Leaving the Guilt Behind

Last night I didn’t get to do my Bible Study.

When I say “I didn’t get to” I mean that I was bummed that I didn’t do it. That I missed that time in the word. That I felt jealous towards the things that took up my time.

What I did not feel as a result of last night was guilt.

I used to rake myself over the coals in guilt for missing out on “quiet time” or Bible study, for not praying as often as I “should,” for not yearning to be in his presence more.

But all my guilt has been washed away, and now when a day goes by, or a few days, or (gulp) a week or so, I don’t feel guilt, but I yearn for that time, as I know He yearns for time with me.

Friends have asked me how I did away with my guilt, they yearn for the same security. I lived with that guilt for sixteen years, and came out of it in Fall 2014.  I’m going to attempt to decipher what happened at some point, but for right now, here is what I wrote during that year’s advent season:

I’m not even sure what the catalyst was. There was a hardening of the heart for greater glory, of that I am sure. There was an evaluation of what I believed to be truth, to be historic fact, to be scientifically acceptable or not and whether that mattered. There was two, maybe three years of wrestling with motherhood, service to the church, taking care of myself, being who I was or who I wanted to be. There was dialogue, sporadic dialogue, trite dialogue, hate filled dialogue, pleading dialogue, honest dialogue. There was mum’s group, keeping my buoyancy up with words, welcome and the souls of other women. There was Husband, keeping his foot in the door and his hand in mine. There was a rejection of so many things being put forth, for so many now insignificant reasons. There was a hardening of the heart for greater glory, of that I am sure.

There was a book, read daily, with strength in the mornings not to snooze on the couch and spill my tea. An awakening to joy in the trivial, joy in the minute, joy in the everyday moment. There was a mum’s group, where I started talking and couldn’t stop and finally voiced the long internalized and repressed thought that I was blaming God for everything that I perceived of as bad in my life. There was email, lots of email, with a dear friend who holds me accountable as more than a mother or woman, but as a child of God. There was a sermon, a sermon that resonated with all these different things inside me, that reached to two years of thoughts and wonderings, that vanquished those insignificant arguments. There was a meeting, that spelled out God’s plan, that showed me a path, that rejected previous notions and excited me. There was a device, a Kindle, that let me explore so many different things at once, at the touch of the button and drop of a hat. There was this device that provided options, no longer getting tied up in which translation, but downloading all of them and reading all of them. There was The Message, rediscovering Petersen’s soft rendering of God’s word in a way that I can read while standing in line at the store, or while dozing off at night. There was this thirst to be constantly in the Word. This supernatural thirst for his Word, for the church’s commentary, for ideas and instruction and advice and knowledge. There was this sudden realization that everything familiar was fresh and had new meaning. Had different meaning this side of a 16 year old’s testimony. There was a rediscovery of God’s Word as God’s Word and not some doorstop to be climbed like a mountain.

There are these boys who call me mom, who ask questions with words and eyes. Who seek answers about this world. Who seek answers about who they are, and who I am, and who God is and how the three fit together. And scripture, always scripture, showing an answer, that was always there but never seen.

There was a hardening of the heart for greater glory, of that I am sure. And her heart grew three sizes that day. But one event, one day, two months ago? There are years leading up to this sudden blossoming of faith. Something skirted for so long. Gazed at with longing. Wondering how others seem to come by it. How that faith infused everything, and I would say it did, and I believe it did, and I would keep God out of “the box” but put him in a bigger one, so it didn’t feel like a box. A box the size of Texas is still a box. And the faith that moved anthills and spoke volumes, now doesn’t need to move mountains, just my own heart, and those boys, those sweet boys. For if God moves this heart, the rest just comes. If God breathes into my life, then that’s what I’m breathing out. And there’s no trying, no “how do I say this” or “how do I speak God’s love” because it just pours out. It comes in, it goes out. It comes in, it goes out. And three simple words spoken at 16 “I am here” no longer even matter, because what matters is “I AM” and I AM is all that matters.

And there are no words and all words to describe a 16 year old faith that suddenly leaves puberty and realizes that she was wearing black and moaning, even though she thought she was the most pleasant teenager. She felt so much better off in comparison to the world around her, but she was still wearing black with a frown the relaxed face she wore. The smile was there and the smile was real, but now the smile is deeper within and there are no words and all words and trite words and cheesy words and glorious words and every word to describe the blossoming of faith and the realization of what has been there all along.

And at Advent as we wait for the coming of the Christ child, I wait with bated breath, God with us Emmanuel, and I wait in stillness and silence no longer.

Searching For Sunday

For the past few weeks I’ve been diving into Rachel Held Evans’ new book Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church, as part of the book’s launch team. In this book, Rachel recalls her own experiences with the church, while exploring what church really is. She does this through the imagery of seven holy sacraments:

Baptism – Confession – Holy Orders – Communion – Confirmation – Anointing of the Sick – Marriage

 Evans’ grew up in the American Evangelical church, renowned for it’s stringent answers to questions, strong and stern faith, and it’s whole-hearted community. It is also known for it’s political beliefs and potent presence on the US political stage. Much of her writing is centered around her search for the Christianity of Jesus, as opposed to the Christianity of modern day America. Sometimes she’s too liberal for me, sometimes just liberal enough, but I love a good debate, and I love someone who wrestles with their theology and scripture instead of blindly believing because that’s just what you do.

Honestly, I was expecting more of this combined with a history book on the sacraments. Her first book Evolving in Monkey Town (recently re-packaged as Faith Unraveled) was a personal tale yes, but littered with fact and history. Her second book, and one of my favorite books A Year of Biblical Womanhood wrote the book on being literal. I was expecting more of the same from Searching  For Sunday, and that would not have been a bad thing.

What I got instead was a poem. A lyrical insight into the church as a body, as a people, as a living breathing thing. At times I had to pause and take in the magnitude of a turn of phrase, or an idea. This was not a simple retelling of things we have read on her blog. It was not a simple list of how the sacraments were formed and are practiced in modern times. Often I had to pause and remind myself that I was not reading Anne Lamott or Barbara Brown Taylor. Evans’ may have been searching for, and found the church, but she found something else along the way, her voice.

So many people try and paint Evans as an angry young heretic. However, this book, is not 95 Theses nailed to a door, this book is a modern day Psalm for the evolving church. This book, as it says in chapter 6 pours ointment on wounds, and bathes them in essential oils. As it says in chapter 4 it brings everyone to the table to feast on the truth. This book could unify, if people could get over themselves and let these words be these words without subtext or confrontation.

Very early on in my reading, I was thrown to the floor by a statement Evans’ makes upon leaving the church of her childhood:

Who will bring us casseroles when we have a baby?

These words have echoed around my soul. They are bouncing around in my brain, through my heart, off my teeth, down to my toes.

So what happens to your community when you decide to leave a church? Who are your people? Who can you turn to? And who will bring you casseroles when you have a baby?

By the end of the book, I think Evans’ had answered her own question by defining the church as “a moment in time when the kingdom of God draws near, when a meal, a story, a song, an apology, and even a failure is made holy by the presence of Jesus among us and within us.”

I’m a deacon at my church, and even before then, I don’t let go of people. If someone leaves our four walls, for whatever reason, I am still to be found praying for you, checking in on you, and yes bringing you casseroles if you have a baby. I don’t like to let go of someone until I know they have found somewhere, some tribe, to call home. This is usually helped by the fact that I have friendships that have survived church splits and mass exodus’s anyway. But still, the church is bigger than a building, and quite frankly is bigger than this thing we call a body.

This sad sentence, Who will bring us casseroles when we have a baby? reaches to the deepest nature of the church; that it is everyone and belongs to everyone. The church as opposed to my church. The church as opposed to the Church I go to on Sunday morning. Who will bring you Casseroles? I will.

I have never had a bad break from a church. I have seen division. I have seen nasty church splits and spirit led church splits. I have seen my church torn apart by differing agendas and come through weary but stronger. And even though I have never been personally hurt by the church, I am still searching for Sunday, for that moment we all long for, when Jesus comes into clear focus and everything else just fades away. That is a search I am happy to partake in on a daily basis, whether at my coffee table, just me and my bible, or at my church singing along with my family. I want to keep searching, I never want to rest, or be complacent, or fall asleep, I want to search and find, and then search and find all over again.

I’m going to need to digest everything I gleaned from this book, then go back and read it again. It is a deep, universally applicable book, that explores the church through the beauty of its practices. Searching For Sunday reaches far beyond the words on Evans’ blog, far beyond the media hubbub that surrounds her commentary, the book reaches deep into the soul of the American church and recognizes it for what it is, the church of Jesus Christ. And there’s nothing we can do to it that will take away that fundamental truth.

I received an advance copy of Searching For Sunday for review.

Seamless

seamlessAngie Smith released a new Bible study last week, and to be honest I wasn’t that enthused. I burnt out on BIG Bible Study’s after Beth Moore’s Daniel study. I love them, I just never make time for them. I looked over Kelly Minter’s Ruth study, but mostly because I want to put together my own Ruth study for our church this year. Ruth is my go to girl and I have yet to find any cohesive set of thoughts on her that I can go along with fully.

But, we’ve been talking a lot about Biblical literacy in our women’s ministry pow wows of late, and so when I saw the subject of Angie’s new study I had to check it out.

Seamless – Understanding the Bible as One Complete Story

It just sounds like the right starting point doesn’t it? For women who know the stories, but feel disconnected from the big picture. Or know the big picture even, but still feel disconnected from the Bible as the actual, living, breathing, word of God.

So I got it, and I have to say, even without watching the videos that accompany it, I’m hooked. I’m just over half way through week one, we’re still in Genesis. It seems trite to start with Genesis. I feel like a lot of people always start with Genesis and always get stuck in the first five books and never move on. But that’s the point of this study. Angie pulls key aspects of Genesis, that will be applied as recurring themes as we progress through our overview of God’s narrative. She focuses on the minutiae occasionally, but is more concerned with filling you with a sense of the story as a whole than in getting bogged down by detail.

I’m seeing things I have not seen in over half my life as a Christian. I’m excited to open this study everyday. I’m excited to bring it to the women at my church. This is a good day