Wayward is a coming of age memoir penned by Alice Greczyn. First of all, I must say this book is very well written. I’ve read many autobiographies which suffer from problems due to their inexperienced authors. None of that is present here. The writing is so good, on one hand it was a joy to read. On the other hand, the content was often difficult due to being heart wrenching.
The majority of the 300+ page book is focused on Alice’s most formative years from around 10 until her early 20s. her family was evangelical but around the time she was 8, they became influenced by and involved in a Pentecostal style of Christianity inspired by the Toronto Blessing movement. This flavor of Christianity taught that everything was a spiritual battle between good and evil. God, through the Holy Spirit, directly worked and manifested to people through healing, “speaking in tongues” (glossolalia), laughter, words of knowledge, etc. Essentially, God directed his followers and if one didn’t follow, they were under the influence of Satan and endanger of serious present consequences if not hell, not to mention grieving God. Since her family was involved in these churches during her most formative years, Alice took all of this to heart. She most sincerely wanted to follow God and to do what was right. She was passionate.
When she was 11, Alice’s parents decided that God was leading her dad to quit his job and for them to become vagabonds. They spent most of the next several years driving around from place to place, staying with someone or camping for a week or month or two before moving on again. Alice has 4 siblings for a total of 7 people in her immediate family. From her story, Alice must clearly be an introvert; being in close proximity to her family 24/7 with almost no privacy was torturous. She also longed to be settled in one place in part to be connected with friends. However, since she was told her family’s lifestyle was God’s will, she felt guilty and prayed for a better attitude.
Alice learned from an early age to hide. She somehow understood that it was better to be dishonest than to not at least pretend to be onboard with God. She faked being “slain in the Spirit” and lied about her feelings when they didn’t align with what she thought she was supposed to think/feel. As she grew up, so continued to learn about more things to be ashamed of. She was surprised when she was informed that many of the (innocent) desires she had were wrong (largely due to Christianity’s purity culture). There were so many moments I felt gutted with compassion, wishing I could have somehow been able to provide words of encouragement.
I won’t spoil her whole story. But all of this led to a catastrophe. She was pushed past the breaking point and finally had to give. For the first time in her life, she felt that she was turning away from God’s divine decree for her and others’ lives. To say this was traumatic is to put it mildly. This sparked a crisis of faith. The ground fell out from under her. Her understanding of the world shattered and evaporated. She was free falling into nothing.
In the forth of the four parts into which the book is divided, Alice recounts her journey after this crisis. Not that the journey is ever over, but she shares some of the important moments over the following decade. She describes how she slowly found new foundations to ground her life.
Wayward is interesting merely as a memoir. But beyond this, it is an account of how some people have been affected by Christianity, at least of a certain flavor. It is also a story of the difficult journey away from faith, especially at that time. While she was not alone, it seems like it was more challenging then to find others who understood than it is now. I’ll end with some quotes from the book:
It seemed to me that whatever God put on someone’s heart went unquestioned and was nonnegotiable. (p. 34)
I realized that what Mom and Dad called God’s provision was really just other people’s kindness. (p. 42)
Just being female now seemed sinful… (p. 49)
I forgave myself for being female. (p. 265)
With the exception of my family, I never felt more loved than by people who weren’t Christians. (p. 273)
I tested [God] not because I didn’t want to believe in Him, but because I wanted to believe so badly. (p. 281)