Monday, September 12, 2016

Finding Church in the Wilderness

Not long ago I was with a friend who is entering a new season in her life; one she knows will not be easy.  While discussing her own fears and hurt with me, she asked, "Are you scared to go back to church? Any church?" I paused, as I wanted to give her a thoughtful answer, not the "Not scared, just don't want to go!" that popped into my head.  Because while there is truth in that, it is obviously a much more complex issue.

The truth is, neither my husband or myself are scared to go back to church.  While we certainly do not get warm and tingly when reflecting upon our somewhat recent church departure, and even though we know that a peaceful experience would not come from walking back through those doors, we do not fear a return to the "church world".  In fact, if we were driven by fear,  I imagine we would dangle our toes back into the cold institution that once froze us into silence.  Because even though it was cold, cold can be familiar.   And familiarity is rarely feared.

No, fear is not what keeps us on the outside.  Admittedly, when we left, we had this idea that eventually God would put us somewhere else.  We figured we would take a month or two to heal (a month or two - ha!) and then God would lead us somewhere else.  Because, you know, it's OK to take a "break" every now and then, but we certainly did not want to take ourselves out of the church.  We weren't heathens!  But instead, God revealed another plan, one that involved a radical deconstruction within us.  A deconstruction of nearly everything we thought we knew to be truth.

The day that we walked through those doors for the last time is one seared in my memory. I remember what I was wearing; what the holiday decorations looked like in the sanctuary.  It was the day of the children's Christmas program and I remember absolutely nothing of their singing, only the way I watched my own with tears in my eyes, knowing that their lives were about to drastically change.  I hurt for myself and my husband, but I pained for my little ones who had no understanding of why their friends were going to no longer be a part of their lives.

I remember the faces of those who took the time to check on me in my emotional state. I remember the way a dear friend held me as I wept and her confession that until that moment, she did not believe we would actually leave. I remember hoping that those who wanted us gone, those who made our lives so miserable for months, would see the pain in my eyes and get some sort of peace from it, no matter how temporary.

I remember looking around and wondering if those people would ever know the truth - if truth even mattered.

I walked around in a fog that day (as I did for many days after), yet there are details that I can still see so clearly.  The way my husband concealed his own pain so that he could help me in mine, the way friends who knew our story checked in on us. The way I laid in bed that night and listened as the Lord whispered, "The sun will come up again tomorrow, and I will still be here."

If I am telling the truth, I don't know that I believed it.

That was one of many uncertain days, as there were so many details still up in the air that God did not work out for many more months.  We struggled to figure out where we belonged.  We visited other churches in our area, some not in our area.  We tried to go in with open minds and hearts, but we never left anywhere feeling as though we had found a "church home".  In fact, we often left and asked ourselves, "Could what happened there, happen here?" And the answer was almost always the same, because the system was almost always the same.

So the struggle continued.  We tried to "do church" at home with the kids.  We tried to go out and find those who needed help.  We looked for local ministries that may be in need of warm bodies to aid in their efforts.

We tried so many things and so many ways.

But our attempts to find God so that we could grow closer to Him in a time when we so desperately needed to feel wanted and important, did nothing but leave us feeling more defeated. It was clear that God was not leading us anywhere, and eventually we began to accept that the wilderness was our new home.

And the wilderness ain't no cakewalk.

It's lonely and quiet and void of any (humanly manufactured) spiritual stimulation.  

The wilderness is dry and even though I saw no people, it felt as if someone was always kicking sand in my face. I simply could not see clearly.

Eventually though, when the thirst became so severe I thought I might actually lose consciousness - in fact I may have even hoped for it - God reminded me that He was still there as he spoon fed me drops of water in the form of a friends phone call or a random meeting with a friendly face in the middle of the grocery store.  

These drops of water may have been few and far between, but they were enough to sustain me

As the water continued to decrease my thirst, I saw the church take shape around me. Relationships grew stronger, God's voice louder and more clear.  My role became more defined.

I found myself slipping into the position He had for me all along.  It was not one of nursery worker or Sunday school teacher.  I was not to lead any life-changing bible study.  There was no one THING that I was supposed to DO for God. 

Instead, He asked me to just be. To just live the beautiful life He has given me, finding Him in every single second of it.

He asked me to love those He put in my path.

He showed me how to find Him by looking into the eyes of humanity.

He showed me the church He is building with every single drop of water

With every meaningful conversation with a friend, with every hug to a grieving sister, with meals shared, with warm smiles from strangers, with spiritual questions from my children, with random messages from people asking me to share our story (likely so they would feel more comfortable sharing their own), Jesus revealed Himself.  His body.  His church.

No, I am not afraid to return to the church building because I fear emotional pain, as it is an inevitable part of life. But perhaps there is an element of fear; fear of missing what God is doing on the outside.  Because when we are so absorbed in our programs and our doing, we often neglect the living.

And there is beauty in learning to live in His church instead of trying to perfect it.


  1. Beautifully written! I find so much in your story that echoes my own, especially the slow revealing of Jesus's church, one drop of water at a time.

  2. Very good article. Especially liked the following: "Instead, He asked me to just be. To just live the beautiful life He has given me, finding Him in every single second of it. He asked me to love those He put in my path. He showed me how to find Him by looking into the eyes of humanity". This is the Church to me, daily living with the guidance of the Spirit and love to all we meet.

  3. WOW!!!!!!!! You TOTALLY described where I have been the last year and a half!! and FINALLY like you....I HAVE PEACE IN BEING the BODY! Being THE CHURCH! Blessings to YOU! <3

  4. Excellent article and I'm right there with you and have been for years now! Glad to know I'm not alone!!

  5. Our stories are so important, we are not alone. It is God who takes us on a journey and it is our choice whether we follow. He breaks down the delusions of grandeur and makes us into profusions of divinity.