It’s amazing how often we don’t listen to our friends and family who have some fairly intelligent things to say.
(The inverse of this is that we pay undue attention to others who frequently don’t care about us at all or actively dislike us. We embrace their barbs, close to the heart where they scratch, and define ourselves by the opinions of disinterested strangers or active enemies. Don’t believe me? Talk to someone from middle school for ten minutes and see whose opinions have the most effect upon their self-worth.)
I’ll never forget the conversation we had with a family friend, who was visiting as a house guest for a few days. We were regaling her with what we thought at the time were amusing stories about the church we were then attending — or, not attending, because its actions were irritating us to the point that we enjoyed our time away far more than we did our penance in the pews.
“Why do you keep going? What are you getting out of it?” she asked. “This sounds like an abusive situation.”
That word “abusive” stopped us short, and we exerted ourselves to explain that while, yes, the leadership was controlling and distant, and no, we really didn’t feel of any value in the congregation, it wasn’t abusive, really. Actually, it was probably our lack of charitable thought that made us overreact. We should be more patient.
“Maybe so,” she replied with a smile, “but going there doesn’t seem to make you very happy.”
Her words stayed with us long after the visit, encompassing an increasing number of Sundays when we found something else to do with our time, but still interspersed with sporadic church attendance because, you see, we Christians define our spirituality by that church attendance.
(This is not untoward. The Barna Group, which describes itself as “the leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture,” defined a practicing Christian, for poll purposes, as one who attends church at least once a month and says that his or her religion is very important in their lives.)
“If you really love God,” we’re told, “you’ll want to be with God’s people.
“And no church is perfect.
“We show the world that we love God by being patient with the things we don’t like, and not hyperfocusing on them. It’s not all about you, you know. We are a community.
“You need to give more in your spirit — flex and obey!”
There. Did I cover it all?
As time went by, and the little irritating quirks — increasingly introduced by a leadership team focused upon corporate growth philosophy and methods — kept piling on, we heard our friend’s question over and over:
“Why do you keep going? What are you getting out of it?”
And the answers that made the most sense were,
“We don’t know,”
And increasingly, we stayed away.
Our leisurely Sunday morning breakfasts replaced the hurried fellowship before the song worship service; random evenings with friends fulfilled our aching need to laugh and love and interact; long walks and discussion stimulated intellectual and spiritual thought; reading Scripture for ourselves — and debating it over the dinner table — sharpened our swords.
We found, to our surprise and quite without any intention, that we had replaced a bad situation for a good, and we were happy with what we were doing.
And we also found, not at all to our surprise, that many people who were not our friends and had no personal interest in our lives or family, were irritated by this, and called into question our Christianity because we no longer participated in what, for us, didn’t work.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth,” 1 John 3:18 tells us, and for the first time in a long time, this was making sense, because we were interacting with humans — those who called Christ their brother as well as those who didn’t — and had time to love and laugh and argue and listen.
I think it’s called fellowship.
“This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us.”
No longer did we accept the subtle, and not so subtle, condemnation of a narrow way of looking at things, a way that begins and ends its definition of a person’s spirituality by easily defined outward actions.
We answered two questions, ones that we were asking within our hearts for a long time, but never admitted, outwardly, to having until a family friend — who DID care about us as people — asked them:
“Why do you keep going? What do you get out of it?”
This article is linked to Imparting Grace, I Choose Joy, Misadventures, Woman to Woman, Soul Survival, Wholehearted Home, Intention, My Joy Filled Life, A Little R and R, Give Me Grace, Growing in Grace, The Life of Jennifer Dawn, Moms the Word, Homemaking. Time Warp Wife, Wise Woman, Roses of Inspiration, Wednesday Link, So Much at Home, Thriving on Thursdays, Homemaking Art, Embracing, Christian Mom Blogger, Look at the Book, Simple Moments, Missional Woman, Rebecca, Arabah Joy, Friendship Friday, Sincerely Paula