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In which I admit that I couldn’t be a Christian by myself

Source: flickr.com via Sarah on Pinterest

I read Sara Miles’ beautiful book, “Take This Bread” and she wrote: “You don’t get to be a Christian by yourself.” Me? I tried. I really tried to be a Christian by myself. And, in my deepest hurts from the Body of Christ, it helped to cocoon away in the in-between-space. It helped to step away from the institutions of Church for a while, from the programs, from the self-perpetuating machine, from the politics, the religion, the expectations, the behaviour modification focused easy spirituality, I packed up all of my baggage in steamer trunks and headed out. I had my doubts, I had my hurts, I had my questions, I had my battle scars, and they mattered then, they matter still.

I shed a lot of the performance anxiety in those years. I reconciled what I believed and why. I embraced the glorious kaleidoscope of experience. I loosened my grip on my opinions. I entered recovery for being a Know It All. I stopped caring what people thought. I stopped expecting every one to experience God or church or life like I thought it should be done. I stopped using the word “should” about God or church. I sought God and he was faithful to answer me. I look at those years now, those years far from church membership, from steady weekly attendance, far from performance-driven faith, far from an Official Church, and I know that God was there in the wandering. God set me free from crippling approval addiction, from my evangelical hero complex, from the fear of man, he bathed my feet, bound my wounds, gave rest to my soul.  I learned the difference between critical thinking and being just plain critical And I found out that He is more than enough, always was more than enough, always would be more than enough.

Water in the desert came from cups fashioned by the hands of those that loved the Gospel. I found community. I found friends. I found family. I discovered that the hand of God was strong and firm, gentle and loving, in the hands, breath, and voices of the people of God. There are more of us that love God and love people, that leave the scent of grace wherever we walk, that forgive and serve without fanfare or book deals, that work for justice and mercy than I could have ever dreamed. They loved the unlovable, the marginalised, the hopeless, because of their great love for God. They believed the Jesus actually meant all that stuff he spoke while here on earth. They were on mission, they were peacemakers, they were everything I wanted to be when I grew up, you gorgeous people of God.

It turned out the Bride of Christ was broken, yes, but she was so beautiful to me when I found her out here in the desert, in the world and in the Anglican church and the emerging church and the house church and the organic church and the Vineyard church and online and in coffee shops and in the woods and even/especially in the people I still think are wrong wrong wrong about stuff.

Can you be whole and full in Christ without spilling over? Can you be loved without yearning to love in return? Can you be healed without wanting to heal? Can you receive goodness without wanting to point every other fellow beggar on the road to the source of that goodness? Can you deconstruct without wanting to rebuild someday?

Can you be restored to God without being restored to the people of God, too?

Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t. Loving Jesus meant learning to love and celebrate His Church.

But the Church isn’t a non-profit status anyway, it’s not four-walls-and-a-baptismal-font. Church isn’t a club and it isn’t a membership and it isn’t a set of beliefs and it isn’t one doctrine. It isn’t Sunday morning liturgy or performance. It’s bigger and more. The people of God gather in ways so different, all that matters is that we gather together somehow, to love, to live out the mission of God and the Gospel, to eat together and feed each other.

Church is the family of God.

And I found my family everywhere.

I could care less about labels. I could care less about demarcations and boundaries. I know where I find God and community, and that’s okay. I know you might find both God and true community elsewhere, and that’s okay, too. And we’ll both probably shift and change and switch places now and then. The only lyrics for the song in my heart are Love and Freedom, yes, life in Christ is a life of LOVE and a life of FREEDOM.

A love for the Church has blossomed like a garden in that wilderness, free and wild and hopeful and unexpected.

I still feel rather protective about my desert-self, just like I feel protective of every one still there, I never want to forget how it feels to be there. I want to remember, to honour your journey, your in-between-space, I want to grab your hand and tell you to lean into it. I want to remember that it looks different for all of us, and that no one is more surprised than me that my journey has lead me here, back again.

And, when I realised that God was restoring church to me, giving me back my joy in intentional community, in Sunday mornings and Bible studies and tithe cheque numbers, in the gathering of the Body to worship and learn and support and eat and scatter back out to our world, even in the calling of my husband to pastor, I laughed at the irony and I laughed gently at myself and I laughed because I was happy.

I only came back to church when I didn’t care if I ever went back.

I only came back to church when I found Church everywhere.

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church, emerging church, faith, journey, missional living

38 Responses to In which I admit that I couldn’t be a Christian by myself

  1. rayhollenbach April 24, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Wow. I can’t believe you’ve had this post up for four hours and nary a comment. It’s bold and transparent and exactly what believers in North America most need to hear. Thank you for sharing, and having the courage to name the great hurt, and the great weakness among us. Grace to you, and peace!

  2. Caris Adel April 24, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    This is so beautiful and hopeful.  I feel like I’m sort-of, maybe half-way back, and this gives me so much hope.  I’ve never left the Sunday morning church as I’ve processed all of my hurts and beliefs and doubts.  Even as it’s been a mostly internal battle, it’s been hard and strange wrestling with all of it in the midst of people who seem oblivious.   It’s been like wrestling while still inside the cage, and yet, somehow I have managed to unlock the door. 

    I love Take This Bread.  That was the book that blew me away and opened the door wide to freedom.  It knocked down that huge conservative belief of ‘can you be homosexual and a christian’ and led me to even more openness, of ‘the only thing you need to follow Jesus….is to follow Jesus’.  I just adore that book. 

  3. Sue Cramer April 24, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Excellent. It is my story in so many ways. Thank you.
    Sue

  4. Kacie April 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    I love this post. It’s beautiful to read since I’ve been reading you for years, and didn’t know where you’d end up on this journey. It’s what I’ve said too – that I hated the church because it was so broken, and then once I came to grips with that brokenness I learned to love her, because I am broken too and Jesus died for us individually and corporately despite our brokenness.

    If I love Him, I will love what He loves, right?

    I know that for others still walking through real anger and disillusionment, perhaps this post is hard to swallow. If you’d read it three years ago, how would you have felt?

    I also think it can be life-giving. It can provide hope that you can walk through disillusionment and remain in this broken body in a different way.

    • Melissa April 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

      “I hated the church because it was so broken, and then once I came to grips with that brokenness I learned to love her, because I am broken too and Jesus died for us individually and corporately despite our brokenness. ”

      kacie- that’s beautiful. thank you.

  5. Katie Noah Gibson April 24, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    Wow, Sarah. So honest and wonderful.

  6. the Blah Blah Blahger April 24, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    Beautifully written, Sarah! 

  7. Kelly Sauer April 24, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    Girl. I was in church ministry for as long as I can remember, and I finally burned out when the “good church people” told me that God couldn’t possibly be telling me to love somebody. But I was called to the Church, His people, and while I can’t walk through the doors of a church building yet without freaking out, He is helping me see what you’ve shared in this post, and bringing real fellowship outside church walls, creating opportunities to live Him out without the organized ministries, etc.

    “I sought God and he was faithful to answer me.” – this is my favorite line from your post. Such a Him thing. I love this.

  8. a girl with a smile April 24, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

    wow. wow.

  9. HopefulLeigh April 24, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    Sarah, this is so good for me to think through. Faith doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Certain things we must go through and figure out on our own but the Church is there to encourage, support, and challenge us along the way. It can be easier to point out the people that have failed us or acted less than Christian-ly but this reminds me to talk up the people that pointed me back to Christ- and these good far outweigh the bad.

  10. SortaCrunchy April 24, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    “Water in the desert came from cups fashioned by the hands of those that loved the Gospel.” And that’s when I started crying.

    Never from the beginning were we meant to be in isolation, as appealing as that sounds. There is no touch like the touch of the Hands of Christ with human fingerprints. And I forget that every time I want to run (which is often).

  11. tmw April 24, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    God bless you! As I sit here weeping, and thanking God for ministering to me in my in-between place, I want to thank you for sharing and encouraging me to lean into it! I will continue to do so and continue to trust my Father to be as faithful as He has been to give me just what I need, just when I need it. I look forward to looking back on this time as a growing time and laughing with you!

  12. Lore Ferguson April 24, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    Oh my. I love this. She is Gomer, the bride who slips through our grasp until finally we realize that we are Gomer all along and He has never let us slip through His grasp. 

  13. Linda Stoll April 24, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    Yes. 

    Our struggles, our pain, our woundedness in being in fellowship with each other are not unique to this generation.  There must have been a good reason why the Apostle Paul wrote to his brothers and sisters, urging them not to give up meeting together, to be good to each other, to encourage one another, to hang on to hope {Hebrews 10}.

    I have found a measure of healing in co-founding and fully engaging in a house church … with no politics, no programs, no committees.  I may, someday, return to the traditional church … or not.

  14. laura @ hollywood housewife April 25, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    I’m currently a Christian by myself.  But ever so slowly, in the last few months actually, I feel God has been revealing His community to me again.  Thank you for this honest post.

  15. Jessica April 25, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    I’ve been thinking through how to articulate thoughts on this exact subject for a few days now for a guest post that’s coming out on Friday; you said so beautifully what I’ve been wrestling with. I think the journey is so, so important. And you can’t speed it up. You can’t always understand or explain it, to other people or sometimes to yourself. I do think God takes us on wilderness journeys and allows dark nights of the soul. But I also think it’s easy to romanticize that, especially in our rugged individualistic Western culture. After the journey, there’s real joy in landing well. I’m so appreciative of your words today.

  16. Jlillvik April 25, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    There are so many people in my life that I’d love to share this with. Hope you don’t mind if I repost this (redirecting here, of course.)

  17. Adriana Vermillion April 25, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Sarah I am right there with you! I love the transparency and in your face truth! I have been searching for the true God for 18 years in church… about 3 years ago when all hell broke loose when it was discovered that my dear pastor was gay I realized that knowing Him and about Him are two different things. Freedom and a true desire to follow and be with Him is what you can find if you are willing to allow God to truly lead you.

    Now we have a small fellowship in our home and love to know that wherever I am there He is…

    Blessings!

    Write on girl!

    Adriana
    http://www.adrianavermillion.com

  18. Jenn April 25, 2012 at 12:42 am #

    Breathing deep breaths of fresh air truth.

  19. Kim Van Brunt April 25, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    Thank you, friend, for honoring the entire journey. For bringing us all together, for saying it’s okay to be where I am, and it’s okay to be where you are. I’m in tears tonight, only because I long for church the way you have found it again. It’s true that God has had me in a phase of deconstruction. He stripped it all away and he had to, there was so much there that had nothing to do with him. I have to be away now, and I know that. But oh, I do long to rebuild. I don’t know that it will ever look like traditional church again, but who knows?

    This sang something lovely to a very deep place in my heart, and woke something I didn’t know was slumbering. Again, thank you. I can feel your support from here.

  20. Rachel April 25, 2012 at 3:03 am #

    This is so beautifully honest. Thank you for speaking the truth. It’s water to a dry soul :-)

  21. Emily Wierenga April 25, 2012 at 3:23 am #

    i’m a bad christian. i love Christ, but find it so hard to love his people. i am constantly judging and being disappointed. and in part, it’s because i’m a minister’s daughter who was sorely disappointed by the church growing up. i need to grow up. i need to forgive and embrace and move on. because Christ adores his church. i am his church. i am the broken.

  22. jewelsntreasures April 25, 2012 at 4:18 am #

    Thank you for sharing your heart Sarah. I know I’ll get there someday, but right now, I’m where you used to be. In fact that paragraph I could have written myself.

  23. Charity April 25, 2012 at 4:33 am #

    Absolutely beautiful! I truly hope that God restores the church to me someday. Right now I am in that desert place and it lonely. It is also exciting, challenging, and freeing. Thank you for sharing this, it brings me hope.

  24. Heart n Soul April 25, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    the scent of grace …. wow, so vey profound!! I Love it.

  25. Glenda Childers April 25, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    This beautiful piece helps us all remember why we love the Body of Christ.

  26. Jen Hatmaker April 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    As someone who just loves people so much, this is so dear. I too have been carried and lifted and pushed and held by the Church, and by “the Church” I mean people who love Jesus. Everywhere they are. In and out of traditional settings. For me, there has never been a better time to be a part of the Body of Christ…so brave, so fierce, so on the move. And also? Keep writing forever. Thank you. 

  27. Megan Card April 25, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    This brought me to tears. It was exactly what my soul needed to hear today. Thank you. So much. 

  28. Tara_pohlkottepress April 25, 2012 at 11:53 pm #

    i am somewhere between the desert and the form and function place. i am in the wilderness, my toes love dirty in the soil, my hair smelling musty rest up against the tree of grace. i am not ready to leave here, yet i am finding others in which to cling to, love on, grow with, which is the church anyway.  yet, i love glimpsing this path of yours, i can’t express the peace i find in your words leading you here. i don’t know where mine is leading yet, but i know if i keep to the stream i will never want.

  29. Brenda April 26, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    What a beautiful way to describe grace. I am moved by your words. I protect my “desert self” too. I think it’s hard not to do so when grace has met you in such a raw and arresting way.  “Honor your journey…” Such a great exhortation. Thank you.

  30. leastofthese April 26, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    I’ll be honest. This was NOT what I wanted to read today.  As an ex-pastor, it’s been over 3 years since my last day of “official” ministry and I’m nowhere near ready to face that life again.  The thought of walking through those doors makes me want to claw my way out of my skin, screaming. I don’t want to even consider the chance that my journey out of the church might circle around and drop me off right where I just left, beaten, bruised and exhausted at the hands of a church who took everything and then showed me the door.

    Reading your post made my heart drop to the pit of my stomach in dread, because if I’m still being honest, I hear the whisperings of God telling me that this is indeed the path I am on. But I’m walking as slowly as I can.

  31. idelette April 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

    Some days I imagiine I could so be a hermit in a cave … But the living out of gospel with other flesh and blood bodies are sharpening the iron in me. I once had such a beautiful moment at a women’s retreat in the mountains. I was reading those words “This is my body broken for you,” and I could hear the voices and laughter in the hallways. That moment I knew those bodies were part of The Body broken for me. So so humbling.

  32. Melissa April 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    sarah. my journey is so similar to yours. you put words to feelings i have yet to express. you are encouraging me along the path of reconciliation to the church. you are igniting a passion that i have supressed due to hurts. i am blessed and challenged by your writing. thank you friend.

  33. Gemma Hartley April 30, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    Sometimes it feels like you’ve taken the words straight from my heart and written them in a way more beautiful than I could ever hope. Thank you for writing this. 

  34. justamom May 1, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Yes!  So much of that I could have said!  I have been in my church for 12 years now and it’s been just that – I was there, attending but I wasn’t really living it.  I was too worried about what everyone thought, etc. and not focused on the reason I was there.  Now, I find church is my special place to live in God with others who are living in God too.  I know there will always be people there who aren’t there for the right reasons, but I am so thankful that I’m finally awake in church and there to enjoy another part of my relationship with God.  Thank you for sharing!

  35. jenarmstrong May 1, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    I too had ill feelings towards the church and people there but much of that was my own ignorance.  I wasted so much time worrying about what everyone was saying, doing and thinking instead of focusing on why I was really there.  Now, my church life is so much grander than I could have ever imagined.  God has clearly opened my eyes to His love through my church.  It wasn’t until I took my focus off those around me and put it on God that my life really started changing.  Thank you for sharing your journey!

  36. Daniloudoan May 2, 2012 at 1:35 am #

    I am in that wilderness. Praying to be made whole…

  37. Theofls April 9, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. I think the issue is always that we think church and jesus are synonymous. Clearly, a big ole’ NOPE is due. When we look for Jesus, we find it in the perfecting love for the other, not only in God. I think the most beautiful gift to the church is 1 John 4:7-12. If we want to see Jesus, if God is to be visible, it has to be how we love one another.

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