretical amongst that clan and therefore closed to discussion. But why ignore the Amplified Bible that was used in so many nondenominational pulpits? Indeed, the identical chapter and verse specifically stated “Let not yours be the (merely) external adorning with (elaborate) interweaving and knotting of the hair, the wearing of jewelry or changes of clothes; But let it be the inward adorning and beauty of the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which (is not anxious or wrought up but) is very precious in the sight of God. For it was thus that the pious women of old who hoped in God were (accustomed) to beautify themselves and were submissive to their husbands (adapting themselves to them as themselves secondary and dependent upon them).” That in itself was a succinct indication that Saint Peter did not endeavor to dissuade women from outward beautification but instead stressed that genuine allure should come from within. Moreover, in the Book of Esther specifically Chapter 2, multiple translations clarified that the young maiden was provided with various cosmetic treatments in preparation for her meeting with the king. This chronicle, however, was deliberately dismissed in order to condone the ascetic narrative.

Acceptance of Jesus as our Savior comes with an assurance in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.” Still, maturity in the Lord is not an expeditious process. While I acknowledged that He would have me develop in all matters which pertained to Him, I had also resolved that I was unable to, in any capacity, adapt the exacting female Pentecostal mindset. I had no mistrust regarding the sincerity of their faith, and undoubtedly I was assuaged by their Biblical knowledge, but their decrees left me distinctly ill at ease. I became cognizant that God’s mandate for holiness was to be displayed by the manner in which I lived my life as well as adherence to His Word ”Be holy as I am holy (1 Peter 1:16). I also embraced the fact that surrender to the Lord did not require the abandonment of one’s true nature and that the individual traits which He bestowed upon us, were to be used for His glory. Indeed Psalm 139:13 is concise “You formed my inmost being; You knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works! My very self You know.” Given that He created my exuberant, extroverted manner, would it not be an affront to Him if I were to strive for conformity to characteristics other than my own? To reject the puritanical injunctions was not a decision to revert to sin but rather a resolution to grasp onto the attributes which constituted Margaret that had been established by the Savior to honor Him.

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