My Idea of Church

I went to church last weekend. I gathered in a circle with twenty-some people and we shared our stories. We laughed together, encouraging one another, but we also made sure to point out where each person could grow better, stronger, bolder.

It was a time to hear and be heard. To grow and help grow. A time when everyone was excited and accepting and eager for more. A time to let down our walls, exposing pieces of our souls to strangers. A time to fall in love with those strangers because of it.

“This is the way church is supposed to be,” I thought.

But, of course, I can’t remember the last time church has looked like this for me. Because this experience I had last weekend didn’t take place in a sanctuary; it took place in a Student Center at Ball State University. We weren’t talking about Jesus; we were talking about writing.

And before you ask, yes, that is a spiritual experience for me.

I carried it with me—this definition of church—through the remainder of the weekend. You might think it would be hard to even consider a word so sacred and spiritual while playing Cards Against Humanity, but that’s where it hit me the hardest. As the owner of this filthy game struggled to remain somewhat respectful for the sake of her good little Catholic companion, it was hard to imagine anything but the Holy Spirit at work.

Because that’s what blew my mind. That we were so very different at our cores and yet… Our experiences didn’t matter. Our worldview didn’t matter. Our politics and religion and culture didn’t matter. We were all storytellers, and that bound us together in a way that would be impossible in any natural realm.

I wish I knew of an actual church that worked like that. Maybe then I’d make an effort on Sunday mornings. Maybe then I wouldn’t find myself wishing for excuses on Wednesday nights. Maybe then church would actually make a difference in my life, rather than be that mandatory thing on my schedule.

I’m sorry to say that is what church has become in my life—an obligation.

In the movie Evil Roy Slade, the protagonist is a villain who falls in love with a pretty girl and decides to abandon his lifetime of crime. Only he has a hard time leaving the past in the past. One day, Roy has a relapse and confesses to his beloved Betsy, “My idea of a 9 to 5 job is 9 men robbing 5 men.”

I think my idea of church is comparable. Not because I believe in robbing people, but because my idea in itself is so drastically different than the cultural norm and, frankly, a lot more exciting than a church built on tradition.

Because if church looked anything like that circle of writers clutching pages of their stories within their trembling hands, I would feel differently about it. I would crave it like I crave waking up to Jacqueline Faber’s manuscript in my inbox. (Let’s make that a reality, Jacqueline.)

I do crave it. Not church as it is, but church as it should be. Church like my writing community. Because, I swear, if someone would talk to me about Jesus the way my coworker talked to me about Anita Blake the other night, I would be on a spiritual high for a month, hallelujah.

I just want a church that pushes past the fluff and the tradition and the agenda, and gets straight to the heart of it. I want a church where people ask their questions and share their stories and dare to risk rejection only to find acceptance instead.

I want a church that isn’t divided over experience and worldview, politics and culture. I want a church where we can overlook and even accept these things. Where we can learn and even grow from these things. Because no matter what our other loves, we are all lovers of Jesus.

And that binds us together in a way that would be impossible in any natural realm.

Exactly Where You Want Me

The other night at Bible study, someone got brave enough to confess she was “just done.” She was frustrated beyond the point of inviting God into her daily life and hadn’t read her Bible in months.

She shared that with us. In Bible study. And I thought back to the many Wednesday nights I’ve sat quietly in my chair while feeling much the same way.

Rebekah, Rebekah, let down your hair…

So I’m sitting there beside her, feeling my heart completely break. Like, I just wanted to wrap this girl up in my arms and say, “I know exactly what you’re feeling. I was there not so long ago, myself.”

Then I started thinking about what it took to work myself out of that funk, because obviously if I know the way out, I want to share it with her. I don’t think I realized exactly how it happened until I wracked my brain trying to find answers last night. And I hope to God He has an easier way out for my friend.

Last fall, I was struggling pretty hard. The way life was meant to look in my head and the way it was panning out in reality didn’t exactly match up. I was in transition, and if you asked me, the transition was lasting way too long. I needed guidance, I needed direction, and, mostly, I needed the assurance that the place God had brought me to wasn’t the place He had intended for me all along. Because I was scared to death God had me exactly where He wanted me and I would just have to suck it up and get on with life according to His plan.

Then there was The Guy.

I reconnected with an old friend and we started tossing around the idea of a lifetime together. Suddenly everything made sense. Suddenly my discontent fell away and this transition became bearable. I could stick it out for another year if I had forever to look forward to.

“Forever” lasted about three months. That’s how long it took me to wake up from my fantasies and realize this guy wasn’t actually the best thing for me (and I probably wasn’t the best thing for him). It didn’t make sense at first. When I walked away from this relationship with absolutely nothing, I didn’t understand what God was doing.

You see, my first relationship wrecked me. Instantly and completely. Beautifully and poetically. There’s the Rebekah from before her first date and the Rebekah from after she said goodbye for the last time, and the two are pretty incomparable. (To the friend who told me “None of this will matter in a year or two” …you were wrong, and I am thankful.)

So of course I assumed that this more recent relationship wasn’t meant for me at all. Maybe God had something He needed to do in my boyfriend’s life, and I was just the vessel He chose. Because, yes, sometimes I am that narrow-minded.

But because of the honesty that greeted me the other night, I’m seeing that once again, the Rebekah I was before the first date and the Rebekah I am now that all the ties have been severed are not the same. Maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as the first time. Maybe it didn’t grow me in grace and redefine my worldview to the same extent the other did, but it was just enough to pull me out of that prison I had built using misplaced expectations.

God had to give me everything I thought I wanted so He could show me just how wrong I had been.

And it was hard at first. I felt like I didn’t have anywhere to put my feet because the path upon which I had been walking had been ripped out from under me. I was treading water, unable to discern up from down. And then finally, finally, there was the calm.

I stopped being scared God had me exactly where He wanted me, and simply accepted that, yes, this is His plan for my present. When I finally stopped refusing to see that God had a purpose for me in this space, I was able to catch a glimpse of what that purpose might be.

And for the first time since I moved home last summer, I can say I’m truly happy here.

While I want an easier path for my friend, I’m willing to pray for whatever it takes. Because, though the journey may be hard, it is nothing compared to the emptiness of trying to make it on your own. And I have a feeling she, like me, is going to have to do it the hard way. Because she knows all the Sunday School answers, but when the heart has wandered, answers are never enough.

Sometimes we silly sheep have to wander off into the woods because it’s not enough to hear the Shepherd’s voice echoing through the valley. We want to be found. We want to be lifted. We want to be cradled in His arms and carried out of the dark so we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that, yes, this is exactly where He wanted us all along.