On Desiring Nomads

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Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.

-Ann Landers

I am a nomad at heart. Growing up, I moved every one to five years. Our landscape swiveled from California, to the Midwest, back to California, to the Pacific Northwest, and again back to California. Even after moving to Colorado, Eric and I relocated houses and/or neighborhoods, moving with each pregnancy and beyond. While this need for change has surprised me, it is in me.

I, for some reason, am a bit of a glutton for punishment. Change is not easy. Change propels us into an uncertainty that requires we ask new questions, that demands we find an elasticity muscle that maybe hasn’t been stretched in awhile…or ever. Change requires nimbleness that oftentimes yields discomfort and maybe pain. Sometimes our changes are not by choice, as we are thrown into grief or joblessness or failed expectations. All of these things, whether welcome or not, demand our attention and a shift. We are set upon a path of wandering, not unlike the Israelites in the desert, wandering for 40 years. Egypt after awhile, despite the consistent abuse, starts to sound pretty good. We like predictable. We like to know what to expect. The Promised Land appears bleak, it’s probably a sham anyway.

Growing up in traditional church, we showed up every Sunday morning and every Sunday evening and every Wednesday night. I did all the things. I participated in Caravans (our denominational scouting program). I won the awards. I did the Bible Quizzing. I sang in the choir and played the piano. I led Bible Studies in high school, college and beyond. I was baptized. I went to camp every summer. I served on mission trips. I re-dedicated my life around a campfire and a strummed guitar about twelve times. I did it all. I earned it. God and I were good…

…until we weren’t.

With three active, young children at home, a host of healing I needed to accomplish, a husband who traveled, I was ushered to the end of myself. My martyr complex was off the charts, my perfect exterior was cracking, and my interior was in shambles. No longer could I appease this god I had crafted in my own image. My god wore me out, never letting me off the hook. My god was the god of the “shoulds”, never to be satisfied.

Stepping off the train of American Christianity was what saved me. It was either sacrificing myself to this unappeasable lord or reclaiming my soul. Leaving the megachurch, I found a small local congregation and I sat. I sat and said No!. I deconstructed and I trusted, one of the hardest things I have ever done. That was a long desert. The wind blew and the temperatures swung wide, rising and sinking with the sun. But the nomad in me was placated. I resisted her call for too long. She could finally rest.

As the shrieks of “should” diminished, as my soul reclaimed, there was a new sensation. A sensation somewhat akin to desire. I didn’t trust it at first. No Christian operates truly out of desire, for this is unbecoming. We suffer for Jesus. We sacrifice. What is this desire business? As an aside, I have to brag a bit. I was the best sufferer. I was a great martyr for Jesus. But it stopped being interesting to me. I wanted more. I craved more. As desire emerged, my spirit engaged, my body enlivened.

Sometimes, you have to leave. Being a nomad isn’t an easy choice, in fact, many don’t choose to go. Many stay put.

Our churches are supposed to bring relief to weary travelers, to challenge unjust systems. Our churches are supposed to bring healing and wholeness to us, where we, in turn, do God’s delightful work in the world.

When we reduce our church experiences to navel gazing alone, to personal salvation alone, to earning, we lose the richness and the hope of our purpose. We lose the richness and beauty of the world. We divorce ourselves from Creation.

I can no longer keep a faith that holds partisan views. My faith, my belief, my work in the church must go beyond my personal body and soul. My work in church has to be about relief for another. I can no longer worship a god that asks me to work myself to the bone, a perfect martyr, where it’s all about me.

Can my healing, my wholeness, equip me to do the work of compassion? Can my healing help feed the hungry? Can my healing help clothe the poor? Can my healing help to educate children and tackle injustice? Can my new wholeness work to eradicate white supremacy and honor the marginalized? Can my healing heal the wounded? Will all of this feed my deepest desires?

Through Jesus, absolutely YES!

When we change and grow and embark on the journey, not many travel with us. A life lived in desire – fueling mind, body, soul, and purpose – can be a threat to some. The path isn’t a vacation. It can be a slog through some of the harshest conditions. But I promise you, there is a Promised Land, and it won’t always be easy on this side of eternity, but you will discover the greatest joys of your life.