This post is going to be a doozy and probably will get you up close and personal with me. So just warning you, skip it if you’re not in it for the very long run.
When the New Year arrives, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Everyone is busy making resolutions, goals, and thinking of how they’re going to be the new-and-improved version of themselves. I use to make resolutions, but I usually fail and don’t follow through. So this year, rather than make resolutions, I wanted to choose a word for the year, particularly one that I could reflect on and strive for.
I didn’t think much of which word I wanted, but as I reflected on 2014 and dreamed of 2015, the word that kept creeping into my vocabulary was thrive. I want so badly to thrive in every area of my life in 2015. When the new year started, I believed that I had all the tools I needed to thrive. I didn’t feel as if anything was holding me back from doing so. But on January 4th, I learned how very wrong I was.
Since high school, Chris’ and I’s lives have revolved around kid’s church. We were completely obsessed and it occupied every thought and most of our conversations. I was especially wrapped up into it. Every waking thought was about kids church. It distracted me from work, my dogs, my husband, and even God. I’ve heard many times that if the devil can’t pull you away, he will make you so busy that God will eventually be pushed into the back of the cupboard. That phrase always went through one ear and out the other. I dismissed it completely the second it entered my mind.
In August 2014, I had started a back to school series on Nehemiah/football. I was so stoked that I was going to teach the message. I had put countless hours into the planning, wording, and double checked every Bible phrase and reference making sure that I wasn’t twisting God’s word but was properly represented. I don’t remember if it was the same Sunday I taught or the week after, but we got a text from the children’s pastor saying he wanted us to come to his office and speak with us. We knew immediately that whatever he wanted to see us about was not going to be a good.
And we were right. We didn’t have a “oh, great job on your lesson” or “thanks for all you do” talk. It was a conversation I never dreamed I would have and one that was incredibly painful to sit through. We were told that multiple parents had approached him and were unhappy with us and our social media posts. People didn’t like that we drank (even though we never drank to get drunk). People didn’t like that we had tattoos and piercings (even though we respected our parents and waited until we moved out). Because of all this, he asked us to take a break until November 2014.
I was crushed. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to run away. I felt like my entire world was collapsing. Every moment that I sat in that office, I felt like my body was on fire.
I understand why parents don’t agree. Not everyone agrees with drinking. Not everyone agrees with tattoos and piercing. These are always going to be subjects of debate in the church. And really, what I believe is that the Bible isn’t 100% clear on those topics. It does say that we shouldn’t get drunk, which we don’t do or promote. We just like the taste. And as for tattoos and piercings, there’s only one place in the Old Testament that really refers to it, however, he telling the people to abstain because the people surrounding them were associated with witchcraft and God didn’t want his people being mixed into that category. But that’s not what it’s like today. Today tattoos and piercings are common and every time you turn around, some one has been to the tattoo parlor for one reason or another.
Regardless, people weren’t pleased and they had made it known. When I walked out of that office, I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going back. A break “until November” meant a break forever. If no one wanted me there, I wasn’t going burden or annoy them with my presence. I cried all the way home and cried every night for about a week straight.
The days after, my mind wandered aimlessly from one topic to the next. I felt like my purpose was gone and that I was now worthless. We went to the regular service a few times but each time I grew more and more distant. We’d walk by the kids church each week to say hi to the children’s pastor but each time I felt like it was a forbidden room. I felt like I was disrespecting parents just by standing by the door.
A place that I had been going to and called home since I was 14 now felt foreign and made me feel completely uncomfortable. We eventually stopped going all together. I became very cynical about the church. I told Chris a million times that this was exactly the reason why people don’t come to church. My hurt morphed into hatred and I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to return to a normal service. Now, I by no means, had any intention to turn my back on my faith. I wasn’t angry at Him and was specifically angry at the church. I have been harboring this anger for about 5 and a half months.
There was only one part of the church that Chris & I continued to go to and it was the young adult group which was held in a little house near the church. It was the only place were I felt like I hadn’t been rejected and where I knew that even if people didn’t like my facial piercing or Chris’ tattoos, it was a place we were still loved and accepted.
Every year the young adult group kicks off the year with a new years’ service (last year, as the young adult pastor always reminds us, no one showed). We said we were going but I dreaded it the entire day. I knew that the service was going to be held inside the church and I wasn’t sure how I was going to bring myself to go inside. We pulled up to the church and I became very tense. As I approached the room that the service was being held in, the same room that I felt like I had been shut out of 6 months ago, I became more and more of a nervous wreck.
However, I experienced something I wasn’t expecting. As I walked into the room, I was overwhelmed with smiles and a sense of complete peace. But what completely overtook my body was God’s presence. Worship started and I was completely washed over by God’s love. It was like a warm fog. I could feel all around me and all at once. He melted away my hatred of the church. He restored my love for a place I had grown to loathe. If you could have seen the inside of my soul, you would have seen me sitting in a puddle of my emotions.
When I was worshiping, God brought to mind my word for the year: thrive. He showed me an image of a dog tied to the ground. It whined helplessly and then soon became hostile. It died a slow and painful death. It was starved and parched and then completely beaten down by nature’s harsh elements. This wasn’t a picture of an animal thriving and sadly, it was a picture of me. I realized that I was being tied down by my hatred, anger, and hurt. God revealed to me that if I was going to continue to harbor the feelings that were tying me to the ground, 2015 wouldn’t be my year to thrive. It would be the year of my demise.
After the service we ran into families we hadn’t seen in months. After we spoke with family after family, I realized that while I was shouting out all the things about the church that were wrong, I had failed to see that I was in the wrong too. These families were families we loved and had bonded with, ones that had always extended love and grace our way. By pushing the church completely out of my life, I had pushed them out too. I had done them wrong.
I recently started a new book called Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. It’s basically a collection of essays and I only read one or two each night before I go to bed. That same night, I found a comfortable spot in my bed squeezed and snuggled between my two dogs and my husband and I pulled up my iPad to where I had left off. The essay I read was called “Spark.” This essay was about the author and how she grew up in church, left, and then found her way back home. I felt as if the essay had been written about me.
She spoke of how she wondered if there was room in the Christian world for a person like herself. She drank and had tattoos; essentially, she was a rebel by the church’s terms. She saw all the things about Christianity that offended her and how she couldn’t connect. But there was one part at the very end that brought me to tears. It put into words all of my emotions that I had experienced only hours before.
“I’m immeasurably thankful to have been born into a community of faith. And I’m even more thankful that my community of faith allowed me the space and freedom to travel my own distances around and through the questions I needed to answer. I’m thankful for the patience and grace I was given, for the forgiveness that I was extended and the guidance I needed.”
So I’m sorry. I’m sorry to the people I pushed away because of a struggle that was happening in my heart. I’m sorry to the families I cut off and the ones I ignored. And I am so so incredibly sorry, God. I’m sorry for shunning the church, Your bride. I’m sorry I didn’t bring it to You 6 months ago when it all began to unravel. I’m sorry I acted in my own power and took matters into my own hands.
I’m immeasurably thankful to the God who restores and loves us without skipping a beat. I’m thankful for a God who lets you go your own way but will always continue to call you back to Him.
So for those I’ve offended or those who are walking down the same path, this post is for you.