When I moved back into the fast-paced American church after being a part of the slower moving Middle Eastern church, I learned something crucial. I learned how to cover my pain with a smile. I learned how to say “fine” when people asked how I was doing, even if it wasn’t true.
On the inside, I was a mess of anxiety and shame, confusion about my place in the world and with God. I felt like a failure for returning to America earlier than I had planned. I doubted my purpose, my place in the world.
But people had little time to hear that story and I was afraid of what it said about me.
I was plunged headlong into the truth Sarah Bessey mentions in Out of Sorts - “Our culture makes little space for the mess. We are expected to have it all together. Don’t let them see you sweat, keep your dirty laundry and unsanitized stories to yourself, thank you very much. Be successful, look good, feel good.”
In the middle of believing I had to appear I had it all together, I was starting to believe lies about God, too. My view of Him shrank to someone I had to please instead of someone who loved me without limits. I went through the motions of what I saw around me, what I thought I was supposed to be doing.
I had a “quiet time” and participated in Bible study like I had always been taught to do, even though I didn’t feel like I could hear God in my time in Scripture. I dove into serving in the church when I was probably not healthy enough to be serving anyone. I thought if I did these certain things I would be who God wanted me to be.
I used to think I had to perform for God, to measure up to some standard of holiness to be a part of His church. Then, I found myself in the middle of a community that lived fully in the mess of life together.
I had been in small groups the entire time I had been in the church. This one was different. Most of us were young couples with growing families. At one point we had a baby shower every other month because there were so many children adding to our ranks. Our lives were anything but neat and tidy.
But we pressed into life together, moving families into new homes, bringing meals to new moms, having late-night coffee and sharing our hearts with each other after the kids had drifted off to sleep. We prayed. We were honest. We were all messes and we all loved each other and discovered together that we didn’t have to say “fine” when we didn’t feel fine.
We cried together and laughed together. We watched each other overcome anxieties and move into the life that God intended for us. We carried each other to Jesus when we couldn’t make it there on our own.
When I saw church again as a place for real people, sharing their pain, carrying each others burdens, welcoming those who don’t have it all together – my view of God started to realign.
I realized how much the people of God shape people’s views of God. It is a heavy responsibility but is made so much easier when we are just real with people.
The Jesus Sarah Bessey talks about in Out of Sorts is the Jesus I found in that small group.
“God is much bigger, wilder, more generous, and more wonderful than you imagined,” she says and I found this to be true.
I used to think I had to clean up my act to come to God but now I think that only God can make me clean.
And I think we, as the Church, need to be the place where anyone at any place in life can feel like they can come as they are.
The broken and the whole.
The confused along with the certain.
“I hope we change,” says Sarah of the people of God. “I hope we grow. I hope we push against the darkness and let the light in and breathe into the Kingdom come. I hope we become a refuge for the child and the aged, for the ones who have been strong too long. And I hope we all live like we are loved.”
This is what God did. This is what the People of God should do.
May we keep growing into living like we are loved and loving like we are His.
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Respond with your own stories of evolving faith. "I used to think _______ but now I think _______." Leave your response in the comments below!
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