“My name is Keilah, and I’m a pastor’s kid.” That’s how I liked to introduce myself for years of my life. Being a pastor’s kid wasn’t just a positive part of my identity but my whole identity. I was proud to be a pastor’s kid. I felt like it made me better than most people and a more qualified Christian. However, I didn’t realize then the negative impact this overarching identity had on my life.
Being a pastor’s kid seemed like living in a glass house. There was no freedom to act out in any way without the potential of everyone looking at my family and me as failures. I wanted to trust people, have confidants, or be close to at least one person. But my parents had been severely hurt at a previous church, so I believed people would hurt and betray me when I least expected it. I wanted to talk to someone about my life, especially my spiritual life, but what if they backstabbed me? What if I told someone about an area of sin in my life, and they told my parents? It felt impossible to confide to anyone about my struggles because I felt like they would tell my parents. This helpless feeling, coupled with my introverted nature, led me to live a very isolated life.
The standard of conduct in my family was higher than most, so I grew to feel utterly controlled by my parents’ rules. My dad would tell me that he could lose his job if I committed certain sins, even after I moved out of the house. And that wasn’t the worst of it. When it came to sin, somehow, my dad always found out. If I left the house and made bad choices while I was out, he would be standing at the door when I came home, saying that God had told him what I had done. Other times, he would get sick and end up in the hospital. My mom would say that my dad only goes to the hospital when I hide sin from them. So, anytime he got sick, it became an attack on me, a microscope pressed to my innermost being.
My family’s attitude and beliefs regarding sin made me resent God. At times, I didn’t like Him at all. My bitterness toward God simply made me turn the other way, deeper into my sin. I felt that God was just staring at me, waiting for me to trip, then He’d kick me while I was down or strike me dead and send me straight to Hell. I felt like God was telling my dad all my sins to make me feel dirty, guilty, and ashamed. It didn’t make me want to change my behavior and turn to holiness; it only made me want to hide in a hole.
As a pastor’s kid, I knew how to act like a Christian. I had won countless rounds of Bible Quiz, played keyboard for the worship team, taught girls’ Bible studies, revamped the church library, and been in church whenever the doors were open. But it wasn’t enough. Even though I loved God with my actions and service to Him, I didn’t fully love Him with my heart. My heart was one of stone. I still felt deep down like a Christian because of all the good things I was doing and the religious exercises I did, like reading my Bible, praying, and sharing my faith. But God says that “obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). I was sacrificing my time, energy, and efforts for the image of being a “good pastor’s kid” when people were looking rather than obeying God simply out of love and devotion.
My isolation from others and resentment toward God left me at a dead end. When I was suddenly admitted to a psychiatric hospital for depression, self-harm, and suicidal intentions, my parents were completely shocked. Yet going to that psych ward for three days was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I bunked with people who were completely lost, hopeless, and dead to the world. It ignited a spark in me. I knew Jesus Christ. Why had I been running from Him? If I had been running toward Him, I wouldn’t have allowed my life to get to the point of what I saw mirrored in the people around me.
Two years later, I moved 1500 miles from my family. I joined my new church’s book study of The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. The book is designed to help Christians have a correct view of God. I learned that God is good, trustworthy, generous, loving, holy, transforming, and self-sacrificing. These attributes were a far cry from how I viewed God. Slowly but surely, God used that book, filled with scriptures and stories of His true self, to radically transform my heart into one of flesh. I no longer live in the throes of religion—now, I live for a relationship with my King.
I got married in December 2022 to an incredible man of God whose call is to be a pastor. One month after we got married, he accepted the position of pastor at our church. By now, I know better. My identity is not “pastor’s wife” or “pastor’s kid.” My identity is child of God.
Keilah Villa serves as campus librarian at SAGU American Indian College, a small Christian college in Phoenix, AZ. An aspiring professor and writer, Keilah is completing her final semester of an M.A. in English. She recently got married to the love of her life, James.
This was extremely moving, and mirrors in certain ways my story although the details aren’t exactly the same. I am a recovering addict, and was drinking/using because I was angry at God because I have chronic health issues. I am schizophrenic and have hydrocepholus and resented God for the longest time for those two things, thinking He gave those two things to me. I see now that I was wrong and that those two things being the result of human error when I was being born, are man’s error not God’s.
Your story was very powerful, and made me remember my own. I am glad to know that I am not alone in how I felt/feel now. I hope you continue to know peace.
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I love how your past is going to shape your future at your new church for the better. You’ll be able to show others what a committed relationship to a loving God looks like. Thank you for sharing your story!