I have a confession – I’m a single mom without a mom or family of my own. I have really struggled to find authentic community inside the church. I’ve continued to try, year after year. I’ve grown used to feeling like I just have to figure it out myself. It is, perhaps one of my greatest strengths and also one of my greatest weaknesses. My life circumstances haven’t fit into a nice neat box that the church can usually relate to. Often, the more I couldn’t connect inside the church seemed to push me to seek ways to connect to God outside of the church. Honestly, I’ve spent the greater part of a decade convinced something was wrong with me. I went more on a desperate search to figure out what it was than to find God, but that might be the subject for a later post. For now, just know that God found lots of ways to make himself known to me. When Christians couldn’t relate to me, God found a way to relate to me. When Christians didn’t have time for me, or compassion, or wisdom or encouragement, God found a way. I didn’t always know it at the time. In fact, usually I didn’t.
The result of looking outside of church? God went from being mostly a “Sunday” thing to an everyday thing. Actually, an every second thing. Now, I hear and see God in everything I am involved in. He shows up in every movie I see, every book I read, the things people say to me, everywhere in nature, in my dog, my daughter, the homeless person begging, those who are attracted to the same sex, those that I have relationship difficulties with and even the mass shooter that killed 17 people this past February. I’ve learned that God is always there and it’s only my awareness of him that ever changes.
Another realization of my desperate search to find God (or was it myself?) outside of the church? I discovered that for me, my relationship with God is really a private matter. I connect best and most with God when I am alone. I love when I can share that with others, but it never seems to happen in structured ways or times, even when I try, especially when I try. Usually it happens in random relational moments that are so awesome I actually wish I could manufacture them at will, but it never happens like that. My spirituality is primarily a private relationship and at a distant second, a social one.
It’s only in hindsight that I realize that when my relationship with God revolved more around Sunday mornings services, small groups or service to the church, the subtle message (sometimes not so subtle) was that I couldn’t really have a relationship with God without the church. Ironically, outside of the church and arguably, somewhat outcast from it, is exactly where I did find him. Prior to, God was more of an abstract construct in my mind, than something or someone, real in my heart. I definitely knew the right words to say that conveyed Jesus was in my heart. I absolutely meant those words at the time. However, I could only draw upon the words others had used to tell me about God, usually regurgitations from the Bible during services or in small group. It’s almost like our own experiences with God are not to be trusted or valued. Instead, it is much safer to rely on the experiences of God as they occurred through Bible heroes .Now that I have my own experiences with God, I am much less interested in what Abraham and other Bible characters said or did with God and more interested in what God has to say and experience with me. Selfish of me, I know.
The funny thing is. I’m currently on the outside of church, but feel more connected to God than ever. Those still inside believe that I just need to find Jesus. But I’ve already “have” Jesus. The more adamant they are that I need to be in church to experience the real God, the more separate from them I feel. I can no longer override my own experience with someone else’s theology. Quite frankly, I wonder whose voice they might be listening to. How can they know what’s best for my soul’s growth? Is there really a one size fits all? Like the tower of Babel, it seems we speak a different language, except I feel pretty fluent in theirs because I used to speak it too.