Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Our story of leaving church is long and it still makes me feel lonely.
Lonely because no one talks about leaving church much, no one writes about a long goodbye, the tense conversations that follow, the knowing it’s right for us, knowing God is in it, even. I don’t even write about it, really. (The link above was the only time I’ve written about it, and it’s not the whole story.)
Lonely because it’s easy to find posts of people finding church again, coming back, restored, of community, love, imperfect and lovely. Those posts get a lot of comments. When I dare to write about leaving, my faith is questioned. Which is what I expect, but it’s still disappointing.
* * *
I suppose the reason it’s hard for me to call what we do now “church” is because I grew up with a specific understanding of church, and in many the circles I am in, you say “church” and it means the same thing.
But I’m not the same.
We meet when we can, as intentionally as we can, and we share a meal and dive deep into conversation and challenge and jokes and it gets heavy and it gets light again, but it always stays with me long after. We share a friendship that is unconditional and sincere, and I am thankful to be knit into something so beautiful and organic and close.
It’s not the church I imagined, but it’s the church I need.
* * *
Jesus shouldn’t be this hard to find, but I’ve just realized that I’ve been missing him.
I started missing him in church, knowing that he was there for some people, but when I looked he always pointed me to the door. We had to leave to find him. And it’s been (what has it been?) a few years now, a few years of letting go of my assumptions, releasing the guilt that came with the leaving, and still I sometimes pick it up. The desire to jump in to the next phase was strong, even desperate, until God finally got through to me that there is no phase, there is no moving on to the better. There is only a long walk. And for a while, he wanted to walk with me in silence. He needed me to see that nothing I did would ever be enough. That walking in silence is enough, even if that’s all I ever did for the rest of my life.
I get it. I know why it was necessary, but it’s lonely, and I can’t reach out for His physical hand, and it’s easy to start doubting he’s still there after all this time.
And for a long time, I was pretty quiet, too.
* * *
Of all things, prayer has me pulling closer lately. Prayer, when for years I couldn’t figure out what it was for anymore, when I couldn’t separate it from a magical formula, when I tried and failed to reconcile it with the persistence of evil and loss and pain in the world.
In other words, it’s been hard to pray. For a while.
But lately when I pray with Audrey at the end of the day, or Owen, or when I can’t sleep,I find myself going on and on, I want to wrap Jesus in my words, I want to say everything until there’s nothing more to tell. I can finally feel him there again, he seems closer. My prayers aren’t the same anymore, either. I don’t pray for a certain outcome, or I just fumble through and admit I don’t know how to do this anymore, but I pray love over all of it, I ask Jesus to let me join him in love, to show me where I can love and love more completely.
* * *
I testified at our last “church.” I said for me it was all about Jesus, more and more, and all about Love With A Capital L. It was church up in there, because now Jesus and Love are everywhere, and I’m chasing after him and I think he’s chasing me, too, and it’s every day and always, not neatly put away until next time we meet, not just in part but the whole.