Before women dressed in orange high heels and men donned in multicolored ties walked into the sanctuary to listen to the Sunday sermon, I had already been in the third-row pew kicking my feet around in the air, waiting to find out what was for lunch from my parents. To me, it wasn’t odd that a nine-year-old girl had been at church before sunrise; my other four siblings were always there with me, however to an innocent bystander, it might have been odd or unusual. What set my siblings and me apart from the families that entered the church at 10 AM on Sunday morning?
We were the pastor’s kids.
My three brothers, sister, and I were pretty sheltered for the first few years of our lives. My mom homeschooled us; we were awkward, as in, wore skirts and dresses to church every Sunday, didn’t know how to talk to boys, and were terrible at math (shoutout to the ADHD gene), but we shared more laughs and good memories that I’ve always been grateful for. When I was little, I thought being a pastor’s kid was the coolest thing in the world. I knew the church backward and forwards; the coolest room was in the corner of the gym, I never had to pay to play church sports, and missionaries, the ones who brought unique souvenirs and knew how to play weird instruments, always got to stay at our house. Plus, I knew the Bible better than most seminary students—I like telling people I was the poster child for Christianity. If you had a question that had to do with Jesus, I knew the answer. I had blind faith—the mustard seed kind of faith the Bible talks about. I knew Jesus would provide for our needs and that HE loved me more than anybody ever would.
Then, I started growing up.
When I was thirteen, a Sunday School teacher explained that “Pastor’s Kid” was a derogatory term. Apparently, PKs were supposed to be the bad kids or the kids who always got others into trouble. I didn’t quite understand the stigma—I mean, I didn’t get other kids into trouble—but that didn’t matter. He finished up our conversation by saying, “just wait, you won’t be perfect forever.” It was the first sour taste in my mouth from a church member who was supposed to encourage me and help me grow in Christ. I decided at that moment I had to be perfect. I had to stay perfect. I wasn’t going to be like the other bad pastor’s kids—I was going to make my dad proud.
I got every single Awana award known to mankind, won every single Bible Bee our church attended, and made sure to dress modestly and have pure Christ-like thoughts. I went to a birthday party in high school and ended up leaving early because the birthday girl played the song “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” and said to me in front of her guests, “Alyssa, you can’t listen to this; you have to leave the room because you’re the pastor’s kid.” I listened to the song this week—there’s really nothing wrong with it—but since it was considered a “secular” song, they pushed me out of the room. I didn’t curse, I didn’t sneak out, and I absolutely never found myself alone in a room with a member of the opposite gender. When I got to high school, I started noticing hair on my face and lines on my forehead and started wearing makeup to cover it up. Even my face had to be perfect, but every year it got harder to be perfect, and ever so slowly, my little sheltered life began to crumble.
In 11th grade, we moved churches. I was devastated, but I stood up straight, cried behind closed doors, and ignored my growing anxiety issues that crept up my spine every time someone asked me how I got to be “such a pretty and kind girl.” My parents, the most supportive and caring people you’d ever meet, gave me space because I genuinely wouldn’t let them comfort me in any way, shape, or form. I was fine. There was nothing wrong. I was a good Christian girl, and I wasn’t going to let anybody down. I was perfect.
I was perfect.
Boys started asking my dad if they could date me. At first, I said no…I didn’t have time to focus on other people when I made sure my personality was flawless. Still, after feeling pressured to be in the perfect “church” relationship, I broke down and accepted a date with the lead guitarist. We were the ideal couple, the “real-life Disney prince and princess.” Everybody said we were perfect—so I was happy. I loved him, I really did, but he couldn’t get behind the perfection and broke up with me just shy of our first anniversary. My favorite quote from our breakup was when he chided me for my personality and told me I needed to get my heart right with God.
My anxiety kicked into gear when church members sided with the guitarist for handling the breakup better than me. I couldn’t process the rejection, the pain of losing somebody that I loved, so I found myself crying all the time and looking at myself like I was worthless. I stopped eating and lost almost thirty pounds in two months, couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without makeup on, and hated God for taking away the person I loved. My parents had been high school sweethearts, so why did mine have to tell me my personality sucked and that I wasn’t right in my heart? That wasn’t fair, so God clearly didn’t care about me.
I became angry and went to church strictly for my parent’s reputation, and instead of leaning into Christ for my fulfillment, I found myself slipping towards breaking the rules to get the attention I needed. In my first year of college, if something could be done backward, I did it. If there wasn’t a straight path, I was gonna figure out how to do it in reverse. I took my shoes off in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, dyed my hair blue and pink, wore tight-fitting clothes, and yep, stopped listening to Christian music, you guessed it, wore more makeup than ever before. To give you an idea of my physical standing, I went from a size 6 to a size 0 and worked out religiously every day. I’d like to pause before detailing the rest of this part of the story—there’s absolutely nothing sinful about wearing makeup or dying your hair wacky colors; I’m still a big fan of it; however, my motivation is what was wrong.
I started gossiping and pushing away my friends. I ignored my dad’s messages and talked back when my professors asked legitimate and essential questions. I couldn’t be perfect, and according to those around me, I was just looking for attention, so I transitioned from the perfect Christian PK and started looking for attention. I was loud, strong-willed, and against everyone who said, “God was going to work it out for HIS will.” What did that mean? How could God use me, who knew the Bible back and forth, when he wouldn’t even let me stay in my hometown? When He wouldn’t let me keep my perfect boyfriend? Anxiety kept growing, pushing, and frightening me—I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so worried that I wasn’t good enough, that I hadn’t lost enough weight, that my altered perfection was sliding even further down the cliff.
I left the church permanently in 2018. The church members felt fake; their false hope made me sick, so I dipped out before they could convince me what I was doing was against God’s will—or some other Christian crap like that. “Bless your heart,” or “have you prayed about it” made me cringe and shudder. I slept in on Sunday mornings, watched TV, and really lived it up during those days. I hated myself. I hated my reflection. I hated living. It wasn’t worth it. Love wasn’t real. God wasn’t real. All that was real was the episode of Friends or Star Trek I watched that day. Episodes were my connections. I participated in community theatre, I was perfect on the stage, and I lived for the moment I could drive home. My bed was my sanctuary.
This cycle continued until I hit the wall of depression.
Nothing made me happy. Everywhere I looked, I saw darkness. I swear, looking back, color had drained out of my entire life. I could look straight at the sun and see darkness. I didn’t have a life. I was empty.
In the last Hail Mary attempt to escape my reality, I signed up as a camp counselor at an outdoor adventure camp. I lied through the application, praising my adaptability and love for kids, and instantly got the job. What I expected to be an escape turned out to be my sent from heaven saving grace. Kids from all walks of life, many struggling with the same darkness that I was, entered my cabin. Due to the strenuous hiking and camping, I was forced to eat again and regained the weight I desperately tried to lose. I started smiling again, seeing color again, and suddenly, I wasn’t embarrassed to be a PK anymore. I regained some of the biblical knowledge I’d lost in my rebellion. I learned to see Christ in nature—in the smooth rocks, in the blustering trees, in the roaring waterfall that we hiked by every morning—and I heard Christ in the songs that my 3rd graders would sing in the chapel at night.
Then God sent me the camper that threw me back into the arms of Christ.
A 4th grader, who had been a pain in my side the entire week (this is sarcasm mostly because the kid was me incarnate), randomly pulled a pair of safety scissors of out her backpack on the last day of camp and chopped off my waist-length hair up to my ear. I wanted to get angry. I wanted to throw her off the waterfall, then, when I asked her why she did it, she said, “At the beginning of the week you told me you loved me. I just wanted to see if you meant it. Nobody at home does” and I realized how unconditionally I wanted to love those around me.
It’s been a long journey since then—in His faithfulness, I was given the most understanding and loving husband, and this year, the sweetest baby girl! Finding my love for Christ and church again has been challenging—but I’ve never been more grateful for the foundation that came with being a PK. I still don’t like following the rules—I still take my shoes off in Sunday School, have tattoos, and dye my hair wild colors. Still, more than anything, I love diving deeper into a relationship with Jesus Christ and learning how much HE loves me when I fall short of HIS Glory. I didn’t realize it as a kid, the blessing that came with having a clergy member for a father. Still, in retrospect, and after many years of fighting and running, I’m finally putting on that slick leather jacket that has in bold letters on the back: I’m called to be a pastor’s kid.
The first time Alyssa McGuire lived in Georgia, she was surrounded by farmland and wild weather. After a quick trip to Pennsylvania for a school year, she moved right back to cow-town Georgia to start her family and use her writing to encourage those around her. Alyssa graduated from Truett-McConnell University in 2020 with a degree in creative writing, loves hiking, and spends her afternoons taking pictures of her three-month-old baby, Ray, and Beagle, Ani. In her free time, she runs a mom Instagram account and a social media business helping small businesses build their social media accounts. Alyssa loves her church smallgroup and enjoys helping in the children’s ministry, but most importantly is grateful for her salvation and her Savior.