Dreaming of Church

photo credit: Country church landscape via photopin (license)
photo credit: Country church landscape via photopin (license)

Being raised in the church, buying into the messages of earning favor with God, earning favor with people, proving…it gets confusing sometimes when all that stuff doesn’t work any longer. When sitting there, on Sunday mornings feels akin to being poked by pins, stomach churning, hands wringing, lips clenched. Air absent. A pressing on my chest, preventing breath, preventing assurance, preventing grace.

Sitting in the pew, singing the songs, weighed down, stuck, why? The room ions charged with daggers pelting my eyes, tears lapping at the gates not awaiting proper dismissal. Who can’t be here? Who feels unsafe in this building? Who has been sliced open so deeply for assumed choices, that are not choices? Who has been told they are sin?

I gave up church, I had to, like a reverse Lent. We had to separate for me to discover who I was and my calling, apart. Terrifying with kids, fear constantly pressing. The old messages, the need to control every Sunday, like an old mix tape. Eric, should we go to church today? No.

Should. The toxicity of that word, weaseling and slithering its way through my most vulnerable and sensitive places. I wonder if there is actually evil dwelling in the “shoulds”. Power held, driven by the blind obligation. Every time I “should”, I have to pay close attention to my internal environment. To be motivated by a should is to perpetuate an unhealthy system…to operate out of guilt and fear rather than desire, health, grace.

I know the church is changing. People are seeking, asking questions, quietly and gradually shifting. Conversations happening, the grace-filled kind, the ones that plant seeds, dwelling in kindness and patience and yearning. Healing and hope, the beautiful, abundant, life-giving words of Jesus jumping off the page, shining a light of relief into the darkness, the damage. Differences are celebrated, not tolerated, not ignored, or worse – condemned. What do you love to do? Sure, there’s a place for you here. Yes, we do see your race, your sexuality, your gender. No, it’s not a problem…it’s all welcome, beautiful. We need you here.

I love the Church. I love who she was created to be. I love the work she does. I love that fact that she keeps re-creating herself, independent of our expectations and opinions. I love her work in healing, in reaching, in being bent and shaped. I love the way she loves. I need a church that deeply cares for one another, providing relief and grace. There are plenty that mar the name, punching, leaving a trail of wounded, self-righteous, blind. This is not the church I am discussing.  My church, the church I dream of, must rest in and exist within these beautiful, words of Jesus, words of Love:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:8)

This is Jesus. Who knows our hearts, our pain, our wrestle and struggle. He is nearer to us in our suffering than we imagine, protecting, holding, shielding his children. We are to be this to another, the Church needs to be this…the Church has to be this. Church must be our example of how to love. Without true, holy, abiding love, what’s the point? Why do we go? Because we should?

Is it my job to change a church? I don’t think so…not right now. I’ve tried and I wind up toxic. I lose my peace, my hope. We are all called to different things and I deeply respect friends and family who’ve chosen the inside track.  They have my support and admiration. Me? Well, I shoot too often from the hip. I get angry (not in a good way), I am capable of damage and the last thing I want to do is confuse a tender, seeking soul.

I will choose a place that celebrates all of me, all of another, all of my children, all of my husband, all of my friends. I will choose a place that doesn’t seek to change a person but welcomes us as we are, loving the differences, loving the stories. I want a church that wrestles with knowing what is our work and what is God’s, recognizing the essentiality of this differentiation of responsibility.

I refuse to “should” on myself. Instead I choose to live in grace, believing my being loved is not contingent upon where I am on a Sunday morning. If it happens to be at church? Wonderful. I hope and pray this can be the reality.

6 thoughts on “Dreaming of Church

  1. I like your post and I resonate with your thoughts. I believe “the church” that Jesus spoke of is the collection of believers, globally. The “the local church” or any church organization is not. Christ loved and died for the totality of believers, not the organized church of man. “…just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” Ephesians 5:25
    thanks Jen for sharing your honest thoughts.

  2. Oh I love this Jennifer. You and I have been walking the same path. We have continued going to a church that was toxic to me and we finally made our break on May 17th. I tried to change the culture of that church to embrace more service and acceptance – not “tolerance” (boy, do I hate that word). But it was like a fish swimming upstream and I got too tired and angry and disheartened to continue. Breaking up with the church community has been emotionally taxing but liberating all at the same time. We have found a new, very small, very different (Nazarene!) church which I really think is going to be the right fit. Lots of missional outreach, love, acceptance – no condemnation. Good luck to you Jennifer! I wish miles didn’t separate us and I wish we could sit down with a cup of tea and talk about our journeys. Hugs from afar . . . . Deanna P.S. I am going to start reading Rachel Held Evans new book: Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church. It sounds right up our alley.

  3. Jennifer, I was so moved by your honesty. I am praying that jesus will be so close to you that you will find once again His meaning for fellowship and community. By the way, I use the phrase, “don’t should on yourself!” 🙂 Blessings sister.

  4. Jennifer – I read this twice with deep interest and some introspection. It’s been a while since our families have hung out. The first thing I thought is – “I’d really like to sit down over a coffee with Jen and listen, and share my own journey buried in the words “I gave up church.” For me, I threw everything out and am just now, after years, allowing the spiritual back into my life. Slowly, carefully, and with trepidation I think I’m healing. But for me, that healing comes still without church. At least that is where I am now.

    Anyways, just a quick note to say ‘hi’ and that I resonate so much with what this post represents. And Melia and I would love to catch up sometime.

    Blessings – Andrew

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