I recently finished reading Sarah Bessey’s latest book, “Out of Sorts,” and really, really loved it. In a blog post that accompanied the book’s release, Sarah invited others to share their stories of “I used to think ____ but now I think _____.” There are a LOT of “I used to think”s in my life right now, but the following is the big one, thus it’s the one I decided to share.
I’ve been wrestling with my beliefs and what I’ve been taught and brought up to believe over the last few years. I think prior to reading this book, I felt a little lonely and a tad frustrated with where I was. I found myself trying to have conversations with fellow Christians about where I was and the new things I was thinking about, only to have them look at me a little shocked, wondering at what had just come out of my mouth.
I don’t claim to have a corner on truth, nor do I believe I have the gift of discernment as a former friend once told me that God had bestowed upon her. I’m just a girl with a brain full of thoughts that tends to work overtime in the small hours of the morning and this where I am right now.
I used to think that answers were important. That I had to always be ready with an answer. That there were always, in fact, answers. That everything was crystal clear and rights and wrongs were distinctly defined.
I used to think it was important that there was a line drawn in the sand and the people who were right were on this side and everyone else (and there were a lot of everyone elses) was on the other side….just being wrong.
I used to think my biggest responsibility as a Christian was to focus on sin. In the book, Sarah refers to this as “sin management,” a concept that kind of knocked me over when I read it and really stuck with me as I thought my way through this idea. This is not focusing on sin in an apparent, obvious way, but more suggesting that it should always be on my mind. My sin, his sin, her sin, their sin, everyone’s sin. How do we get people to stop sinning? How do I stop sinning? I need to tell those people over there that they’re sinning.
Not that I ever did this because the idea just seemed so hypocritical to me. But one of the larger Christian responsibilities these days, from my point of view, seems to be letting others know that they’re sinning. That they need to flip their lives around for Jesus, otherwise they’re unacceptable.
Well…He does still love them, but…. but.
I don’t think most (or maybe even any) Christians would say they want it to be this way. I think we’d all prefer that the Christian message be about love and forgiveness and grace and peace and all those words you see repeated ad nauseum in epic paintings featured in Christian book stores nation-wide. But when I get down to it, that’s what it feels like modern Christianity is about anymore. That until you get your stuff together, until you figure out how to get into the habit of not sinning, Jesus is disappointed in you. Jesus is looking at you from the cross and crying because you (with his pointer finger aimed at you Uncle Sam-style) put Him there.
In the previous churches I attended (ranging anywhere from independent fundamentalist Baptist to non-denominational evangelical), the message was that we had it all figured out and no one else did. That those poor folks in other denominations and religions were doomed, because, based on their apparent lack of theology, they obviously didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They weren’t born again. They weren’t brothers and sisters in Christ. Regardless of the fruit they produced, people like Mother Teresa were going straight to hell after shuffling off their mortal coil because they also prayed to Mary and didn’t attend a church with a powerful preacher.
It just made no sense to me and didn’t seem particularly loving, and that in and of itself didn’t make sense to me as God professes to be a loving God.
I used to think that church was supposed to look a certain way. That Sunday services had to follow a certain path. There was singing, sometimes with drums and guitars (which meant that the church was more “connected” and relevant), then announcements, then a sermon (often on how to stop sinning), then another song (usually fitting the theme of the sermon and very quiet and contemplative), sometimes an invitation to come to the altar, and then a final prayer. No incense. No books of gold held in the air or people in robes. No candles (except at special times of the year). No wine. No flags. No dancing in the aisles.
I’ll be clear here and say that I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with this. E has a (not-so-good) history with the Catholic church and finds any form of liturgy very off-putting. So for him, the supposed non-liturgy of the evangelical church is far more appealing and reaches him on a deeper level than the place where I find myself on Sunday mornings now, which is an Episcopal church.
I’ve come to learn, though, that God can be found in any type of building. God can be found in any style of worship music. God can be found in everything if we are open to Him. If we are looking for Him there.
I never used to believe this. I thought the liturgy of the older denominations was empty and void of any feeling. That the statues and those things people kneel on behind each pew and actual, for-real wine during communion were just ruses for making people feel like they were holier and closer to God than they really were. That pre-written prayers and millenia-old cyclical liturgical feasts were the sign of a dead and cold religion.
And now? Now I find myself craving these things. Craving the liturgy and the kneeling things and the wine and the celebration of the lives of the saints and the pre-written prayers. I find God in it. I find beauty in it.
And I find beauty, absolute, sheer, wonderful beauty and freedom in the fact that I know this way isn’t necessarily any better or any worse than E’s way of worshipping on Sunday morning.
God meets us in both places. And we meet Him.
Now I think that the focus shouldn’t so much be on the sinning that is going on (though I don’t deny that there is), but the loving that should be going on. Instead of focusing on ME and how I can stop sinning and make myself more like Jesus, or others and how they need to stop sinning, I just….be more like Jesus. Love people. Love others. Love them as they are. Love Love Love. I’m no good at it now, as many people who know me can attest to, but I sincerely believe that focusing more on love rather than sin is what we’re called to do. That the Kingdom of God isn’t some far-off, ethereal, distant place that we can only wait impatiently to get to one day, but rather, the Kingdom of God is right here and right now if we only allow it to be. It is love.
Now I think that there really aren’t a whole lot of answers and not many things that are perfectly, exactly crystal clear. Now I think that some rights and wrongs aren’t as narrowly defined as I thought they were. Now I think that we really are just walking around in a fog or looking at a reflection in a mirror.
Some call it the wilderness. Some call it the not knowing. I’ve just learned to embrace it. To enjoy not knowing and not having answers and that really being okay. Being exactly how it’s supposed to be, in fact. Feeling comfortable in the pondering and thinking and straight up asking Jesus when I read something He said, “well….what did You mean by that?”
I’ve grown to kind of love this place. To not having to have answers and not knowing and having faith like a child. To just trusting. Trusting that God is truly as good as He says He is. And slowly finding out that that is true.