In which we sit around the fire to tell good stories

I know your thoughts around God and church and organised religion are tender and bruised, angry and exhausted. 

Mine, too, sometimes.

So I want us to sit around a fire pit on a beach under a dome of stars in a navy blue sky, watching the moon on the water in companionable silence. 
I want us to drink red wine and dig our toes in the still-warm sand, to wrap our arms in real wool sweaters and feel the cold evening stealing across the water.

Night lightsphoto © 2009 Andrew Napier | more info (via: Wylio)

And then I want us to talk about this:

I wrote a post a year or so ago about how I wanted to separate myself from Christianity.

I am taking a sustained break, a separation with thoughts for divorce from the current forms of church and “Christianity.”

I have alternated between intense prayer, time pouring over Scripture, conversations with my husband, bouts of weeping, anger so white hot my hands tremble, patient resignation and rest.

The truth of the matter is that I no longer wish to identify myself with Christians or the current forms and displays of church (small “c” noted).

Most of you know that I have grappled with church and Christianity for years now. I have found solace in the emerging church and even in the rediscovery (for me, anyway) of ancient church traditions. I have found progressive and beautiful and thoughtful people among Christians. We love many of you, deeply, and always will. I have tried so hard to hang on, even in the face of great evil and oppression done in the name of Jesus, believing that I could not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

And yet, I cannot get away from the truth of my own heart. The Christianity I see and the church as I experience it, the witness that I am bearing to the primary practices of the Christian religion as it is currently, turns my stomach and wounds my soul……

…. Everything that I know about God, everything I know about my Father, can’t allow me to do this anymore. I can’t stand by anymore and align myself with this madness. I yearn to love people and often, church and “Christians” are the anti-thesis of this. I can no longer carry the baggage of this evil over the centuries.

I am taking a break from describing myself as a Christian.

I cannot darken the door of a church right now.

I am broken in my spirit, grieving.

Sure, everyone clicks on and shares the controversial or popular posts (there on the right sidebar –> ).

But the quiet emails tucked into my inbox almost always have nothing to do with some of my more out-of-the-box views whether I’m getting all soap-boxy and yell-y about spanking or gay marriage, biblical womanhood or even the whole hell thing. They aren’t about my contemplative or weird posts about marriage and motherhood, love and simple joys (which are usually my own personal favourites, to be honest).

No, people email me about that post, telling me their own heartbreak regarding their faith, their own anger, their own exhaustion.

We are tired, worn out, burned out on religion, aren’t we?

Here. Have a moment to refill your glass and toast that truth with a bit of bitterness. It’s okay. I brought a thermos of strong tea, too, for later. Would you rather that?

We hear about a good pastor who got fired by a power hungry church. Another pastor had an affair with the worship leader’s wife. We hear about charlatans fleecing old ladies out of their pension. We read Jesus Needs New PR and think that we need more than new PR, we need a revolution (or at least a ban on YouTube videos for certain members of the family). We are thrown under the bus by people we thought were our family. We are picked last. Another hero falls.

What a mess we can be.

Commercialism, materialism and consumerism, militarism, nationalism – it’s all jumbled up in our bed. We get yelled at or flippantly dismissed for our beliefs or opinions. We judge everyone else for being judgemental but feel so judged ourselves.

What a mess we can be.

And then there are those of us that think it’s our calling to criticise. We walk in a ministry of I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong, a religion of marking boundaries so that everyone is clear about who is in and who is out. We call it leadership if we’re good at noticing what’s wrong with everyone else and we can go on and on about everything that the church needs to fix. We focus on small gnat issues for womanhood instead of the big, broader needs of our sisters around the world. We build bigger churches with kick-ass sound systems to get together and watch a celebrity preacher from the screen while the world on the other side of our carefully constructed fences and edifices die of hunger and war. We meet for ladies’ teas and wonder why no one comes.

What a mess we can be.

And we fall, we fail. We are the ones that let people down, we gossip and oh, we’re such hypocrites as we judge everyone else by their worst moments but ourselves, only by our best. We fail our spouses and our kids and our friends just like “those people.”

What a mess we can be.

When people email me or talk to me about that season of my life, I find myself yearning – absolutely  yearning – to reach through the screen or through years of Canadian reserve to hug them tight, to hug you tight. 

And then I want to tell them, you, this:

Yes, that is true. And yes, I was hurt.

But do you know what else is true?


Love is true. And love is just as real in our Church, our broken bride swathed in redemption, as all of the mess.

Can I tell you this? Will you unclench your hand enough to open your ears to my heart-words?

There are a lot of good stories, luv.

And it is just as important – more important? – to tell (and hear) the good stories. We, those of us in the church that is emerging now out of the past  armed with all of the ways that we will do it better and more true to the Gospel, we would do well to tell the stories of grace alongside all of the stories of disgrace.

In the months and years since I wrote that post above, a quiet shift happened in my heart. You can see it and hear it in my writing, and hopefully my life, too, as I reset to notice moments of grace, to notice the abundant life, to embrace contentment and the doctrine of feasting on enough.  

To see the Jesus in us all, pouring through the cracks life inflicts.

After being broken, friend, I was bound and set with good stories. My balm smelled of the saints in every walk of life, quietly living the Gospel. With just the smallest shift of my focus, I began to take in all of the picture, not just the ugly bits that burn on the way down.

For every hurt, there is a healing. For every wound, there is balm. For every betrayal, there is long faithfulness.

And someday we will wrap our arms around that guy we hated or made fun of or accused of heresy or that did you wrong and beg his forgiveness for not seeing all of the Jesus in him because now we see it and oh, he’s beautiful and just as forgiven, just as loved as you. I promise. And someone will beg for your forgiveness, too, for all of the ways that they judged you.

Maybe it’s not as sexy to tell the good stories, all of the ways that the Bride grows more beautiful every day, as it is to poke fun at everyone getting it “wrong.” (It’s the same reason why the sensational and sad and tragic stories get all of the media coverage while the quiet stories of goodness and courage sink beneath.)

We haven’t even touched the big famous stories like Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr. or Tommy Douglas and so on.  We haven’t talked the stories from Scripture or our heroes of the faith.

You could spend a life telling these beautiful stories of ordinary radicals, normal people sitting right beside you in that folding chair int he school gym, on the itchy padded pew, in the movie theatre style-seat at the mega church and still run out of time.

And then there is the truth that it isn’t about this, us, at all. People will always let us down, we’ll always fall short but don’t forget Jesus. 

Don’t forget that when you are tired, worn out, burned out on religion, you have an invitation.

Come to Jesus. Get away with Him and you’ll recover your life. He’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Him and work with Him—watch how He does it. 

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. He won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Him and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Tonight, I want to wrap us up in the warmth of good stories, in every day heroes, in the prayers of regular people and the love of a church whose only goodness is found in Christ alone, in the unforced rhythm of living loved by God.

And then let’s let it all go, all of the hurt, all of the wounds sending them out to sea together.

We’ll finish this bottle though, shall we? We’ll have a bit of hot tea, we’ll tell a few bad jokes to release the tension and I’ll hand you a real handkerchief. 

We’ll walk barefoot in cold sand when the fire dies down, headed back to life with our skin smelling of prayer and campfire smoke.

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  • Jenn

     I feel like we are on sacred ground (sand) here. Me too Sarah, me too. 

  • Val

    thank you Sarah, my soul needed this tonight.  Very hurtful day in church today.  This helps more than you will know. 

  • Ray Hollenbach

    I haven’t touched a real handkerchief in years. It would be welcome.

  • Beverley

     So true…we let each other down….But He will never leave you/me or burden you/me. Thank you

  • Leigh Kramer

    Maybe this is the season for sharing and counting and memorializing the good.  We are quick to focus on the pain and hurt, often rightly so, but we forget that we are not alone in the trenches.  There are hundreds, if not thousands of us sitting around this campfire, murmuring Amen.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Beautifully said, luv.

  • Brenda

    This reminds me of a hymn I love,

    “Out of my bondage, sorrow, and night,
    Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come
    Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light,
        Jesus, I come to Thee!
    Out of my sickness into Thy health,
    Out of my want and into Thy wealth,
    Out of my sin and into Thyself,
        Jesus, I come to Thee!”

    Christianity is not what we need; Jesus is what we need.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Lovely, Brenda! I don’t know that one. and you are so right in your last line there.

  • David N.

    Wow, did I need this. I can relate in so many ways. Thank you for this.

  • suzannah | the smitten word

    yes, indeed. we are the broken, beautiful Church and God is doing a great work–despite us, sometimes–but in and through us, nevertheless.

    so glad that you’ve emerged from the fire with faith not only intact but refined.  you are right–these are the stories that need telling, too.  there is health in the Body and love and unity even despite our many differences.  keep shining a Light:)

  • Leah


  • lac

    I am very much in the place you were a year ago, if not worse. I’ve reached the breaking point, and am finding it necessary to mentally and emotionally give up on hope of finding faith so that i protect myself from getting hurt. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Praying for you, lac – and not in the trite, pat-you-on-the-head-way. But truly – it’s a sad and scary place but sometimes we need to “be” there for a while, too, I know. Blessings on you, luv.

  • Hannah Abbott

     judging from all this wet stuff leaking from eyes, my heart needed to soak that in. and by soak, i do mean re-read. re-re-read. thank you. 

  • Miranda

    I’m very blessed. I am part of an amazing church. I have no angst. These word broke me. I want to show love and I want to show Jesus. I also want to know right from wrong. Although I think it’s very wrong for anyone to have affairs (for example) everyone one is targeted by Satan and dare I say, that the devil works extra hard on pastors and people who work for Him. Just a thought. Maybe I am way out of line because I really have a good life. I can’t fathom the things you’ve mentioned. Forgive my naïvety.

    • Sarah Bessey

      What a beautiful thing to experience, Miranda! Praise God for this!

  • Mizmelly

    Mind if I bring some whiskey?

    • Sarah Bessey

      Oh, you Irish…. 😉

  • Anne J.

    This reminds me I am so blessed to know some every day heroes as part of my church family.  
    Tommy Douglas…ah, let’s talk about him!  I bring him up anytime someone in church is shocked I haven’t voted Conservative.  I have his picture hanging in my house, that’s how much I love Tommy.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yay! Someone else who knows the story of Tommy Douglas! And you have me beat – I don’t have any pictures of Tommy up. But we do have a habit of naming our cats after historical figures we admire and Tommy Douglas was next on the list (after the orange tabby named Winston Churchill/Furchill and Eleanor Roosevelt). When Brian really wants to mess with me, he threatens to name the next one George. 😉

  • Alissa

    Thank you. So much.

  • Diana Trautwein

    Such good, rich, real, sweet words.  Thank you.  Church is a messy place, no doubt about it.  We are messy folk.  Ah, but God loves a mess, right?  Thank God for that wonderful truth.  And thank God for the millions of faithful over the centuries who have quietly, courageously lived the life of a disciple – offering love and laughter, comfort and calm, shining strength and soft words.  The ugly can wear us down, that is for sure.  But the lovely – ah, the lovely.  That’s what breathes life and hope and peace.  And this is absolutely, undeniably LOVELY.  Thanks.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Absolutely true. Thank you for this.

  • Robin Dance

    Very Anne Lamotty :).

    Poignant, painful and poetic.  I feel the weight and beauty of these words….

  • Lara

    “Come to Jesus. Get away with Him and you’ll recover your life. He’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Him and work with Him—watch how He does it. ”
    What does that mean?  How do I do that?  I want nothing more than to walk with Jesus.  I was raised hearing it was possible.  I was raised believing I was “walking” with Him.  Now I’m not so sure.  I only hear my own voice echoing back at me.

  • Stephanie

    I’d love to join you around that fire – except I’d opt for a zip-up hoodie sweatshirt instead of a wool sweater (too itchy). 😉

  • Jennifergori

    WOW…you nailed it sister…i had my own wandering story…i was so frustrated with the church but i could never fully leave because Jesus always quietly hung onto me. He loved me even as i wandered. Now i see it was always about love….not judging, not man, not church….just love.