Taking my place in the Pews
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ‘new’ Christians. People who’ve just decided to accept Jesus or maybe they haven’t accepted him yet but they are ‘trying on’ the Christian life. I have some good friends who have just begun attending church. In fact, they were previously pretty Anti-church. So now when they sit next to me, I’m keenly aware of all the nuances of the service. How church members relate to each other. The rituals and habits we have. It must seem so foreign to them! I remember when it was foreign to me. The churchy language, the small groups, full immersion baptism. Oh man , THAT one used to freak me out! (I worked hard on my hair and makeup and you want to ruin it? In public??) I’m also aware of the expectations that can sometimes accompany church membership.
One of the things I dearly want for my friends is not to confuse who they are to the church with who they are to God.
I started attending church again regularly after a lengthy almost two decades hiatus during which I royally screwed up life (
another many stories for another time) I was happy to be there but I felt like such an outsider. It was like being the new kid in middle school and all the other kids had been friends since they were in Kindergarten. Fortunately, the congregation was incredibly friendly and welcoming. Plus they served snacks after service. Bonus! They drew me into their tribe, their culture, their lives, their conversations. It was amazing! I couldn’t get enough. After 14 years in my 2nd abusive marriage (no judging) my self esteem was next to nothing and I didn’t feel like I had anything of value to offer other than my hairstyling skills. But these people-they seemed to love ME and that’s what I so desperately needed. So, in true over achiever fashion I jumped right in to everything they had to offer. And there was a lot!! I did women’s ministry. I did Bible studies. I attended conferences. I helped with and planned events, dinners, children’s ministry puppet shows. You name it, I said YES. Heck , I even went to Bible college and graduated Valedictorian! I drank ALL the Kool Aid! I was killing this Christian thing!! And for a while it felt awesome! I was accepted. I was praised. I was wanted. I was appreciated.
When I was at my lowest God knew what I needed and He generously supplied.However, while I was moving up in church leadership I began to realize that something was off. My church family seemed more interested in what I was producing rather than what I was becoming. I was a major player. One of the ‘special’ ones. I also felt tired, judged, confused, stretched thin, and vaguely empty.
I began to realize that I wasn’t doing all this for God. I was more concerned with what people would think of me if I Didn’t do #allthethings all the time. Ashamedly, I also realized that I was addicted to the accolades that I got from being ‘one of the chosen’ who sat at the front of the church. Or being one of the few that attended the inner circle meetings of church hierarchy. I’d become one of the cool kids and I liked it. It made me feel special. Somewhere along the line I’d gotten it wrong. I’d come back to church and to Jesus because he accepted and loved ME. Not because of Anything that I did. He loved me when I wasn’t doing anything ‘special’. I didn’t want to have to do all the right things to be accepted anymore. Jesus had only one qualification for me to follow him and that is that I am totally Unqualified.
My marriage(s) had left me with the wound of ‘ never good enough’. Even though I thought I’d left that at the door, all I did was bring it with me and put a Sunday suit on it. I’d moved my hamster wheel of worthiness from home to church. I’d spent years and years trying to become whatever people wanted me to be so that I’d be valuable to them. Constantly trying to figure out what they wanted from me.
What I didn’t understand was that all God wanted from me was– Me.
Because God likes to mess with my comfort zones, He led us away from that particular church and all the activities I’d put in His place. He removed my protective Armor of Productivity and put me on a ‘Busyness Time Out’. I no longer had my committees and bible studies and women’s groups to take up my time. In the absence of movement there was only me…..and God. And you know what I began to realize? I didn’t need all the busy work. Not once. Not one single time did I feel any less loved for not ‘producing’ . In fact, I felt peaceful and comforted and accepted again. As I spent my time with God and reading His word it slowly dawned on me that He just wants me to love Him. Trust Him. Love others. Be kind. It doesn’t matter if I do that for 300 people or just the guy bagging my groceries. I don’t need to do something that looks Big and Amazing to people. To God the smallest gestures of love ARE big and amazing. He knows that my giving of love produces far more results than anything else.
So, if you want to find me at church don’t go looking where the volunteers are. That may come at another season of my life again; but not now. For now, you can find me sitting in the aisles next to my newbie church friends and just being with them.