The past several weeks have been a whirlwind. Most parts have hardly felt real. I have felt the need to write, and yet I have been too exhausted and too anxious to actually do it. But today, today all I can think about is writing down what I’m thinking. The real. The raw. All of it.
It’s been exactly two years since we moved to Colorado. Since then we’ve only been to a handful of churches here in the area. I know what you may be thinking… you know the whole “you’re a bad Christian” thing. But the past two years have been rough and it’s only recently that I finally found what I believe in, what I’m ready to stand for.
I grew up in an extremely legalistic home. I was told what to believe and why to believe it, and yes, I believe my Salvation was real, but I only knew that if I did “A” or “B” and “C” then I was not a good Christian, that I was in danger of losing my Salvation and risked an eternity of hellfire. For me, growing up in a Christian home meant living in desperate fear both from my abusive father and from my Heavenly Father. I was so scared of doing wrong, of making one wrong step, that it permeated my entire childhood.
It wasn’t until after college that I finally realized that “rules” were killing me. God wasn’t waiting to beat over the head with a big stick if I made the tiniest mistake and Salvation wasn’t a bargaining chip. The problem was that I was struggling with bitterness and anger. My parents divorced at 15, I miscarried my first baby, and my next two children had special needs and medical complexities. I wasn’t understanding life and why God would “do this” to me.
So, for the past two years, I’ve been wrestling. I’ve been wrestling with God about what it all means and what I need to do. I honestly didn’t know if at the end of it all if I would still choose Him, but He was patient with me and here I am, still making mistakes, but starting out fresh with my walk back to Him. I’ve started to make my own decisions in my walk with Him, decisions and beliefs based on the Bible, prayer, and personal convictions. I am coming away from what I was told to believe and coming back to what His Word actually says.
But I struggle every day. I struggle with my past and my present. I still wrestle daily with God about why He allows the things He does. Why my life is so different from others and from everything I had hoped for. I have felt so alone because I know I need to get back to church. I want to go to church, but I still have so many things holding me back. It wasn’t until recently that I read two articles that really came and touched me in the place where I am. Finally, someone was understanding the thoughts I’ve been wrestling with for the past few years.
While I do not agree with all of her articles, author, Sarah Bessey hit it home for me with her article, So I Quit Drinking. She says,
“This has been the source of a lot of transformation in my life: something that was okay suddenly becomes not-okay and inside of that, there is an invitation to more shalom, more peace, more hope, more love, more trust, more wholeness. It’s never about deprivation, it’s about becoming who we were meant to be all along.
In the old days, they used to call this “holiness” or “sanctification” – both words we don’t hear much because they lost some meaning by their misuse perhaps. I do know this sort of transformation whatever we want to call it hardly ever happens all at once, it’s a slow burn and it refines and clarifies and distills. We grow into our new choices.
I think that conviction has gotten a bit of a bad rap in the Church over the past little while. It’s understandable. We have an overcorrection to a lot of the legalism and boundary-marker Christianity that damaged so many, the behaviour modification and rule-making and imposition of other people’s convictions onto our own souls.
But in our steering away from legalism, I wonder if we left the road to holiness or began to forget that God also cares about what we do and how we do it and why.“
And this is why I am learning to find the balance. Yes, we have freedom in Christ, but we also have to remember He is a holy God. He is a jealous God. And in that, there are still expectations for Christian living.
Yes, God takes you as you are, but He doesn’t want you to stay that way. He wants to renew your life and make you whole. He wants to fill your life with love and he wants you to grow in Him and tell others of his love. Being comfortable means being okay with where you are and I’m not okay with that. I want to be closer to Christ and in my relationship with Him, not stay in the same place where I’m at.
- “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
Last night I read this article, Why the Church Doesn’t Need Anymore Coffee Bars. It literally brought me to tears because I can feel the deep, deep hurt she is feeling. While our stories are not the same, they are very similar. Her husband recently passed after a long battle with cancer. She writes about everything they had been through the many hospital stays, the doctor’s appointments, the having to be a single parent to her two young children.
And my heart goes out to her because my life has been non-stop hospital stays for the past few years. It has been non-stop doctor’s appointments and therapy appointments, and very real heartache. She says,
“On February 13th I had to most difficult task of telling my children their dad was not going to make it and the next day at 7:24 the doctor’s declared him dead. And as I lay next to my children at night listening to my daughter sob uncontrollably because she misses her dad so much I am not thinking about how trendy my church is. I am thinking that my strength comes solely from God.
And as I drive to church during the week, I am not thinking that I am so glad the leadership are reading “how to grow your church” books and adopting cool sermon series. I am thinking how desperate I need Jesus.
As I look at two young children who now have to grow up without their amazing dad by their side, I am not thinking of how it was so awesome that the minister related the message to a Hollywood film. I am thinking of how much I need Jesus.”
“When church leaders sit around and discuss how they can reach people, I don’t think they have the widow in mind. I don’t think they have the cancer patient in mind. I don’t think they have the children who are growing up without a parent in mind. I am not paying attention to the church décor when I walk through the doors. I don’t want to smell fresh brewed coffee in the lobby. I don’t want to see a trendy pastor on the platform. I don’t care about the graphics or the props on the platform. I am hurting in a way that is almost indescribable. And when I go to church I desperately want to hear the Word of God.
Because there are days I am running on empty and a coffee bar in the lobby isn’t filling me up. There are days when the pain is so brutal and a concert like setting is not providing healing. There are days when the tears won’t stop and a trendsetting church is not what I need. I need Jesus. There are days I wonder if the pain is ever going to end and a couch on the platform is not providing answers.
There are people whose marriages are crumbling, people whose finances are deteriorating, people whose children are rebelling and people like me, whose husband has passed away after a brutal fight with cancer. And these people are not impressed with the stage lighting. They could care less about the coffee flavor. They don’t need to be pumped or hyped. They need and are desperate for Jesus. And they may actually be turned off by all that they consider gimmicks to get people to go to church.”
She ends with these brave words:
I want to see how Jesus has changed a person’s life. I want to see the power of prayer. I want to see how the Word of God can be applied to one’s life. I want to see how Jesus can help the hurting. I want to see how Jesus can heal the sick. I want to see how the broken heart was restored. I want to see how the mourners were comforted. I want to see how lives were restored. Rather than posting pictures of coffee bars I would rather see testimonies of the power of God.”
And as I sit here thinking about my two-year search for a church, this is what I yearn for: a church that truly sees their congregation, their church members, and the lost. What I have found in the past two years is the disturbing sense of “comfortable” of “mediocre.” When did we as Christians become okay with this?
While no church is perfect, I clearly remember some things about the church I grew up in. I remember sincere, deep, prayer. I remember real and sorrowful confession and restoration at the altar. I remember women weeping and praying for each other, literally taking on and carrying each other’s burdens.
I cannot find this in church anymore. The real is gone. We’re too busy for real. We’re too busy for church unless it makes us look and feel good. We’re too busy trying to be comfortable that we forget that maybe church isn’t supposed to make us comfortable. Maybe church is so supposed to make us uncomfortable so that we change our ways. Maybe church is supposed to be uncomfortable to remind us of our sinful ways. Maybe church is supposed to be uncomfortable so those that are lost can find their way. Jesus didn’t save us so we could be comfortable, He came to save us so we could love, worship, honor, and adore HIM and live with Him for eternity.
If all the same people who were upset and worrying about what may or may not be in Disney’s new movie used their energy instead to reach the hurting and the lost, if they stopped being so busy and instead started to care about their friends and their neighbors, maybe we’d have a lot less divorces. Maybe we’d have a lot less pornography, maybe we’d have a lot less selfishness. Maybe we’d have a lot less suicides.
Because for people going through the storms, the trials, and the hard times, they are eventually going to realize that the world doesn’t stop for them and their problems, they are going to feel true heartbreak and finally realize how alone they really are. Is the church going to be there with comfortable? With coffee? Or are they going to be there with you through the real and the raw? With Jesus?
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of churches that only care about the show they put on. We need less comfortable and more real. We need less show and more action. We need less modern and more Jesus. As I try to get through the next few minutes, hours, and days, I don’t want comfortable, I want Jesus. Will you be the one to show Him to me?