Monday, January 12, 2009

soul food: when the going gets tough

Over the past few years, Charlie and I will go to church pretty consistently - and then - either someone will get sick or we will have a schedule conflict and we won't go again for several weeks.

(Or several months.)

For the past month - at least since Christmas - we've been going to church every week. But before that, we hadn't been to a service since October. It was when we had gone in October and a new minister was discussing Proposition 8 and Christian views on homosexuality, that Charlie and I were both so agitated that we stopped attending.

But then, it seemed like a whole lot of things happened.

We made the decision to pull our children out of school. I was informed that I needed to return to work full-time in May. We were faced with another opportunity to move. My father's health began to decline, rapidly. My mother was admitted to the hospital for what was thought to be a heart attack. My family began to fall apart at the seams.

I've discussed my religious views before and I've already "confessed" that I don't believe everything that I've read in the Bible. I don't believe everything that I hear during sermons. And although I may not have mentioned it before, I was really turned off to organized religion when I lived in South Carolina during my teenage years. My algebra tutor was a student at Bob Jones University and before we would begin a lesson, he would bow his head in prayer and recite verses from the Bible.

It always made me a little uncomfortable.

Almost as uncomfortable as people who would flat out ask me if I had been saved.

The first time I was asked this question, I didn't know what the person meant and I responded, "Sure. When I was three-years-old, I fell in to the pool and my brother Wally saw me floating face down and pulled me out."

The look of astonishment that I received was almost as bad as when I was having dinner with my Presbyterian friend's family and when her mother reached for my hand to say a blessing, I hesitated for a moment before taking out my well-chewed bubblegum and sticking it in to her extended palm.

Since I lived in the buckle of the Bible Belt, I was frequently asked about my eternal salvation. Eventually, just to avoid the shocked stares and questions, I would answer "Yes, I've been saved." And then if I was feeling particularly daring, I might add, "Praise the Lord!"

But in my heart I didn't feel it.

Not at all.

Not even close.


Still, that didn't stop me from being a part of the church community. If any of the local churches were having a ski trip to the local mountains, I would sign up. Over the course of my teenage years, I went skiing with the Baptists, Catholics, Methodists and Episcopalians.

Yet, I always felt like an outsider.

A total fake, looking in on all of these faithful people.

I'm not completely sure what has happened in me over the past few years. Maybe it was becoming a mother. Or finding a church that really works well for us. But these days, I don't feel like as much of a fake as I once did.

Now, I'm in no way a fundamental religious person. Yet, these days, whenever I go to church and I listen to the message, I am almost instantly transformed in to a better person. Whenever Charlie and I go to church - we are a stronger unit.

We are better parents.

We are more kind, gentle and compassionate people.

(At least for the next 24 hours.)

We are both in agreement that attending church provides us an outline for living a better life. And once a week, we have a full hour together while our children are supervised, to hold hands and listen to good music and an encouraging message. Equally important, we like surrounding ourselves with people who are genuinely kind and are trying to live the best lives that they can.

We don't tithe and we're not members of the church because we're not "there" yet. But we like what church does for us and for our family. So we keep going.

Yesterday, when we went to church, Charlie dropped off the triplets in their classroom and I went to drop off Henry in the nursery. As expected, he threw an absolute fit. When I took a moment to look around, I noticed that there were 10 one-year-olds in the room and only one volunteer baby sitter.

Apparently, three people who were supposed to be there, never showed up. One rogue volunteer babysitter was running between the infant room and the toddler room and she tried to assure me that everything would be fine. They had it covered. But for several moments, I stood debating what to do. Henry was making more noise than the other 10 children, combined.

Do I scrape him off me, jump over his little body and run for the door?

Do I take him in to the cry room so I could still hear the service?

Or do I cut my losses and go home?

And then it was as if the very voice of the Great Almighty whispered in my ear to stay and help.

Even though I'd had an extremely difficult week and really needed to have my spiritual cup refilled, I knew that it was more important for me to be there, sitting on the floor with a room full of toddlers. So I put on a smock and a name tag. And when Charlie came looking for me, I had children other than our own in each of my arms. While Charlie went to hear the sermon, I read stories and blew bubbles. I held babies that were crying and I sniffed out dirty diapers.

And I really enjoyed myself.

Some people can turn to other sources for fulfillment. Maybe they can take a walk in the great outdoors and be inspired by the beauty of nature. Maybe they can write poetry or listen to music or exercise. Or trade stocks.

But I need a little bit more. I'm sure some would argue that I shouldn't be attending a specific church unless I am accepting all of the message. But I think that exact position is what has turned me off to church for so many years, prior.

How could I possibly go if I didn't believe it all?

Nowadays, I just believe that it is important to find a church that you like. And then, go. Listen to the message. Take what you need. Don't be discouraged if you have reservations. With time, you might discover that you are transformed in to an even better version of yourself. I mean, after my first full week of homeschooling and family turmoil, I never would have thought I would have given up a whole hour of quiet time with my husband, to sit with a room full of babies.

I'm sure that counts for something.

26 comments:

  1. "Nowadays, I just believe that it is important to find a church that you like. And then, go. Listen to the message. Take what you need. Don't be discouraged if you have reservations. With time, you might discover that you are transformed in to an even better version of yourself."

    I couldn't agree more. I didn't grow up going to church so I've been able to form my own opinions instead of only believing what I was told to believe. I love to go to church...but have not been saved. I will one day, but I'm not 100% there yet. Not that I don't want to, but when I do it, I want to do it the right way....not just to say I've been saved. It's often difficult for me to explain the way I feel about all of this so it was nice to read your post this morning.

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  2. Timely post! After 20 years of marriage I finally succeeded in dragging my never-miss-a-week of church husband (we're Catholic) down with me, to the point where I think we skipped five straight months. It finally dawned on me that it was OUR PRIEST that I didn't care for, not God, and now we're back to going every week. I tune our priest out when necessary and think about all the things I'm grateful for.

    Bobbie

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  3. You're really amazing, Jen. That was a very loving sacrifice!

    I have the same philosophy - I don't feel I have to agree with everything our pastor says. And sometimes I wrestle to make sense of what I read in the Bible. But I have that same peaceful and renewed feeling after worship on Sunday morning. I love being part of a community of families and individuals growing together and reaching to understand something beyond ourselves.

    BTW, those are my new favorite pictures. :) Definitely frame-worthy. Thanks for the wonderful posts and stories.

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  4. I love when people post about their journey in faith. It really exemplifies this quote that I read on a blog somewhere: "God loves you right where you are, but He loves you too much to leave you there."

    Good for you for continuing to search, question, and be filled by Him. There are a lot of us out there who believe, but still struggle with complete acceptance of all the things that we read and hear from the church.

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  5. You're right. God meets us where we are. Luckily for us, he doesn't expect perfection.

    I'd be interested to hear what the pastor said about Prop 8 and Christian views on homosexuals. I have a problem with the way they're singled out as sinners and whatnot. Aren't we all sinners???

    Anyways, I hope things smooth out with your siblings. I am going this morning to support a good friend who just lost her last sister. We don't get to choose our family, but then does anyone ever know you more deeply than the people who you grew up with?

    I always enjoy your posts. Good luck with the homeschooling. I'll be rooting for your success w/every new post!

    Michelle M in TX
    (Babysteps support board)

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  6. Lovely - just lovely.

    ~Mad(elyn) in Alabama

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  7. I am a regular member, tither, worshipper at an Epsicopal church. I often work in the nursery when they are short staffed. And I KNOW I a doing God's work in there. Not only am I providing a safe, loving environment for the babies, but I am giving the parents a chance to hear God's word too and have a break for a bit.

    You have to do what works for you, but remember, God wants you to visit His house as much as you can. Good for you!

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  8. Amen Jen it sure as hell counts for something.

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  9. Jen, I struggle with the same thing you struggle with...believing the whole ball of wax. I don't NOT believe in God or Jesus as my Savior. I believe that with all my heart. What I struggle with is black and white doctrine. Even at my church that I love, I've butted heads with some of what's taught. (And not always the message so much, but the attitude with which it's presented. Does that make sense?)

    But like you, I try to overcome it and continue going because in my heart, I know that as a parent I will make millions of mistakes. Why should I hold the teachers at my church in a different expectation?

    I firmly believe that at some point TRUTH will be revealed. Maybe not on this side of Heaven, but someday we will ALL know what is Truth and what is not. I imagine someday we'll all be surprised with who we see in Heaven. And who we DON'T see. Until then, I'm okay being in the dark with controversial issues.

    On another note, I too have been an unwilling volunteer in our church nursery. I don't say yes everytime, but the times where I see help is really needed, God always provides me a blessing through a grateful parent, an extra sweet child, or just witnessing my baby playing with his peers.

    Thanks for this post. As always, I appreciate your honesty and transparency. You make me less scared to do the same myself.

    MM

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  10. My pastor once said there is no such thing as a perfect church. And he said that if there was, we shouldn't go there because by (imperfect) us attending we would ruin it.

    Although I disagree with your statement to find a church you 'like' - it isn't about liking - the point is essentially the same. No church is going to be absolutely perfect.

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  11. reading your honest post makes me want to go to church a whole lot more than someone asking me if i'm saved and ranting about prop 8. thanks for your honesty and wit.
    i hope your dad is doing alright. i'll pray for him today. katie

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  12. Sara: I totally agree that no church is going to be perfect. What I meant about finding a church that you like > is finding a church where you FIT.

    I've been to a lot of churches and some I "like" a lot better than others. But if you enjoy your church, you are more likely to go.

    Even though the "point" may be the same - I have found that not all churches are as good at delivering the "message." The church that we've been attending for the past few years is by and large one of the best churches I have ever been to (great worship choir, great facilities, great child care, comfortable seats!), and THAT is the draw for us to keep going back.

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  13. Interesting post. I am a product of 12 years of Catholic schools, and now my children attend Catholic Schools. My family belongs to a Catholic church that we very much like.

    That being said, there is a lot about the Catholic Church that I disagree with. Frequently I find it difficult to reconcile "official" church position with the wonderful individual people I know at our local church. Sometimes I wonder if I should even be there, but every time I think seriously about going somewhere else, something happens to keep me where I'm at. I figure God is telling me to stay here, but so far I haven't heard Him telling me I have to accept everything the Catholic Church does.

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  14. karen peters1/12/09, 11:05 AM

    I have to say, although I appreciate you going to a church at all, I think you're a classic case of a "feel good Christian." You don't really believe much of what the faith teaches, and you're fine with that because you've rebranded Christianity to suit your purposes. And it is no longer Christianity as a result.

    Are we really doing people a favor when we give the impression they can "drop in" on Christianity when it suits them, and thus consider themselves part of the faith, yet spend much of their lives rejecting God's authority (not just sinning, but denying that they're sinning) and believing/doing what they choose? Or are we acting as their enablers, and watering down the Word of God we're supposed to proclaim in its entirety?

    "Much as we should and do want to speak the truth in love, we have to remember that the operative words are "speak the truth." There's no such thing as hiding the truth in love — not the truth about God's Word. The results, we know, will include a lot of strife, for Christ tells us so: and the divisions will come among those close to us, within our own families. But it's not our job to control the results any more than it is to make people feel good. If you're a Christian, it's our job to be faithful."
    (Matt Kaufman, 2005)

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  15. Karen: I've never claimed to be a Christian. Sure, I go to a Christian church and I participate in Bible Studies. But as of yet, I haven't accepted Christ as my Savior. Because honestly, I'm not sure.

    Perhaps I lack faith, but maybe with time it will come to me. I'm certainly not going to be shamed in to BELIEVING something (or fully accepting something) until it feels completely right.

    I'm on a soul-searching journey and thus far, I've been drawn closer to what I conceive to be God, more than I ever have been in my life. I don't see how that's a bad thing.

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  16. For me, one of the most important and difficult parts of faith is the thinking about and choosing. I sometimes think my life would be so much easier if I just had blind faith. Instead I doubt and wonder.

    NPR's Speaking of Faith had a wonderful segment on doubt yesterday. I recommend looking it up if you are interested in that sort of thing.

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  17. Hey Jen,
    I can't help but recommend a book for you. It's called The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. He's a former atheist and he answers some of the really tough questions that all christians have to ask at some point. These are the chapters in the book:
    1) If there's a loving God, why does this pain-wracked world groan under so much suffering and evil?
    2) If the miracles of God contradict science, then how can any rational person believe that they're true?
    3) If God is morally pure, how can he sanction the slaughter of innocent children as the Old Testament says he did?
    4) If God cares about the people he created, how could he consign so many of them to an eternity of torture in hell just because they didn't believe the right things about him?
    5) If Jesus is the only way to heaven, then what about the millions of people who have never heard of him?
    6) If God really created the universe, why does the evidence of science compel so many to conclude that the unguided process of evolution accounts for life?
    7) If God is the ultimate overseer of the church, why has it been rife with hypocrisy and brutality throughout the ages?
    8) If I'm still plagued by doubts, then is it still possible to be a Christian?
    I think as a spiritual person it's incredibly important to ask these questions. It's impossible to grow in your faith if you don't. So good for you. Once again you bravely put your thoughts out there. I believe if you want to find God, he will make himself known to you and reveal His truth to you.
    Stacey in FL

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  18. Jen-
    Completely off your topic, but what kind of camera do you use? The pictures are great and I want to upgrade from my Canon elph to something a little more sophisticated. I seem to remember you doing a lot of research a while back... Thanks for your help.

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  19. Hi Jen,

    Thank you for writing this. I have been trying (not very hard, admittedly, unless hoping that ESP works counts) to convince my boyfriend to join me at Sunday mass.

    I can't wait for him to read your post. His first opposition to my request to join me on Sunday's is always that he doesn't "believe".

    Your post so eloquently explains why that doesn't matter.

    I will let you know if we're successful, and he starts to accompany me to mass, even if it is just sporadically it will be a small triumph.

    Thank you!

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  20. This is the post I have been essentially trying to write for months. Someday I'll get it out. But for now, I'll just re-read yours because it sums up so much of what I've been feeling about faith since the birth of my children. Thanks!

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  21. Jen,

    Good for you. Keep going. Keep searching. Keep asking questions.

    I'm a 27 year old mom of trips who took my leap of faith at the age of 22.

    I am now a faithful follower of Jesus and do believe in the Bible.

    It took A LOT to get me to the point where I could surrender to Him. It changed my life forever.

    "I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."
    Rev. 3:20

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  22. I am excited about this journey you are on. Don't second guess too much. Just follow as He leads. I am glad you have found a place that fits!

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  23. I tried to go to a local Episcopal church because I thought it would be good to be part of the community and, after all, whether you believe Jesus is our Savior or not he had some pretty worthwhile lessons to teach. So, where's the downside? However, after a while I couldn't say the prayers and take communion without feeling like a hypocrite. So now, until a Unitarian church opens up near me, I'm going to Pilates at the Y instead. I just don't believe and I'm not going to pretend I do. I do miss the fellowship however.

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  24. What is church? How many churches and opinions are there? For me, I like to go where I am welcomed and feel free to find out what it is that I believe.
    Jesus said "Whevever two people are gathered in My name, I am there." I think that is church.
    When I think of all the innocent people that are killed or mamed in the name of Religion, it makes me wonder.
    Take your time in your journey and all will be reveiled to you.
    Noni

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  25. What a brave post! I'm glad you are on a path, asking questions.
    I want to respond to Karen's comment just to say that being a Christian is not the same thing as going to church. Our attendance tends to be hit or miss lately (newish baby) but my faith is not. There is also nothing in Scripture that says you have to believe all or nothing.
    We were greatly relieved to find a church that does not get involved in politics (like prop 8).

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  26. That was great that you stayed in the nursery and helped! It was definitely were you were meant to be at the time.

    Thanks for reminding me that I need to go more regularly to church. I do feel better when I go.

    As for being asked if I was saved (which is really big where my in laws live and I lived in the South for 8 years), I always just answered that I was Episcopalian. That usually is explanation enough. If pressed, I say I did confirmation when I was a teen. If they are interest in what that means, I do explain.

    Have I ever been "saved"? This is not a question or really an issue when you are raised as Episcopalian, so I never feel the need to answer a yes or no. My faith doesn't work that way. :-)

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