Sunday, March 30, 2014

Thanks for the Pain

Today’s the day. I’ve been waiting and wondering if it would come.

I can finally say to the local church that introduced me to the pain that threatened to destroy my faith and sent me on a journey through depression and disillusionment…thank you.

I could have lived the rest of my life lulled into the comfort of complacency. Putting on the happy face, avoiding any conflict, trying to please everyone with my attendance and compliance. Lord knows it was easier in some ways. But I knew I could never find long term peace with what I was witnessing if I remained silent. When the time came to take a stand, there was hell to pay for bucking the system and speaking out about the deception being perpetuated by those in leadership. I wondered at times if it was worth it…especially when it changed nothing.

Now I know I would do it all again for the lessons I’ve learned and those moments of complete desperation when God somehow made me sure of his presence in my life.

Ironically, life seems more livable in my new place of existence. I’ve been “unchurched” for one year and I’ve come to appreciate some things that “the world” does better than we did in the church I attended. Mainly, they admit their brokenness. It’s not uncommon for my friends these days to share struggles with addiction, parenting, marriage, pride, greed, hatred, sexuality. It’s not uncommon for them to be blatant in their honesty and admit openly “I’m fucked up”. A few years ago I would have taken pause at the “strong” language. Now I just respect the transparency. And it’s refreshing. It’s what got me through the darkness. Because the truth is that we as church members are in the same condition, but we don’t recognize it or won’t admit it. We somehow think we’re better than the worldliness of those outside the physical church walls. So we congregate behind the walls of our building and plan strategies for “reaching the lost world”. We hold monthly business meetings, plan how we’ll spend our money and create committees to meet and discuss everything from the validity of spending budget money on donuts to the revision of the Standard Operating Procedures to the need for more parking spaces. But we never seem to get around to talking openly about our own struggles. You probably won’t hear anyone admit a struggle with homosexuality or hear a sermon acknowledging those struggles even exist in the church. You won’t be able to tell that there are a dozen other people sitting in the congregation that are struggling with an addiction to alcohol just like you. You won’t ever know that your Sunday School teacher has been unfaithful to his wife. You won’t know that you could find support from a woman in the church that deals with anorexia just like you do. We appear on the whole to be happy and put together. We keep the struggles private and the mistakes quiet. But the fa├žade is a lie. We’ve missed the greatest strategy for “reaching the lost”…which is admitting that we have the same struggles. Sadly, over the last year I’ve found the real world to be more inclusive than the church I knew. Out here it’s not quite as daunting to admit imperfections and struggles. It’s freeing. I can breathe in the real world.

I’m not sure what the future holds. I know all churches are not the same. I don’t know when or if I’ll ever return to a brick and mortar church. For now, I’ve learned to live in the moment and pray simply for God to keep me honest about who I am. No more pretending. And I ask Him to help me stay open-minded about my future even if the possibilities scare me.  What do I have to lose really? I’m already broken. The most amazing spiritual experiences of my life have happened to me in this messed up state over the last 2 years.

So, to the church that blessed me with the pain that changed my life, my hope for you is that you someday experience a similar struggle and painful deliverance. Not out of revenge, but out of love. We are still connected as believers. I wish you could see the world from this perspective. Contrary to what I’ve been led to believe over the years, I’m finding that God is alive out here. He has proven his presence to me in my doubting. And I feel stronger, more at peace, more alive than I ever have before. And guess what? I realize now that we don’t have to plan and strategize and execute and vote and report in order to be used by God. It’s liberating. There’s a big world out here full of amazing, passionate and broken people…and we are meant to live in it. God can use us while we are living day by day…doing what we are gifted and passionate about. Just living and being available for the unexpected unplanned moments with no expectations. If we really believe He is in control, why do we work feverishly to control how things play out inside our church? It’s ok to relax a bit.

I’ll be thinking of you.