Navigation

In which God has restored church to me

I’m just now home from our Easter service. I’m feeling the need to write it out a bit, to figure out what I’m feeling by putting fingers to keyboard, to begin to untangle all of the emotions swirling in my heart, to shake them out for a good look.

I’m a wreck. A sobbing, crying, hands-lifted-high, had-to-take-my-contacts-out wreck. I feel like God has made something beautiful out of my mess and my dust.

Six years ago, Brian left full-time vocational ministry and, you who have walked this road with us, you know, it’s been a journey. We were so burnt out, so exhausted, so broken hearted and part of me, a big part of me, never wanted to darken the door of a church again. Brian embarked on seminary, he was being drawn more and more to denominational infrastructures as a way to guard against some of the abuses that are sadly common to our faith background, and me? I just stopped caring, stopped going, I decided to forget about Church and just follow Jesus. I stopped calling myself a Christian because I couldn’t identify myself with so much of what the church was doing or selling or preaching. We were worlds apart but we clung together to one truth: God is love. Love was all that held me, all that held us both, as we struggled to find out how we could navigate our exhaustion, our questions, our doubts, our frustrations, our histories, with the Bride of Christ. We went to church now and then but it was a chore, we never felt at home, I couldn’t seem to shut off the running monologue in my head, critical, wounded, bitter. Finally I gave up and just settled that God would work something out, that somehow he would show me what Church is and what it should be and how I could be part of it somehow in a way that felt intellectually, spiritually and emotionally honest. In the meantime, I turned to Jesus, I flung myself at his feet, and I found grace there, I found healing, rest, Love, peace.

I loved God. I struggled with loving His Church.

I still have a lot of those questions. I still get the hives when I see big churches with big splashy programs, any mention of a building project. Any talk of business plans and marketing money, gimmicks and light shows, make my eyes cross. Sometimes I still go to church and feel like running, pell-mell, tumble-bumble, into the fresh air.

But a year ago, we went to a local church here. And it was close to Easter and my heart, somehow, my heart just exhaled.  I didn’t know what it meant. I hardly know now. All I knew was that I felt like I was home, like maybe God had something for me here.

So we just kept showing up. The people were nice but it wasn’t like it was that different than anywhere else, really. We made a few friends. I hatched a master plan to make friends by volunteering for a thing here and there (it worked). Some months we didn’t go even once, other months, we didn’t miss a week. The tinies loved every Sunday, begged to go back, but that’s normal for them, they just love church, they don’t carry an ounce of the baggage their parents seem to cart around about the gathering of the believers. I got together with some women, sometimes we became friends, other times, we didn’t, it just wasn’t a great fit, we weren’t clicking but that was okay, somehow. Other times, I did find friends, find a moment of laughter and connection. Even more miraculously, perhaps, I found women that read my blog (if you can believe it) and somehow, even that was a gift. I could be the same person in every corner of my life, no more masks, no more hiding my questions, my journey, my realness. It was just all out there and life became seamless. I went to Bible study and not a single woman there said a word about The Bachelor, they prayed for one another, and it felt real, like everything I’ve been wanting and yearning for, a bit of a mess, and so full of Love. I made friends. I began to feel like I’d like to be good, good friends with a couple of them.

Today, I stood in the school gym and I realised, this is Church. God has restored me to community somehow, it was sneaky but now here it is, a gift.

All of my reading, all of my writing, all of my rantings and tears and frustrations were real. I felt lost in church, like I didn’t fit there, the whole round-peg-square-hole thing that so many of us feel about faith communities. And I laid it down, surrendered it and just said to Jesus, I have no clue, you figure it out, how can a woman like me be a pastor’s wife again, how we can even go to church again. I haven’t really cared to make a big deal of it anymore. But on a whim, last Easter, we showed up and somehow I kept showing up and God kept showing up and now it sort of feels like a miracle, like something sacred has happened in my life. Body of Christ, is that you? You’re not perfect, you kind of tick me off sometimes but I think I’d like to stick around, to keep doing life together.

And here’s the funny thing: I don’t feel like anyone but me now. In church, I was always my parents’ daughter, then I was Pastor Brian’s wife, then I was a phantom, here today and gone next week for good. I had friends, but I loved my armour more. And I never really felt like anyone knew me – even more, I felt like if they did know me, they wouldn’t like me. I was too opinionated, too artistic, too quick to question, too something, too everything. But somehow, for the first time, I feel like I’m on my own two feet here, like it’s my church, too, and my life is seamless.

This community recognises me, has welcomed us, they know my name, they even affirm my calling and vocation as a writer. And I don’t mean that to be weird or prideful, quite the contrary. I feel stupid and ridiculous when it happens, when someone says something about my blog here or that book I’m writing, like I’m a pretender, let’s change the subject. But maybe you can relate because when, for your entire life, you have this one thing that you do always, one thing that you feel good at doing, and then for the first time, someone in your real life, in your real church, notices and says, yes, you’re good at it, and we welcome your gift, we affirm it, we see God at work in you? Well. I have no words. It meant the world to me. I can’t remember too many churches that do that for women or for artists or for those of us that aren’t the typical Leadership 101 Jesus-as-CEO-types, at least, not for me.

I was asked to write the testimonies for our service today, a true honour and I could not take it lightly. I bang out a post here in 20 minutes but now I was agonising. I’ve spent the last two or three weeks with the stories of three families in our community, writing them out, crying over them, a bundle of nerves. Because even though I write here in this space, daily baring my soul to a few thousand souls, the thought of getting on stage, in front of 200 people I see weekly, sometimes daily, at dance lessons and the park, at Bible study and the grocery store, to talk, oh, it made my knees knock.

But today, I did it. In the midst of such soulful worship, such beauty, such creative expressions of the Resurrection, I was a wreck. I felt like standing on my chair and keening for restoration and for love. I felt a wind sweeping through me and I was crying and then I was climbing the make-shift stairs, looking out at the elementary school gym, perched on a stool like an inelegant fool, and the words came and God was honoured. It wasn’t about me. I was telling someone else’s story but it was for me, too. I feel like it was something holy, something new happening in my heart. I was overwhelmed with joy, with the Resurrection, with the truth of the Cross and the empty tomb, with what life in Christ means for all of us. I was so thankful, I felt like dropping to my knees, flinging my hands up, sobbing with gratitude and longing.

(This picture was taken by a friend.)

We covered an old rugged cross in blossoms, we threaded tulips and daisies and chrysanthemums through old chicken wire and when we were done, it was blooming with new life, beauty out of bedlam and barrenness . A lady turned around and gave us handfuls of flowers to put on the cross, and even the little kindnesses like that feel like a kiss on the wounds of being ignored and overlooked Sunday after Sunday.

I loved it. I loved every messy imperfect, celebratory, powerful, soulful, emotional and wild thing about today. I loved our pastors, our teachers, our sound guys, our choir, our children, our grandparents. I loved every person that came through the doors, this is family, I loved the folding chairs, and I loved the cross front and centre, towering with colour and beauty. I love knowing I’ll see some of these folks during the week, at the library, at the park, on Facebook, at Bible study, at dance lessons. I loved the songs we sang loud and I loved the sight of the tinies standing on risers, flinging their arms around with the action songs, beside their friends, I loved my baby in my arms, and I loved us all in some supernatural thing of wholeness and connection. Like somehow, when I wasn’t looking for it, when I gave up on ever finding it or even caring about it anymore, God made something beautiful out of my baggage, out of my brokenness, out of my church drama, my own sticky pride.

Jesus snuck up on me, surprised me with grace and community and family, a glimpse of something good, a restoration unsought.

post signature

church, Easter, faith, journey
  • Bbeat001

    Wow! You bless me Sarah….have to go but I will write more next time. I have a women’s fellowship in my house that is real. I started it 10 years and God has been faithful.

    …will talk…

    Bless you,

    Beat

  • Bbeat001

    I am from Uganda in Kampala. I am passionate about women and family ( and everybody). Above all I love Jesus!

  • beth

    Hi Sarah,  thank you for sharing this online.  My husband and I also left our church for very similar reasons.  We began a search for a new church family and ended up frustrated and finally gave up.  When we both lost our jobs in California because of  budget cuts, we moved to Indiana.  We arrived two weeks ago and have attended two different churches to start our search again. 

    My husband’s brother also recently moved and started searching for a church in a very small town.  We were having a conversation about our frustrations with the churches and he told me, “I feel like God is telling me they need my gifts and my point of view there to help them heal.”  I keep running this through my head, because my BIL is the most humble man I’ve ever met and this thing he said can only be because God revealed it to him. 

    Now I am trying to follow his example and search for a church that needs our gifts.  I know there is no such thing as a perfect church, but now I realize that if I did find a church that was healthy then that church probably doesn’t need us.  Meaning… we are needed where God can use our gifts and if a church seems healthy and whole then they have the all the gifts they need.  Because God showed us this we are trying to reframe our search and look for a church that needs our specific gifts, but this journey is very hard because I often switch to hoping for a church that has a solid theological base and loving congregation instead of a church that needs us.  I just have to keep telling myself that God can and will provide for both. 

    Please continue writing about this issue because you are the first person I’ve found who writes with this much honesty about an issue I’ve seen destroy two churches.  Thank you for your hoesty and sharing your raw emotions.  Your words make me feel like I’m not alone.