This post was original titled: “No I don’t go to church. No my soul’s not in jeopardy.”
And let me just tell you there are a lot of post titles sitting in my draft queue right now that have that same snarky tone. I’ve had a lot on my mind the last year. And I mentioned in the last post that I felt like I had let the blog hold my words hostage for some time now. And that I was going to write about what I wanted, when I wanted.
And while I’m still going to do that and haven’t deleted those drafts, this one got a new intro and a new title after a heartfelt conversation with an old friend today. It was just a casual conversation that started out rather benign and turned into something AMAZING. And I decided to forego the snarky title for a second.
Don’t you love when that happens? When you can look at an event and see that it was meant to be documented. Meant to stick out and be remembered. Even though you had no idea it would be so significant on a random Thursday after barfing your pregnant guts up and remembering that you forgot your deodorant for that day. The way God uses mundane days and turns them into amazing life moments always amazes and surprises me.
Which brings me to my point: “No I don’t go to church. No my soul’s not in jeopardy.”
There are two groups of people who generally make me feel like I’m not doing it right in the spiritual world these days. Christians and Southerners.
And, yes that is an extreme generalization. I have southern christian friends who do NOT make me feel this way. I myself would be classified as a southerner and a christian so I am generalizing about a category that I technically fit into. So, don’t send me your hate mail. I will preface the next bit with a general “In my experience I have found that…..”
In the South, it’s not IF you go to church, it’s WHERE and how much. There’s just no question about it. Either you go….or you “don’t go” and are now the personal project of a lot of well-meaning people.
Among Christians in general the trend is that you aren’t wholly committed to your faith unless you attend church at least sometime somewhere. Because, really, what’s really going on with you? There are some issues there if you don’t go on purpose, out of principal, and that’s a dead give-away that you should probably be going.
Well, guess what. We don’t attend at all, anywhere. And we are just fine with it and we are actually thriving, spiritually.
Some people would say that the whole “I don’t need to go to church to be saved” bit is a cop-out and that you either don’t understand the bible fully or that you are in complete denial of your true salvation. The truth is, for many christians you just aren’t “legitimate” if you don’t go to church.
Let me give you a tiny bit of backstory about us Mandins.
Mr. Thistle used to work for a church for many years. That made me the wife of a church staff member, which is pretty much like working there. You’re “in the loop” and you’re thrust into the middle of the pastors’ wives club and the like. It was a mega church. I’m not sure I even need to say anymore about that. It mostly wasn’t pretty in the circle. Not for me anyways.
And I didn’t like who I’d become. I was narrow and judgemental and often bent the gospel to suit what I needed. It wasn’t real and I can’t imagine it won many souls to my cause. I had a distorted view of the world within those walls. I don’t look fondly on those years.
And, while I take nothing away from what GOD did in our life in those years, I can say with 100% confidence that the experience there left us wounded and much wiser to the inner workings of such social dynamics. Now, that’s not to say that all churches, big or small, are bad and I am in no way trying to discourage anyone from attending church. “To each his own” is how we operate in many areas of life around here. But, we did attend several churches after our split from that church job and I did not find the climate to change all that much for us.
What I have found since our great exodus from the church is humanity. For me, there is a great deficit of “humanness” in the church. When I read the bible it’s ugly and messy and sloppy and dirty and there’s Jesus. It’s dusty and gritty and there are deserts and there’s God. When I go to church it’s polished and there are so many rules and doctrines and Lord forbid you should have a moment of humanness. Goodness knows you better not have it if you’re a staff member. At least not in public.
And I see these very big contradictions and I begin to question God, rather than man. And it throws me out of balance.
But outside of the church I have found spiritual giants. And do you know what the most humbling and life-changing bit of wisdom is that I have found in them? The willingness to say, “You know, I don’t know” or “I’m kind of a mess, too. We all are.” And they point me to God with those words.
And a well springs up in my soul. Because they don’t have it all figured out. And they’re not too proud to say it. And they don’t even put on airs to make you think otherwise. They just love Jesus and people (or sometimes NOT people) and they’ve embraced their messes right alongside Him.
And I’ve been able to breathe around them instead of feeling the corset strings of church tighten ’round me at every Wednesday morning ladies’ bible study or Pastors’ luncheon.
There’s a humanness I’ve found. And it’s drawn me closer to God in leaps and bounds. The presence of God is more apparent in our home and I’m more sensitive to his voice instead of relying so heavily on the voices of man.
And as new-age as it sounds, I’ve learned more about God in the garden than anywhere else. There’s life and death and enemies at every turn (bugs, weather, time) and summer and winter and abundance and scarcity and you have little control over it all except to plant a seed, nurture it and water it and protect it as best as you can and pray for God to do the rest. You can’t MAKE a tomato plant bear fruit. And you can’t MAKE the sun shine. But you can do what you can and leave the rest to God. And sometimes the weeds grow faster than you can pull them. And sometimes, despite your best efforts, the squash bugs take over and leave you with nothing to show for all your work but sweat and dirt. And sometimes there is no garden at all. But there is God.
John Muir says it perfectly:
“I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains.”
I don’t have it all figured out. But right now, we feel a very personal pull to cultivate a relationship with God in our home and in the garden (though we are currently lacking in that area) and in one-on-one relationships rather than in a formal church setting. I realize that it troubles some people’s soul when I say that. But I can’t worry too much about that really. Because the whole point of this journey we’re on as a family is learning to listen to God and trust him more and live the life he has called us to as a family….our very own specific life and not necessarily the life someone else has imagined we should have. Because isn’t it so much work tending the garden of your own mind and home and family without tending others?
It sounds so very harsh to say out loud, but the truth is, I grow weary of having to politely turn down invitations to ladies’ bible studies and church dinners and “Bring a Friend Sundays.” I feel slighted by friends who still, after many years, do not trust that we are “ok” spiritually.
And then I get angry and I know they say, “Oh she has anger/resentment issues and really SHOULD go to church.”
And then there are days like today, full of raw “humanness” with an old friend and I hear God speak so clearly and I know that it’s ok. And it encourages me to keep doing what I’ve been doing and just focus on the simple act of showing up in my own life to meet with God, everyday and anywhere, rather than a very specific setting.