Nov 17, 2010
I'm embarrassed to say it, but here goes. Since we've moved back to Orange County nearly three years ago, we've been to 8 different churches. Yes, 8. I will begin by emphasizing that there was absolutley nothing wrong with any of them. In each church, I have found kind, loving people, friendly faces, good teaching, great worship, nice kids' programs and even some pretty tasy donuts and coffee. But somehow, it wasn't enough. For me. Somehow, I left feeling worse, sadder, lonelier and more confused. I wish I was one of "them". I watch them high fiving, discussing the family barbecue last weekend, the upcoming Christmas program, the Lakers game. And I desperately want "in." And it's not that I couldn't be, if I tried. I consider myself a pretty friendly person and generally have no problem fitting in. So why, three years later, do I still feel like an outsider, that no matter where I go, I'll be stuck in the back pew, taking it in and leaving feeling like I can't breathe? I have an inkling of how I got here. Three years ago, things weren't so complicated. We loved our church, went every week, attended small group; I even played on the worship team. I loved every mintue of it. I found warmth, genuine- ness and depth. I found something real. But something happened after we moved back. My life sort of fell apart. I got sick. My husband lost his job. I watched as close friends' marriages dissolved and cried for them. I sat in the back of a Catholic church and wept for a 5 year old boy who lost his life due to cancer. I watched helplessly as someone dear to my heart fought mental illness. I heard one story after another from friends who grew up in church and for the first time don't know if they will go back. I got angry. I lost everything I knew to be true. But it didn't end there.Something else began to happen. My anger turned to searching, my searching to compassion. The homeless guy in front of the bagel shop might have a name now. The snippy room mom at school might have a husband who beats her when she gets home. The boy who acts out in class might do so because he hasn't seen his dad in a year. And suddenly, it's not enough. Its not enough to just sit back and watch, to throw a can of soup in a paper bag and call it feeding the hungry. Not enough to say "How you doing?" on Sunday morning when we don't really want to know the answer. And frankly, don't have time to do anything about it if we knew. Is this it? Is this where it ends? A feel good message, a couple songs we know by heart and can hum along to, and then we're out the door and off to lunch at the burger joint down the street. Surely, this can't be it. God, for me, hasn't changed. In fact, I'm more keen on him than ever. His love becomes real to me in new, simple ways. I don't always hear him, but I feel him. I might be starting to really know him. And I might be willing to believe he loves me just as I am. I drop out of Bible study for the third time and head to the library, where I pick up a handful of Christian books and dive in. Interestingly enough, it turns out I'm not alone. Preachers use words like "Jesus of Suburbia" to describe the safe Jesus we've created in our lives. I couldn't agree more. George Mueller reminds me that praying radically is not only okay, but encouraged. Corrie Ten Boom flies halfway across the world without knowing where she's going, but God meets her there. Brennan Manning reiterates that the gospel is simple; we are the ones who have made it complicated. Francis Chan says that crazy faith is the way to go, and I think he's on to something. Then I pick up a little book called "Quitting Church". A journalist spent the past few years interviewing people all over the nation and came to a conclusion: for some, church as it once was isn't enough anymore. But people are still searching, she says. In fact, it's the "good, faithful ones" who are leaving. Wanting more. But what? This leads me to the next phase of my journey, the one that scares me the most. Because it doesn't have a name. I dont know where I'm going next or what it entails, but I do know it will be good when I get there. Sitting with the homeless under a bridge in Texas breaking bread? Maybe. Hanging out with troubled teens who last night wondered if it might be easier not to live? I'm up for that. Having a cup of coffee with a friend whose husband has just walked out the door? That sounds pretty good too. But all this takes time; a broken heart doesnt always mend the same way. For me, it goes something like this: Growing up in the church, it was simple. Love God, love others. Then it became complicated. Now I want simple again. And I have a hunch I'm not the only one. So if you see me at your church on Sunday, please say hello. Invite me to lunch if you want; I have no grievances against the burger joint down the street. But if I'm not there, please don't wory about me or add me to your prayer chain with concern. I'm not a wayward soul. As my kind friend Karen points out, not all who wander are lost. I will find my way. And when I do, I'll slip off my shoes, park my gypsy wagon and stay a while.