My husband and I put in quite a few hours in the front seats of our minivan this past week. For much of that time, we sat quiet, alone with our thoughts, using the down time to process things. It’s a good friend who is comfortable with silence.
It wasn’t until we began making our way towards home that Scott asked me what I’m thinking about church right now. Problem is I still don’t know what I think. It’s all a big swirling muddle. What I thought I knew and what I thought I wanted are all in question. It is very easy for me to think all the way around something, seeing the risks and benefits of any issue or choice. It’s usually good, but this time it has paralyzed me.
We set to work teasing out the various threads in the tangled mess of my head. Most was tension between seemingly opposing ideas.
One is the importance of church. I suspect that I’ve built up the idea of church far beyond what is reasonable to ask or expect of it. However, I also see the significance placed on the early church in the Bible compared to the arms-length way in which many Americans engage with their churches. The body of Christ, the Church, is Jesus’s bride. If I am adopted into God’s family, I’m part of the body, part of the universal church, and I need to find a local body of believers with which to serve. Sure, I want to hold people at arms’ length too, especially when they are a source of pain and conflict. But I don’t think the Bible gives any of us that option.
This leads me to my tendency, both as part of my Western lone-ranger heritage and as part of my Type-A personality, to think I don’t need anything or anyone, especially if they hurt me and set off after Jesus all by my lonesome. However, we were made for relationships, and as I’ve already said, the Bible emphasizes the body of Christ as important. I can’t get away from that.
Finally, I’m torn between wanting to avoid the pain and conflict and discomfort of the past and knowing that God doesn’t promise safety and comfort, not in the here and now. I don’t want to make the safe choice (whatever that is). But I also don’t want to be foolish again, and miss the warning signs of an unhealthy church. Scott pointed out that we bring ourselves to whichever church we join, so we will add to it or fill in some gaps with our gifts, talents, experiences (both good and bad), and even our baggage. That’s part of how God redeems the bad stuff, right?
The very next day, we visited another church, this time one a friend had recommended. It was refreshing in many ways, but what floored me is what I heard in the sermon. The pastor introduced the sermon, on women, and then handed the microphone to his wife. He said this was a first for their church, but he wanted his wife to speak to the women. She preached from the book of Ruth, and I could hardly believe what she said: A godly woman recognizes that following God’s ways is not always going to be easy or comfortable. A godly woman will make decisions with which much of the world will not agree. A godly woman will take risks. We cannot make decisions based on safety or comfort or “this is what we’ve always done.”
I know all of this. We had just discussed it all the day before. Now, it doesn’t completely untangle the mess in my head. We still don’t know what choice to make, but we know that we need to fight hard against our desire to retreat from risk and pain, and we know we want to return to this church again.
How do you sort through conflicting thoughts about decisions? Have you considered whether your church could benefit from your baggage?