“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”
I want to tell you I haven’t attended church much after I left my job there back in January. But that will make some of you nervous. It made me nervous. That is until I discovered why. I needed time to breathe. And now, my soul has never been more alive. There’s no scandal; no drama. I just spent nine years working at a church, trying to make it better for everyone else and lost myself in the process. As I created environments, experiences, and conversations that brought people closer to God, I forgot to participate.
We all can get lost in our jobs and forget why we are doing it, can’t we?
In my role at the church, it was my job to be critical; to chase “better.” Identify what needs fixing and try to fix it. To me, church was never good enough for the people attending. “If you aren’t growing, you are dying,” they say.
You know what else churches say? “The best is yet to come.” And, that is SO true. It is. But it’s also really great now. We should be growing, changing, evolving. But there’s also a subtle danger, especially to a type A like me. It implies it isn’t good enough now. There’s a danger thinking Church isn’t ever good enough and that somehow we are in charge of making church better on our own creative genius. Without even knowing it, we can start applying the same sentiment to our faith. That we aren’t good enough. The cross isn’t good enough. That it Jesus isn’t good enough. And it somehow is all up to me.
I loved my job, but my soul was getting weary from the chase. And that’s my fault.
I believe in the church. In fact, I love my church. But “civilian” life has been a hard adjustment. Hard, but good. It’s hard to not be an influencer. It’s hard to walk away from what I know and love. It’s hard to go from contributor to consumer, insider to outsider. To find my new place, even when I know this new season is exactly where God wants me.
My job was my security. Confidence came from experience. Chasing new dreams? Leaving all I know for the unknown? It made my armpits sweat; still does. It makes me feel like a freshman again, nervous and sweaty, painfully aware of my awkwardness.
And you know what? If I stay busy I don’t have to stop and acknowledge what is happening at home. I don’t have to sit in my grief as I watch my children move closer to the inevitable. I don’t have to get honest about my own spiritual health. You can certainly work at a church and keep your soul healthy, but it’s hard. Maybe it was just hard for me.
These days, I would rather stay home and worship with no one watching. I love being alone with God with no strings attached to be or not be anything but me. I can lift my hands and not worry if someone will think I’m weird or faking it. I have never been a hand raiser for these very reasons, but now I am.
And when I do make it to church these days, I’m less critical, because I don’t have to be. My best is right now. Broken, messy, and full of joy. I am discovering my new place, because everyone has a place in the body of Christ. And I am starting to realize what we mean when we say, we don’t GO to church, we ARE the church. I am learning I can read the Bible and be with people, with or without making a t-shirt, attending a meeting to talk about meeting, or giving our time together a fancy name.
Man, I loved creating fancy names.
You know what else is hard to navigate when it comes to church? Showing up. I don’t know if you’ve ever been “the one.” The divorced one. The diagnosed one. The relapsed one. The messy one. The one who just lost a loved one. The one who just lost a job. The one who just miscarried. The one on the video or stage.
It feels yucky to be the one.
I get why people don’t come to church when they’re going through one of those times or slip out the back. It’s hard riding that tension. On the one hand, you want people to say something. To acknowledge your pain. To see you. But on the other hand, you want to blend in. Hidden. Safe. You just want to be normal.
But we weren’t made for normal.
“Brace for impact,” I tell myself as we pull into the handicapped parking stall. I have a love-hate relationship with captivity. I like the safety of my cage, but other days, I just want out. Especially when there is crap in the cage.
The doors open. I am exposed. Exposed to people looking. People asking. People commenting. People touching. People helping. It’s lovely. It’s annoying. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Kinda like family. It’s how we know we are loved. But being, “you know, wink wink, the family I told you about with the two kids….yeah-them” family is a bittersweet challenge every week.
See me, don’t see me. Your damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Which is why it’s easier to hide and then ask where everyone is, right?
Oh! And since I’m on a roll, can I tell you something else?
I get so nervous during small talk now. Anyone else? I have a bad memory so I forget names, things we did together, or conversations we had. I forget really important things about people I wish I could remember and it makes me feel like a terrible person. Self-absorbed, even. I can’t remember birthdays. I don’t know how to talk about the weather. I guess I am just getting really good at “living in the moment.” But if you want to talk about brokenness, nakedness, rawness, or pain, I am your gal. I have learned how to breathe in such deep, dark waters, I fear I am a fish out of water even near the surface.
I don’t want to be “serious” or a “Debbie downer” all the time, and for real, I laugh a lot. But I am starting to really question what or who I spend my time talking about. And the older I get, the more I want deep, connected, real conversations. I want to listen more. I want to learn about the person I am talking with, not the people I talk about. And that’s really hard to do because talking about other people is way easier than actually talking about our broken, vulnerable spots, isn’t it?
It think it’s because we don’t dream big dreams. We worry about things that aren’t that big of a deal, like outfits, home decor, landscaping, that extra five pounds or errands. Those things aren’t all bad, but they aren’t all there is. Maybe that is what Jesus was getting at when He said in Matthew 6: “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
We aren’t dreaming about changing the world, or if we are, we aren’t doing much about it. Because the kids need dinner and we have to figure out how to pay for college, and we are scared out of our brains to take a leap. I fear we are so dissatisfied because we have settled for words like “normal” and “safe.”
I know it’s easier for me to watch House Hunters.
The worst is being vulnerable with people and they don’t offer any vulnerability back. Do you remember that game some of the naughtier kids played when they were younger? (I mean, I didn’t.) The gist of the game went like this: you lose, you remove an article of clothing. The losers sat exposed, while the winners remained covered. Vulnerability is a lot like that — sitting naked when everyone else stays dressed.
But that’s what church is all about, really. Sitting naked with one another. Well, you know what I mean. It’s about finding God in the intimacy of your own skin, showing up even when you want to hide, and offering your real and vulnerable self to the world. Because when you do, you give others the permission to do the same.