Humans tend to fail at the whole ‘being spiritual’ thing. Maybe that’s because we weren’t called to be spiritual. We were called to be God’s, and that’s actually a very different thing.
I left my former unhealthy church seven years ago. Since then I’ve been a part of several churches, but in the last four years none ever really felt completely like home. Close, but not quite. Three moves, two more than 100 miles, hasn’t helped.
There is no reason why a person needs to go to church, but for me, it would be good to connect and learn with other believers in a face to face environment, and traditionally that means church. I’ve been to many in my current area, but none was a good fit. On Sunday I hit an all time low–I didn’t go to one I’d planned to because it seemed to be some spin off of shepherding, missed another, went by two others and inquired about classes only to be pushed toward service, questioned about my walk with God, and told it was dangerous to look things up that were being preached about. Hmmm.
I finally went to another, but I’d lost interest. That afternoon someone recommended one that was having a new members’ class that night. I went, just to find out. And loved it. For the first time in years I’ve been listening to sermons… and not getting bored or irritated with the number of stories and urban legends slipped in, not tired of the politics pushed… the sermons are focused on the Bible and seem based on good study. For the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to the next service.
And I’m scared. I’m scared that I’m too excited, too happy. That something will be wrong, and that by being happy and excited I’ll miss it, because once many years ago I was happy and excited about finding a church, missed something, and ended up in a UPC for 19 years, committed to something but not to the right thing.
It’s a weird place to be, scared and excited and happy and not feeling that any of those is right, knowing that I should be free to feel happy without being scared, angry that it’s because of my past church experiences that I am so hesitant to be happy without being concerned today.
The difference this time is that I’m going into things, even if I’m happy and excited, with both eyes open. I’m checking things out, looking into what they teach, and identifying concerns. I’m not, as in the past, trying to prove to myself that they’re right, or looking for anything that shows what they teach, but am making a strong attempt to see them for what they are and understand their beliefs and perspectives while maintaining my own.
Whether I will join or not, I don’t know. I doubt it. I’m not looking for something to join at this point. Instead I’m looking for people to connect with, and that’s a very different thing. And it’s possible, just possible, that I’ve found that much.
I can be happy about that.
What is wrong with the response, “well if it were me, I wouldn’t feel that way…”? For starters, in conflict resolution, one of the primary ways of resolving conflict rests not on coming to agreement but on acknowledging the other person’s feelings. Not to admit guilt, not to make restitution, but to simply say, “It sounds like you feel sad/angry/frustrated.”
For seconds… here’s an analogy: When I was in third grade the teacher refused to let us use the bathroom all day. Not even to wash hands before lunch. She couldn’t control the boys in their bathroom, so no one could go at all. Our playground was bordered by a cemetery on one side, a bit of woods on another, and a field. We weren’t allowed to go to any but if a ball got lost someone could go get it. (A lot of balls got lost and retrieved that year.)
In the meantime, my ‘best’ friend (yeah, right) told me that I shouldn’t have to pee because she rode the bus to and from school and SHE could hold it. It took years before I realized why those balls got lost in the woods and how may times she retrieved them. In the meantime the kids laughed at me because I wet myself–no third grader should have been required to not use the bathroom all day and I should have been permitted to do what was natural, normal, right and sanitary.
To me when people tell me that I shouldn’t feel or react a certain way, or that they wouldn’t if it were them, is kind of like that year of school. It was no one’s business whether I could hold it or not. Holding it for 8 hours is not normal for a third grader. It’s not healthy. That my ‘friend’ commented that I shouldn’t have to because she could, that the teacher said she expected it… and that I didn’t know the playground secret are to me kind of like the people in adult life who say they wouldn’t care. I didn’t ask them, and it’s NOT NORMAL not to care. And so I get upset, not that I feel, but because someone else says they don’t but then… chases the ball into the woods everyday.
I went to a different kind of Christmas service tonight, a Blue Christmas service. The concept is to acknowledge that not everyone finds this to be a joyous season for a variety of reasons, and to give those people experiencing loneliness and loss the opportunity for a time of “remembrance and reflection”. And for this year, it was more meaningful than pretty much any other service I could probably have attended.
There were only two Christmas songs. The music was a man playing guitar and a woman singing along. Simple. Calm.
I’ve been dealing with a lot lately. Things at work, mainly. I thought. But there’s more to it. As the service progressed tonight, we were called to remember those we had lost. It wasn’t this job and the people who’ve sent messages there that I’m not a part of the team that I remembered.
Seven years ago in 2009 I lost my church, and every friend I had there, plus every friend I thought I had or wanted so badly to have. I lost hope that I would ever fit in there, that I would ever be accepted. I lost confidence in myself, and I lost faith to a degree as well. Not at first, but over time, year in and year out as I faced additional rejection in nearly every church I attended, through three moves and five job changes, and finally even from some of those friends I’d thought I made since leaving who called themselves Christian. And now at work, while a coworker who sits near me says the same things I heard in church: ‘You’ve got to trust God and just leave it in his hands. You can’t care what’s happening. Toughen up.’ Don’t feel. Don’t care. Don’t love? Wait, that’s not God. When did Christianity come to this place?
There is nothing wrong with hurting when people hurt us. And when people hurt us, it’s not because God wanted them to. That would mean God wanted them to sin, because that would mean God wanted them to do something unloving.
I’m not sure I ever allowed myself to completely grieve the loss of the friends I left behind in my former church. I miss them. I want to know what’s happening to them. I definitely haven’t given myself an opportunity to grieve the loss of the positive things I left behind in my former church. So perhaps the fact that I haven’t felt like celebrating this Christmas is a good thing, a way to move forward. And then maybe I can celebrate again.
This is reposted from 2011.
Today has been a day full of shocks and a pleasant surprises… from the deacon who gave me a nice Christmas gift for helping him greet on Sunday mornings to the woman who asked if I’d like to take her place as church clerk (still praying about that one, but it was a compliment to be asked) to getting to ride in the front with the driver of a horse and wagon ride on my SECOND (and free) trip of the night. And above all that, a new take on something in Jeremiah. Hopefully I can write about that tomorrow. Notes are in the car and it’s too cold to run out and get them tonight!! 🙂 Jer 29:11 is a promise given after God warned them to straighten up for 23 years (Jer 25)… and they didn’t do it. That promise came after they were sent into exile. So was exile a punishment, or what they determinedly went for even after being warned? If a child is told not to put his hand on the stove and does anyway and is burned, was the damage/hurt/pain the result of the parent’s punishment or the child’s willfulness?
I was taught that God was holy. And He is. I was told that He was just. He’s that as well. But to base a knowledge of God on those two attributes is to overlook several things. Yes, God is holy and just. But He is also merciful, gracious, and loving. He isn’t just holy, just, merciful, gracious and loving, though. He IS love. Not everything that happens is a result of God being angry at us or punishing us. Many times, He warns us to protect us. Not from His wrath if we disobey, but from ourselves, and from the pain we will face as we learn why He said no to begin with (like a child touching a hot stove).
When we disobey, though His holiness and justice demand punishment, but very often His love outweighs justice, and He promises-and plans-to bless in spite of our willfulness. That’s grace. That’s mercy. That’s my God.
I just never expected to find that in Jeremiah.
I had a dream last night that I was back in a church like the unhealthy ones I’ve been part of. In the dream, though I didn’t really know anyone, I was asked to “do” a banquet–big decorations, some of the food, all of the set up. In my dream I accepted because I was being chosen to minister. As I was decorating, other were coming to interrupt, telling me they needed things. I told them I had to complete my tasks. (The things they were asking for were petty and whiny, so I still don’t have a problem with having said no.) I drug stuff all over the place, decorated everything, cooked three dishes, got the plates and food ready to be served… and no one would eat. The pastor’s wife then announced that she had prepared individual plates of food already which would be of more interest. I felt like I’d failed at ministering to everyone because they wouldn’t eat.
When I woke up, I realized something that it’s taken nearly 30 years for me to realize. NEVER, in all the times I was asked to serve in any capacity that was beyond what should have been asked of me or was beyond my talent, was I being looked at for ministry (which is what I’d always hoped, that I’d somehow become part of the inner circle). Ministry at these churches was considered being a pastor, pastor’s wife, church leader, singer, musician, or great speaker. I was (and never would become) any of those.
They didn’t choose me for ministry because there were plenty of people to speak and sing and do all of those things. Those came with position and recognition and praise and were far more sought after. Besides, others got a better emotional response from people. They were respected more highly for ‘letting the Holy Ghost move through them so powerfully.’ I wasn’t good at evoking emotional responses from others, but even when I did, they said it wasn’t enough. Instead, they asked me to do the ‘dirty work’, the behind the scenes, often overwhelming tasks that they either didn’t want to do or wanted to show me or others they could do better, whether I was any good at them or not. It never once occurred to me that whether anyone said it or not, I was letting the Holy Ghost work through me every time I bent over backwards trying to do everything that was asked of me with a right attitude, and every time I did these things because I loved those I was serving.
I’ve been to churches that took the spiritual gifts assessments since leaving my unhealthy group, and I’ve run away fast. I don’t want them to know that one of my gifts is giving. I don’t want them to see that I’m a responsible, ethical, independent person who will do way more than any one person should be asked, just to get a job done and just to ‘help’. I know what happens when the wrong people find this out, and I know in the end I feel wrung out and walked over… and too often put down and insulted because I either ‘didn’t do enough’ or didn’t do ‘it’ right.
The thing is, no gift and no ministry should be about someone tagging you to do EVERYTHING. No gift or ministry should leave you burned out and used up. Gifts and ministries are meant to be used cooperatively with others’ gifts and ministries and should leave all of you feeling energized and complete, even if you are exhausted (which sometimes does happen in a good way).
Still, my former church had it wrong. They would say of singers and speakers that ‘the Holy Ghost move through them powerfully’ when the crowd had an emotional response and overlooked those whom the Holy Ghost moved through powerfully not for a few minutes but for hours and days as they poured themselves into their tasks and into others because they loved God and others or even just because they were willing.
…It’s not a matter of whether I love God, but of whether I know he loves me, and what my understanding of that love is.
If you love me, let go of the hurt.
No, let go. Do you not know that as deeply as you are hurt right now, as angry as you are about the injustice done, I am more? You are my child. Give it to me. Let me go seek out the troublesome one. Let me take care of this for you. I love you. I don’t want you to hurt. Just as the father would seek out those who hurt his daughter, so I will seek out those who hurt you, my daughter.
I’ve never known that kind of parent.
It’s ok. Let me be that father to you. Let my love flourish in you, cover you, protect you, heal you. Let go of your right—
But I do have a right!
Yes, you do, as a human who was treated unjustly. But you do not have that right as my child. As one who is truly mine, relinquish that right. Just as a bullied child cheers her dad for going and dealing with the bully for her, let me be your hero. Let me take care of this. Yield it to me. Trust me. Let me love you. In our relationship, the right is not yours. It is mine. And that is also love.
I saw this and had to respond…
“Dear God, Things are getting bad here. Gas prices are too high, no jobs, food and heating costs are too high. Some have taken you out of schools, government and even Christmas…”
As I was reading, images poured through my mind. Of famines in Africa and thousands of starving children. Of children trafficked in Asia. Of places where there are no cars to fill with gas, where a good job pays $3/hr… or even less. Where many would dig through trash heaps to sell what they find, and consider this their way of making a living. Of people who would give a day’s wages for one healthy meal for their family with hearts full of thankfulness at God’s great provision… I have to wonder if the problem is really that people have taken God out of schools or government or holidays, or if the real problem is that we’ve forgotten him, have, in our pursuit of things, removed him not from our schools but from our hearts, and forgotten to recognize his many blessings in the midst of what most of the world would consider our extreme wealth. We are truly blessed.
I’m sitting at home this Sunday morning, enjoying the birds’ songs, petting a cat, resting. I’ve visited a number of churches in the last three years but haven’t felt at home in any. The sermons are fluffy. The adult Sunday School teachers and students know very little about the Bible and leave no room for questions or opinions other than their own. Some talk more about their brand of politics than Christ. And I’m tired.
The problem may come down to “relevant church”. Sermons about Katelyn Jenner or the latest commercials may be their way of relating to people “on their level”-being more relevant. The problem is, I’ve rarely heard someone complain that they just couldn’t relate to a sermon, much less an entire series. What I do hear far too often is that sermons are “fluffy”, that the overwhelming sugary-sweet (and almost invariably fake) greetings, smiles, and hugs are… well, like choking down an entire Cadbury egg in one bite, without a drink. Even the thought makes my teeth hurt. Like those eggs, corporate church is extremely sweet, but not rich. There’s a bolt of sugar and then… nothing.
There is shallowness hidden behind the smiles, the parties, the greetings, and yes, even the sermons and lessons and the beliefs behind them. Church doesn’t need more relevance, it needs more real relationship. Relationship with the God they tout but who is too rarely mentioned in their songs and sermons. Relationship with others-as in true caring and compassion, not empty smiles and hugs and new Facebook requests. I’ve been told they’re too busy to do things with each other, and that’s understandable. But they wouldn’t need to spend time together frequently to love those they share their Sunday pews with.
A woman in the church I spent the most time in within the last year or two messaged me this morning. “We miss you!” I stood for months’ of Sundays trying to join conversations, trying to develop relationships, feeling like I was just hanging out on the fringe, in the way. I asked the pastor for more information about the church’s terminology and beliefs in consideration of membership and was told someone else would answer those questions. It took three weeks and several emails on my part to get those answers, and even then no one ever followed up, no one asked my thoughts on the answers I’d received or asked if I had any more questions. Not once. I’d go weeks without more than a passing, rushed “hi”. Until I stopped attending as frequently and talked of moving closer to work. Then suddenly “But we’ll miss you! Don’t leave!” became the recurring theme. I felt pressured, but considering my experiences in the months prior to that, I did NOT feel loved.
It was a relevant church. But church doesn’t need to be more relevant, it needs to be relational. Because when it becomes relational, it will be truly relevant, since it’s through relationship that we can meet people where they are.*
*1 Cor 13 states that where there is no love, there is a hollowness, a purposelessness. Without love our words are like “a resounding gong or a tinkling cymbal.” Our words and our actions are nothing without care and compassion, without love. When we opt for video clips from popular media, harp on political soapboxes, and disallow questions or concepts different from our own, our words are empty. We are not meeting people where they are. We are not loving them.
I’m bored with church. I sat there this morning listening to the sermon. Three verses and the pastor jumped to a commercial that was supposed to somehow back the scripture. Sorry, scripture does not need to be backed by the Koolaid Man. It’s become a frequent event, this idea of scripture followed by a TV break, and it’s not the first church I’ve seen this in… or that I’ve left when this happened.
This morning he jumped into the Koolaid Man commercial. I phased out. The next thing I heard was a brief lecture on how some of us are just attending for entertainment, and that when we stop being entertained, we leave. This church puts a lot of emphasis on faithful, local church membership. I refuse to become a member for a couple of reasons. However, I don’t attend for entertainment. And if I leave, it won’t be because I’m seeking entertainment, but because I’m sick of it.
I understand that Jesus used parables to teach the people. However, he used every day, real life situations to teach them, not entertainment systems. He incorporated the teachings of the scriptures into everything he said. He didn’t go on tangents about how funny a commercial was. And the people listened.
I’ve been told too often that people today aren’t interested in deep Bible study. But everything I hear from others shows that they are as tired of the entertainment in sermons as I am. The Koolaid Man doesn’t belong in a sermon.