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The Fairytale

By Cheryl Ensom

“…and Cinderella and the Prince lived happily ever after. The End.”

Golden-haired Cinderella was as magical to my little girl heart as it is to my own girls’. There is something deeply compelling about the story, as well as all the other fairytales in which “regular girls” are discovered by the handsome prince who can not help but be mesmerized by their beauty and fall desperately in love with them. The girl/princess does nothing more than walk through the forest singing, show up to a ball or simply lie asleep and the prince is overcome with love for her. He must have her. She is, without trying to be, the most beautiful woman in the world. The only woman for him.

For several years of late girlhood and early teenage-hood I wondered if I would be beautiful. The verdict was still out for awhile. There were girls who were homely teenagers but became drop-dead gorgeous women; my aunt Donna was one. Perhaps I would wake up one day and be dazzlingly gorgeous. It was possible.

Beauty was confusing. As a little girl I was often told how pretty I was. Looking at the photos of myself, I think so, too; I look like my daughters, who are the most beautiful creatures in the world.

When I was four, my sister, Jeanette, was born. There are many photos of me in my dark brown (nearly black) ponytails holding a tiny baby on my lap, propped up in a chair, smiling ear-to-ear. I was thrilled to have a sister. I couldn’t wait for her to be old enough to play with me.

Jeanette was bald as a cue ball until her second birthday. Then the most wondrous thing began to happen: golden curls came from nowhere. She became a stunningly beautiful child. She was born with a naturally “tan” look and ice blue eyes, so when a halo of blonde curls appeared, people began stopping and staring at her. Even I was mesmerized by her beauty. When I close my eyes I can imagine the thousands of shades of gold in each ringlet and the way, when I wound it around my finger, her hair would stay in a round, soft curl that would spring back when I gently pulled it.

I was jealous. I was also equally proud of her. I was old enough to feel a sense of ownership; this gorgeous creature was my sister. Strangers would ooh and aah over her angelic appearance while I stood in the background, smiling shyly with pride and envy.

My thick dark hair got remarks when my mom put it up on sponge curlers for church and left it in long, shiny corkscrews. She cut bangs for me, at my insistence, about age six, and from then on, in order to be “pretty” I felt they needed to be curled with a curling iron and sprayed heavily to keep them in place. I learned that Cheryl, without curls, was just a brown-haired little girl.

By the time I was an awkward thirteen-year-old I was sure I wasn’t attractive, but there was still hope; there was always the chance that I would awake one day to find myself the kind of woman people stared at or the ones I saw in movies. It could happen. Acne, a tummy roll, glasses and braces….these were all things that made me not-beautiful now, but they would pass. Even I knew that. The fairytale was still possible.

As my teenage years rolled by I became increasingly sure that I was not going to be the beauty that I’d hoped. For one thing, I’d learned that long, slender legs were desirable to men, and that was something I wouldn’t have no matter how much I exercised. I stopped growing at 4’10.5”. Long-legged beauty was not in the cards.

My face was too round. My nose was too wide. My hair wasn’t long and straight or long and curly; it was a frustrating combination of straight in some areas and wavy in others. My stomach wasn’t flat. I just didn’t look “right,” according to every depiction of beauty.

It was starting to look like I was not going to be a Cinderella. My boyfriend, David, must think I’m attractive, I thought to myself. But he was obviously the only one besides my Pop Pop, who would think I was beautiful if I was 500 pounds and got my face run over by a large truck with huge tire treads.

At some point I came to grips with the fact that the fairytale was not going to happen to me. Someone would love me. I was smart and kind. I was a good Christian. I wasn’t ugly. There were lots of reasons a “good man” would like me and even fall in love with me, but being epically beautiful was not one of them. Someone would love me. Maybe even fall in love with me. But I was never going to be any man’s “love at first sight.”

Even as the first fairytale was discarded as a pipe dream, there was another fairytale running through the fabric of my life, at least as compelling as the “beautiful princess” story, perhaps more. It began to take the place of the Cinderella story in many ways.

Once Upon a Time there was a girl named Cheryl. She asked Jesus to come into her heart when she was very little. She loved him and he loved her. She tried to be good and do what his special book told her she should do. She obeyed her parents as perfectly as possible. And God loved her very much.

Cheryl was kind to others and put others before herself. She was a good student, got perfect grades and was a model of good behavior. She read her Bible every day, prayed many times a day, gave her sister the last cookie and when she accidentally did something wrong, she confessed her sin and asked Jesus to forgive her for it. She tried to never complain. She tried to always think about nice things. God was very happy with her.

When Cheryl became a big girl, she continued to do all the same things, but now there was even more. She told everyone she knew that Jesus loved them, too, and helped them pray to ask Jesus to come into their heart. She felt Jesus close to her. She needed nothing but him. Even her desire for a boy to think she was pretty, to want her and to marry her took second-place to her desire for the complete surrender of her heart and mind to Jesus. She was soooooo happy, no matter what did or didn’t happen in her life, as long as she could have a close, intimate relationship with Jesus.

When Cheryl grew up she became a missionary who was happily single. Or perhaps she got married to a wonderful Christian man and became a stay-at-home mom. Or a stay-at-home-mom-missionary. She taught her children about Jesus. She read the Bible to them. She prayed with them. She submitted to her husband. She was gentle and quiet, slow to speak and always patient.

Cheryl spent many, many hours in prayer and felt so much love for and from God. She wanted nothing more than she wanted Jesus and he saw that. He drew near to her. She felt him in every moment, in every situation, in every relationship. She got closer and closer to Jesus, the older she got, until one day, when she was very old, she died. Then Jesus took her soul to heaven where she spent the rest of eternity with him, blissfully content. And she lived happily ever after. The End.

This story was as powerful as the Cinderella version. In both stories, I would grow up to be a woman who was loved. I knew, intuitively, even as the little girl who first heard the story of Jesus dying on the cross for her, that being loved was what I wanted most deeply.

I understand now that it wasn’t my fault the relationship didn’t work. I showed up, desire burning within me, but God didn’t. To a non-Christian the idea of actually expecting that I’d have a real relationship with God probably sounds preposterous, but that is exactly what I believed. It is what millions of Christians believe. I see now, that at least for Jesus and me, a real relationship was quite simply impossible. There was more to it. In both stories, I was a woman who moved someone else in a way that no one had ever moved him before. If I couldn’t be Cinderella to a man, I wanted to be Cinderella to Jesus; I wanted to be not just close to Jesus, but closer to Jesus than any other person had ever been. There was a potential for intimacy in both fairytales, a kind of intimacy that would quench the thirst I had inside. I couldn’t be happy with anything less.

Even after the Cinderella story was off the table, when I finally understood I wasn’t going to move a man with my beauty, I didn’t give up on the Jesus fairytale. The saga of God wooing me to himself was still real; perhaps I could move him. Nothing stood between me and intimacy with God except…me.

I learned that the Cinderella story wouldn’t have satisfied me anyway; it was shallow, silly and most importantly, impossible. The Jesus story would satisfy every desire of my heart, I heard. I wanted that so bad it hurt.

A line from an old hymn that I’d sung hundreds of times through childhood became meaningful to me as that not-Cinderella teenager:

“From the best bliss which earth imparts, we turn unfilled to Thee again…”

The hymn said it perfectly. I had these deep, deep desires for love, closeness, acceptance and…well, “bliss”…that were probably not going to be met on this earth. Marriage might be a microcosm of that intimacy, but even marriage would be imperfect at best. That is, if God saw fit to bring a man of his choosing into my life.

I put the Cinderella story away, once and for all. Fairy tales weren’t true. The kind of human love I longed for was not possible; the fact that it burned in my breast was evidence that my feelings were flawed, my heart was not pure and I was not completely surrendered to God. How could God be moved by me when I was not moved by him? My desire for the first fairytale, the human one, was the very thing that prevented me from having the second one, the Jesus one.

I was told that the yearnings inside me were, in fact, for God; attaching them to a human relationship was a gigantic error, something I would ultimately be disappointed by every single time. A man couldn’t love me the way I wanted to be loved. The intimacy I knew deep down inside was possible was something that could only happen with God. The fact that I wanted it from a man meant I was still not satisfied by God. The aching chasm inside of me was in fact a “God-shaped hole.”

I needed to want God more. I needed to be moved by God more. I needed to desire closeness to God more than I did. That was the answer. God was Prince Charming waiting at the top of the palace stairs with an adoring smile on his face and I was Cinderella, standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking up.

Why wouldn’t I climb the stairs? I took a step and then another but when I looked up to see how close I was getting I found the Prince further away. His face had fallen; he looked disappointed. If I loved him, why was I not running into his embrace, his eyes seemed to question. I tried desperately to yell to him that I wanted to be in his arms, that nothing in the world mattered but that. But the more I yelled the further he seemed.

The fairytale was always just beyond my reach. I tried reaching out my arms, crying, hoping he would dash down the stairs toward me. He saw how badly I wanted him. He saw how hard I was trying and how desperate I was. Why wouldn’t he close the distance?

For all those years, I tried to surrender, to utterly abandon myself to God. I tried to put the human fairytale to death. If I could get to that point of utter surrender, utter emptiness, God would finally be able to meet me there. I had to kill one fairytale to get the other.

I let go of the part of the human Cinderella story where the girl moves the Prince, simply because she was herself. I told myself I could do without that. Jesus as Prince Charming would satisfy every desire that I thought the first fairytale would. God had made me with these desires; clearly I was meant to be part of a love story with him and that was what that ache inside was about.

I tried hard to embrace the Jesus version with every fiber of my being. I trusted that not only would the second fairytale come true, but it would eclipse the first fairytale so much so that I would no longer even desire it.

The new Jesus fairytale began. It was as though I was Cinderella, waiting for my Prince... Jesus. Unfortunately this fairytale didn't end in "happily ever after."

The Jesus Fairytale

" I got a letter that said the Prince wanted me and had even put his life on the line in order to come and meet me. I excitedly prepared myself for what I realized I’ve always been longing for.

“He’s going to be here! He’s on his way!” my heart sung, swelling with excitement and longing. I’d been waiting for this…and it was going to happen.

I arrived at the appointed meeting place, looked around, heart racing. I found…no one.

“I must not be wanting him enough. Perhaps he’s watching and is waiting to see how anxious I am for his coming,” I told myself.

I shyly undressed in the effort to show how much I wanted the Prince. I wanted him to understand that this was no one-night stand. I was his and his alone…forever. I would be as vulnerable as I could possibly be, no matter how scary it felt, trusting that he would be just as vulnerable with me.

In addition to removing my clothing, I tried to put aside any other thoughts and worries so that I could focus on the impending meeting. I had to want him more than I wanted anything else. I had to trust that he would come and that he would love me. I couldn’t be distracted by anything else, especially not fear and doubt. I wanted this encounter to be perfect.

It was right there that the problem arose, a problem I couldn’t ignore no matter how hard I tried. The weight of my inadequacy shamed me. I was supposed to want enough to be loved in order to woo this lover. If the lover didn’t come to satisfy me, it was because I didn’t want him to enough. I was supposed to try to become moved in order to be moved. And on top of it, I was supposed to actually move the Prince.

I pulled the letter back out, trying to figure out what went wrong, anxious to remedy whatever the problem was. I read that the Prince was just “waiting” for me. I looked around…if that was so, then where was he? I sprayed some perfume, reapplied my lip-gloss, tried to get my head in the right place, tried not to get emotional. There had to be something I was missing. What was it?

“He’s got to be right around the corner. He knows I want him and he said he wants me. He’ll be here any minute,” I reassured myself.

I read more of the letter and found, not only was his not being there due to some lapse on my part, if he showed up and I COULDN’T move this guy I was in danger of being alone forever. Like…this is my one shot. If I screwed this up, I was truly and totally without love.

And then he arrived. My heart quickened and excitement filled me. This was what I had been waiting for my entire life. The Prince’s arms around me would feel like Home, I felt sure. I would want for nothing when I was safe in his arms. I had always longed for him and his love, I knew in that moment. I was seconds away from finally feeling him holding me.

He just sat there. He reminded me that I had to want him enough. I had to empty myself of all other thoughts, worries and desires, he explained. I had to be content with only him. I had to lay down every other desire, including how I wanted this encounter to go. He wanted me, he assured me, but I clearly didn’t want him enough.

I felt panicked…what did he want? Could I give it to him? I decided in a moment that of course I would try. I would give it every possible effort. Nothing else mattered. There was no risk and no sacrifice that was too big to make. Even if I failed, I had to know I had tried. I moved toward him with every ounce of energy I had, hoping and trusting that my movement would move him.

He didn’t touch me. He didn’t even look at me. The parts of me I thought he would respond to seemed to move him as much as my kneecaps or elbows. He only sat there, waiting. For what? My body ached with longing. My desire to be touched and held and loved was so strong I began to weep. He looked away.

“Please…” I begged him. “Please…”

Nothing. Silence. My heart sunk.

Why was he not moved by me? I thought he loved me. He told me he did. Perhaps when he saw me, he changed his mind. Was I so difficult to love? He told me he did love me, that he was moved by me, but that the problem was my not wanting him enough.

I fell to my knees and looked up at him, tears streaming down my cheeks.

“How could I want anything more?” I screamed, ragged sobs wracking my naked body.

The look on his face told me all I needed to know: he wanted my mind to think differently, my mouth to say something I hadn’t yet said. I saw in his eyes that he required a loss of something that I didn’t know how to lose.

He wanted “surrender.” But how was I to surrender fearlessly, trustingly, wholly with the loss of love being held over my head? It was as if I was expected to spontaneously arrive at the edge of orgasm to prove that I deserved to be caressed. It was a physically impossible proposition. I was being asked to arrive at a point of surrender and bliss that only a lover who was equally surrendered and who had no conditions or requirements could authentically bring me to. I couldn’t be shamed or scared into that surrender.

My heart sunk. I put my clothes back on. I smiled sadly at the Prince as I walked out the door. As I stepped through the door, I knew in a flash, in the deepest fibers of my being, that my heart had been forever broken. I had nothing left to give him. And not only that, I no longer wanted him to love me.

I looked over my shoulder at him before turning the corner. His face was like rock, unmoved and untouched by my pain. I half hoped I would have seen on his face a wistful longing. A tiny part of me wanted to see him rushing through space toward me, begging me to come back, providing me with an explanation for his stoic, unmoved coldness. I saw no such thing. He felt me watching him and looked into my eyes. I saw nothing there. Nothing. I turned the corner."

The Jesus as Prince Charming story didn’t work. It was just another fairytale that wasn’t going to come true. I had killed the first fairytale for the Jesus one, and now I was left with nothing. Life had to be about something else. My relationship with Jesus had failed. It hadn’t happened overnight, I realized, but had been happening, slowly but surely, since that September evening when I asked Jesus in my heart only to find out that there were indeed strings attached.

Am I divorcing Jesus? In a way, yes. The Jesus I knew anyway. The Jesus I was told wanted a "personal relationship" with me. Only someone who has made the decision to get divorced truly gets the way a marriage that ends in divorce dies long before the court official shows up at the respondent’s door with the summons. In the same way, my relationship with Jesus had been dying for decades.

I understand now that it wasn’t my fault the relationship didn’t work. I showed up, desire burning within me, but God didn’t. To a non-Christian the idea of actually expecting that I’d have a real relationship with God probably sounds preposterous, but that is exactly what I believed. It is what millions of Christians believe. I see now, that at least for Jesus and me, a real relationship was quite simply impossible.

I don’t want to keep showing up at the halfway point and finding him not there. I want to let him go. I don’t want to be hurt by his indifference any longer. I want to develop relationships with new people, people who will treat me the way I deserve to be treated, people who want a relationship with me as much I want one with them. I want to be seen, desired and loved.

Am I divorcing Jesus? In a way, yes. The Jesus I knew anyway. The Jesus I was told wanted a "personal relationship" with me.

Divorce is an end. There is a finality to it that is frightening. It’s like a death in many ways.

Divorce is a beginning. It means that there is a love out there with my name on it. There is possibility. Hope. Excitement. The path in front of me is faint at best, but the feeling that real love is waiting around the bend is exhilarating.

That desire to look up and see someone else running toward me with the same intensity, passion, love and desire that burns in my own breast has not gone away. What's changed is my expectation that that would happen with/through God. I believe in the fairytale again. But Jesus isn't Prince Charming.

That's o.k. I'm thinking he never was Prince Charming. Never wanted to be, even. I think I've had it wrong the whole time. It was an honest mistake. It's what I heard my entire life was the "point" of Jesus' death. What if that's not it at all...never has been? There's a hope in that possibility.

But intertwined with the hope is the sadness. The compassion for the me who cried, begged, pleaded for that relationship with Jesus to be real or YEARS. Can it be true that those tears didn't have to be cried? Can it be true that all that pain was unnecessary? That makes me ache.

Like all aches, however, this one is just one side of a coin. The other one is that my feeling the ache makes me talk about it, write about it. Perhaps someone reading it will be saved some tears? Oh, I do hope so.