Why I Call Myself a “Recovering Jesus Freak”

Image from devotedclothing.com
Image from devotedclothing.com

“I may not know much,” she says from the edge of the circle of women – the group with whom I’ve come to share my book. “But I know you’re too young and normal looking to be a Jesus Freak. Believe me, I was there.”

In the book-filled basement room of the art center where I’m speaking, I feel knocked off balance by the force of her words.

She’s thinking, of course, of the 1960s version, the hippie-turned-evangelists, roaming the streets, blissed out on Jesus. Strumming guitars and handing out tracts. I’m talking about something else entirely.

I back up. I try to explain, a little bit, about the way that the term Jesus Freak morphed into something else in the ‘90s evangelical culture in which I was raised. I talk about DC Talk – “Who?” she says “ZZ Top?” – and their hit song that challenged Christian youth to let their (Jesus) freak flag fly and embrace their wacky new identity.

So what if the rest of the world made fun of you? Mocked you. Pushed you out to the far edges of their social circles. I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus Freak, the band sang, and they were so cool up there on stage, a hundred lights swirling around them. There ain’t no denyin’ the Truth!

I try to explain that when I say Jesus Freak, I’m talking about this resurgence – this wave of passion that rolled through the Christian world where I spent my youth. I’m alluding to this fact that I began to find my identity in not belonging in being an outcast for Jesus in being different from everyone and proud of it, wearing the Witness-Wear T-shirt, the WWJD bracelet, carrying my Bible to and from class.

This new “Jesus Freak” culture surged around me, and I disappeared into it.


The other day, I got a message from someone who’s read some of my recent articles online. “Not really sure I understand what you are saying,” she says. “I saw that you described yourself as a recovering Jesus freak…and it seemed sad to me that someone would want to recover from that.”

I closed the message without responding, because I don’t know how to explain it in one short note. What do I mean when I say “recovering Jesus Freak”?

I mean that I spent so many years defining myself by how out of step I was with the culture around me. I measured my success in t-shirts and purity pledges, missions trips and prayer group meetings. I thought the less “The World” loved me, the more God would.

During those years, I learned that I was supposed to find my identity in Christ, and I took it to heart – but I got Christ and evangelical subculture all mixed up in my head. I thought they were the same thing. So I built my life on I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Christian rock concerts, school Bible studies and early-morning prayer meetings.

No one ever called me a Jesus Freak. But they didn’t really pay much attention to me either. They gave me wide berth as I careened through the halls like a firecracker, burning hot for Jesus.

And when I say I’m recovering, it’s not from Jesus himself. It’s from this false identity I inhabited so fully during those years.

I’m recovering from the defensive pose, the arms-crossed-over-a-Go-Against-The-Flow-tshirt. Because it’s a thin line between I don’t care what you think and I don’t care about you. And when you’re fifteen, the former so often bleeds into the latter.

I’m recovering, bit by bit, from a personality bent toward performance and an evangelical culture that encouraged that in me. I’m learning to separate my self-worth from the things I do – the Bible studies I lead, the length of my “quiet times,” the intensity of my worship songs. I’m learning, slowly, that I don’t have to be good to be Loved.

I’m recovering because finding my identity in Christ is at once so much more simple and so much more difficult than finding it in a t-shirt. It’s choosing again and again to believe that I am defined only by the depth of his love for me – long and wide and high and deep. It’s covering me completely – obscuring all that I do or don’t do until it no longer really matters.

What I’m trying to say is that for so many years, I defined myself by a cultural construct instead of by the infinite love of God.

And so I’m a recovering Jesus Freak. I’m letting go of who I always thought I was supposed to be and trying to live into who I already am: Beloved. 

I’m learning every day that it’s enough.

53 thoughts on “Why I Call Myself a “Recovering Jesus Freak”

  1. Spot on as always, Addie. I love how your story is uniquely yours, but rings true for so many others. Especially loved the line about confusing identity in Christ and identity in evangelical subculture. Yes. Thanks for sharing your experiences and heart, and for making space for us to say, “Me too!”

  2. Well said, Addie. There was an “obnoxious passion” that was valued (and often still is) and seen as the fruit of being sold-out for God. Christ and His love are our cornerstone, not our ability to culturally stick out, “verbally witness,” or excitedly parade a holy wardrobe.

  3. I have been reading your posts for about six months, and this is the first time I feel like I have a clear picture of your definition. I had been feeling rather defensive of Jesus and youth groups and the church until this post. 🙂 Thank you for clarifying! And I can relate.

  4. This is lovely, Addie. And don’t forget, there’s such a parallel to be drawn from performance obsession in the Jesus-subculture to performance obsession everywhere else! I think that’s why your memoir is so compelling. It’s a journey from branding identity into living identity. The whole Western culture is working with this stuff.

    1. I love this phrase — “a journey from branding identity into living identity.” So beautifully said and such an amazing compliment. Thanks so much Esther. And I think you’re right…performance-driven living is so rampant everywhere. Sigh.

  5. Oddly enough, I never needed a definition for how you described yourself as a “Recovering Jesus Freak” because that’s exactly what I am, too. I’m finding that, the older I get, and the closer to Christ I get, the more I am turning back into an outcast, but the kind that is filled with love that compels people to ask me why I’m different, rather than the kind of fiery passion that pushes others away. Which, I think, should really be more of our aim.

    1. Yes, same for me. As I get older, I actually get annoyed being around people because i feel needy ones clinging to me and their burdens distress me. So I just have to pray all the time when I go in public and recharge with the Bible when alone. But I know that if I fall into crisis majeur the evangelical church will be there to scoop me back up.

  6. Yes. As you know, the evangelical subculture of the 90s is also what I am recovering from. The performance and the checkboxes and the superiority. The love of God is so different and so much harder to define – but it is enough.

  7. I’m right there with you on the “defining myself by how out of step I was with the culture around me”. And I didn’t realize how judging I was of the people in that culture when I thought I was being loving and just judging the culture itself.

    This is a great post for people who didn’t go through it all.

    And Ester Emery is right in her comment – now that I’m over that I often find myself judging myself on my performance as mother or friend or sister or whatever. Oi.

    I love the “I’m letting go of who I always thought I was supposed to be and trying to live into who I already am: Beloved.” I might need that tattooed onto the backs of my hands or something so I can be reminded of it every 5 seconds. Bah, I probably need to be reminded more often than that…

  8. Its funny I find myself as a slacker when it cimes to things of God. That I show more passion for tv shows than things of the Lord. So am right or wrong that I rather talk about the Walking Dead than God around my friends and family. Honestly its been a long time since I shared the gospel. So are you and your posters say

    1. I think you might not have finished your thought here, Paul, but I think I know where you’re going. You’re right — there’s a tension here that we have to hold. To me, it’s about the driving force behind what we do. If we base our worth to God on the things we do — witnessing, quiet times, whatever — it’s only a matter of time before we fail. And, I think, we create a disconnect in which “sharing our faith” is the point — rather than the person we’re talking to. However, if we approach life from a place of being ALREADY loved, worth the same to God no matter what we do or don’t do…then we have the freedom to approach our relationships with that same love and grace.

  9. “…it’s a thin line between I don’t care what you think and I don’t care about you.” Yes! This is true at any age. I am so glad you are recovering, and I totally get it. I just finished your book, and related way more than I was comfortable with. 😉

  10. Oh Addie, I need to pray more for you. I want to do that. The more visible you become, the more there is potential for misunderstanding…and I pray that God will protect your heart and your spirit as you navigate the journey. Love you Addie.

    1. Thank you so much for these kind words Carol. Your comment made me cry. Yes! Please pray when you think of it. Being misunderstood is so hard, but I know it’s just part of the package. I’m so grateful for people like you (and other readers) who encourage, support and pray for me!

  11. Oh addie, you may be a recovering jesus freak, but you’re much more than that. you’re a theologian in the proper sense of the word; you’re building a new theology that re-connects the world we know with God. You’re re-imagining the faith, much like ron moore re-imagined battlestar galactica – only with fewer cylons. That’s what theologians do, and that’s what you’re doing. It’s a gift to the next generation, it’s why God put you here.

  12. What a great way to explain “Jesus Freak.” I can very much relate to the line of “I don’t care what you think and I don’t care about you,” that was how I began to function as a Christian Teen. Following Jesus isn’t a cop-out for us recovering Jesus Freaks, it’s a challenge to get into reality.
    Thanks Addie!

  13. thank you for explaining so clearly that you are not recovering from Jesus, but from a culture the has for generations caused many of us to struggle. You are so on in that it was if we were perfect enough, did enough, gave enough, then we were approved of and loved. Yes, we are Beloved, just as we are, in our imperfection. Praise God for that. Praise God for the work He began in us long ago and that He does not give up on us, even when we give up on Him and often ourselves. Thanks for linking what many generations have faced into your story and sharing it with us. You are a blessing.

    1. Thanks so much Mary. Yes, I think the terminology is different in every generation and in different pockets of culture…but the drive to performance- and appearance-driven Christianity is something that we will continue to struggle with in eery generation.

  14. Another beautiful post that totally resonates with me. Thank you, Addie! I’m recovering too!!

  15. I get it. I think that there may be some “generational” and “American cultural” terminology that people are missing when they haven’t read your book. Does this make sense? They may just be confused (as you mentioned ZZ Talk? ) 🙂 Interesting as millenials how we are forming some of our own narratives and experiences….
    Briana (brianameade.com)

  16. I had the long hair (it wasn’t getting ‘shameful’ yet – to me, anyway) and a smile on my face because I thought it would show people I was happy to be saved- and I think a lot of people misread it. Wish I had cut it sooner.

  17. I can relate, I was a Jesus Freak too and like you said, it is not recovering from Jesus but from the freak part. I like how you posted the line between not caring what you think and not caring about others. There’s almost a sick pride where the farther I am from normalcy the better I am.

  18. So right on Addie! And the sad thing is it still is happening even in older people in some churches today. If you don’t do it their way you are not a Christian. We are all way to quick to judge others, and in so fail to show Christ’s grace and love to the world.

    1. I think we all have a bent toward that — it’s in us and it’s in our culture. Yes — may we learn to be quick to offer grace, love and understanding instead!

  19. I am 62 year old man who met Jesus in the early 70’s. Lived communally, ministered to the down and out, embraced the Jesus Freak culture which was suspicious of all things traditional, etc. Took pride in being on the cutting edge. At some point I began trying to live up to the identity, to be known as a radical. Much more to say, but will just end with this; Recovering Jesus Freak….. I get it. I count His long suffering as my salvation.

  20. Addie,
    I’m late to this party, but I just have to say: YES.
    I’m learning “I don’t have to be good to be beloved” as well. I’m learning that who I am is a good idea, and that Jesus is different and much more interesting than I always thought He was.
    I’m learning that I’m enough and each day is enough and everybody has broken pieces.
    You write this out for me and walk this journey along with me and I am so thankful for you and your story.
    We are many, us recovering Jesus Freaks.

  21. Critical thinking helps distinguish between “religion” and “spirituality.” Jesus Christ was not religious, He is God and God is spirit. I went through this migration myself and decided I could choose between Christian culture and institutional pressure to conform to religious expectations of my life or I could follow Jesus. The good news is that I don’t hate religious people I understand their need to live in fear of God, it takes time to live with peace of mind, to live forgiven. I appreciate your comments in that church has moved from traditional to cultural to corporate in the last 40 years and people are lost. I’m not concerned, Jesus found me, He can find them when they’re ready to believe Him. God is gracious to humans. Thanks.

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