Processing because of Facebook posts from Jen Hatmaker today, where she said, among other things, this: "Dear one, take your battered heart to church. Let God meet you there among other people who need Him just as much. He is faithful and you are loved. The collective faith of others can stand in the gap when ours is faltering. Just surround yourself with worship and the gospel truth and all the other sinners-turned-saints."
And this: "I know what it is like to be in an unsafe church environment, and those certainly exist because unfortunately, the church is made of people and it seems there is no way around it. Those wounds cut especially deep, and I completely, fully identify with those of you in your pain still keeping arms length...The crazy thing is, church has healed me more than it has hurt me. It really has. I have a different space for it. I no longer expect church to do for me what only God can."
Five years ago, almost exactly on this Sunday, I took my baby and went to a church where I was totally anonymous while my husband worked his second-to-last Sunday at what was for us an "unsafe church environment", as Jen said. Our leaving that church involved my husband resigning from his full-time job without another lined up because he had to do what was right. It meant leaving dear friends and financial security. It was a big, painful step in the unknown.
For me, it also meant an awful realization that church was not the safe place I'd always trusted it to be. As a child of a professional minister, from a long line of faith-filled churchmen and churchwomen, this was terribly hard.
I'd been through a season of doubt in college. A season where I wasn't sure if Jesus was real anymore, where I had big questions about the God I'd been raised to know, the God I'd chosen to give my life too, questions about the habits I'd formed of seeking God's face and God's word. During that doubt season, it was those habits that brought me back. Going to church each week and reading my Bible and listening to my Christian music and doing my Backyard Bible Club where I told a bunch of kids about these stories I secretly wasn't sure were true...it held me fast even as I swayed.
So, in this time too, going to church, watching my wounded husband sigh and shift in the pew (actually not pews, just chairs, usually folding ones) brought me back to a place where I could trust that worshipping together meant something important. Since that day five years ago, we've chosen to worship in new faith communities, joining each as they were less than a few years old. We sighed with relief that these churches weren't shackled to old buildings or old traditions or old programs or old money, even as we held ourselves back a little, watching the exit. After a while, we discovered that we were fine. We were sad about what happened, but we weren't broken and angry anymore.
And actually, now, not even so sad. Eventually, this all led to a lifestyle change that has been so obviously God-ordained. We let go of our second car, our suburban dream home, and finally last fall, our mortgage. I let go of weeknight visits to Target, for goodness' sake. We live in a cow field that is an hour away from Target, in a house that is half the size of the one we used to own. We minister to teenagers from around the world by teaching them, serving them, serving with them, comforting them as they cry in our offices, and letting them see our kids have tantrums in the dining hall.
It's not the life I would have chosen 5 years ago. That Sunday I remember, I was hoping so desperately to stay in that town, that house, that big church I visited where I could be anonymous.
This is the story I tell, about Jesus and me. That He has led me to unexpected places, always unexpected. That He has called me to give up what is comfortable for what is better. That He will use the habits of my faith and the habits of my church community to heal me up each time He carries me through another hard thing.