I have spent much of the past year processing the messy exchange of an old reality for a new one. This is an inevitable part of a 2000 mile move, a bittersweet gift of sorts, I suppose.
On top of the move, it’s our first full year of post-PhD recovery after an intense four years of my husband both working and going to school full time. I could expand on the laundry list of the struggles of our past several years , but will let it be enough to say that we entered this year of newness tired, burnt out, and limping (though you’ll find a few in my backposts here).
Subconsciously, I hoped to spend about a year adjusting, processing, and then to move on and be done with it.
At the beginning of year two, however, I’m realizing that the biggest thing that happened in year one was taking a nice deep breath. It was cleansing, relaxing, even rejuvenating. My soul feels soothed, filled from all the oxygen, but a deep breath only calms, it doesn’t heal. The wounds are still very present (much of the reason I grew quiet here for a time), just not gaping anymore.
As a result, I feel able to get up and stretch, walk around a little and begin to explore the deep – asking harder questions of myself, attending to neglected parts of my soul, allowing myself to choose freedom over responsibility*.
One area that this comes out in most strongly is church. We’ve visited close to 15 churches this year, and are having a hard time committing to any of them. I find that my intellect wants desperately to dive right in and commit to a place – we have no family here, and are lonely for community – but this desire is proving much easier said than done for a family of four opinionated, strong-minded people.
We’re not much fans of the speed-dating approach to church, but even the slow-dating approach isn’t leading to marriage either, if you know what I mean. In the process, I’m realizing that my intellect is slow to acknowledge how what I’ve seen as a lifelong Christian impacts my response to attending church buildings.
I’m an evangelical poster child, loved well by committed parents who gave me a solid foundation in faith, and spent most of my youth in Sunday school or youth group. My husband’s story is about the same. We grew up in prominent Christian families in our respective communities who lived lives of service and commitment to the church. I spent several years as an agnostic in college sorting my own doubts and questions out, but slowly returned to Jesus as the years passed. We have taught in the Christian college world for years and walked alongside a fair number of spiritually damaged souls in the process of working out a healthy faith.
In short, I’ve been around the Sunday school block about 50 gazillion times, and its looking all the same these days. I don’t see the body of restoration, reconciliation, honesty, joy, community that I long for in a church – just the same old loud clanging symbol. I’m not faithless enough to think it’s not there, but I am starting to wonder if perhaps my eyes can’t see it from underneath the pile of junk that’s accumulated from years of life in and around church buildings.
It pains me that my heart can’t commit to a church building right now. Jesus, I’m good with, actually even longing for (a gift in and of itself for a former agnostic), but as a lifelong Christian, I’m just too tired, too wounded to do church in a committed way right now. I’ve seen too much, harbor more than my fair share of bitterness and skepticism and need some time to step back and sort it all out.
A wise man suggested that perhaps we might benefit from attending the Building less for a time, and instead spend an equal amount of time attending to our own souls, and to God’s presence around us that the buildings cannot contain. My whole body nearly melted to the floor in relief, and in the next instant my religious self asked, “Is that even ok?? Will people think we’ve walked away from faith?”
And yet, I knew the instant it left his lips that it may be what we need for these days of deeper healing…to learn lessons of God from creation itself, to walk alongside each other, learn new rhythms of faith, hope, love and listen intently for God’s goodness shouted from these oceans, mountains, freeways planted right in our backyard.
I hold Psalm 73 close to my heart as it tells this story of my soul so very well:
Then I realized how bitter I had become,
How pained I had been by all I had seen.
Really!?! David got burnt out?!?!
I was so foolish and arrogant,
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
But he still knew how he might look like to God in light of his human frailty.
Yet I still belong to you,
You are holding my right hand.
You will keep on guiding me with your counsel,
Leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And he also knew how God saw him, as a precious, beloved child who belongs to one whose promises are trustworthy, even when things fall apart and break.
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
But God remains the strength of my heart;
He is mine forever.
Amen, come, Lord Jesus, come.
*here we see the limits of digital communication… if we knew each other face-to-face, you might inherently know that i nearly always choose responsibility over freedom, something that is usually – but not always – good.