Church and the power of a shared story

One day during a writing workshop I attended, the teacher (a well-known author) assigned us the task of sitting for 30 minutes in three very different locations and writing down every single detail we observed. That evening, after we shared the details with each other, she told us that now they belonged to us. What ...

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One day during a writing workshop I attended, the teacher (a well-known author) assigned us the task of sitting for 30 minutes in three very different locations and writing down every single detail we observed. That evening, after we shared the details with each other, she told us that now they belonged to us. What the other women observed became part of my repertoire, and my observations became part of theirs. Now I can take these ideas and absorb them, hold them close, make them part of my story — weave them into the fabric of who I am.

There are a million reasons I could give for getting involved in a church — not because you have to be in church to have faith or practice it, but because it is the ideal place to learn from other people who are, at least in theory, trying to live out the faith we share. No, the people there won’t be perfect. They most likely will fail miserably, as we all do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. It also doesn’t mean you have to go early for Sunday school or sign up for all the Bible studies — although you can. It just means that it’s a good place to observe. Open your eyes. Listen. Talk. Share. Ask questions. See how someone clings to God in the darker moments of her life — or notice how she doesn’t — and watch how that changes her. Don’t hide your secrets. If you want to have a perfect little life on Facebook, be my guest. But somewhere in your life find people with whom you can be real.

Because it is in the sharing, in the seeing, that you find the knowing. And it is the knowing that strengthens you and develops a faith that is lasting. When you look through the eyes of faith and notice how God works, it will change what you see when no amount of money-juggling will prevent overdraft fees. It will help you distinguish Him when your nephew responds again to the siren song of his addiction, or your child fails another class, or a herniated disk cancels your golf vacation. It will help comfort you when the biopsy shows that you really did spend too much time in the sun or that there’s no getting around it, you have to seriously change your diet because your health has hit critical stages. No matter how much you love chocolate. Or salt. Or bacon. He will guide you when your reputation tanks, or your investments do, or when the tanker jackknives on the interstate and kills a four-year-old child. It will sustain you when you can’t please a boss or seem to make a smart decision or salvage your marriage. It’s not dependent on you — because the Bible tells us, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13, NLT)

Sweet and precious Lord, help us not to overlook the gifts you’ve given us, the ones surrounding us in the pews at church (or surrounding us in life, if we don’t go to church). Teach me, Lord, to see You, honor You, pay attention to You. Grant me Your unfathomable peace. And thank You for putting people in my life to walk alongside me. Help me learn from them, no matter what I’m going through. Amen.


P.S. If you don’t go to church, please don’t think I’m criticizing you. We each have to find our own way and our own place and I’m glad that my blog is part of your spiritual life. In fact, I wrote an article called Should You Feel Shame for Missing Church?, and the short answer is no :-). But I have been forever changed—in a good way—by the people at my church and I know the powerful things that can happen when you find a church to call home.

Are you jaded?

My friend Marcia, talking about why she loves writers and books and the writing process so much, said, “Books change me.” And they do. Or they should, if they do their job well. I’m possibly the worst book reviewer there is. Really. Because I always take the book and make it all about me. All ...

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GRAPHIC God can soften

My friend Marcia, talking about why she loves writers and books and the writing process so much, said, “Books change me.” And they do. Or they should, if they do their job well.

I’m possibly the worst book reviewer there is. Really. Because I always take the book and make it all about me. All Kelly, all the time. I’m so sorry about that.

But when I read, I want my thoughts to be engaged. I want to come to a new understanding. I want to puzzle through motivations and emotions, and I want the people (whether fiction or non) to become real to me. Therefore, when I review a book, I tend to talk about where it took my thinking more than the actual book itself. It’s the best endorsement I can offer, really. When a friend recommends a book to me, I want to know what my potential take-away is. So that’s how I review.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 10.23.16 AMIn Jaded by Varina Denman, Ruthie and her mom were shunned—completely ostracized—years earlier by their church. Ruthie’s wounds ran deep and she was brittle and bitter. She didn’t want any part of their religion, and all she really wanted was to run from all of God’s people and go far, far away. The story is complex and real, engaging and moving, and immediately after finishing this book I downloaded the next one.

Know what I loved? That in spite of it all, Ruthie still believed in God. Although she felt that He had let her down, she couldn’t let go of that connection entirely. Ruthie understood what I think so many people do not: that God and church are not necessarily the same thing. And Ruthie wanted God. She wanted people to behave like they were supposed to, and she’d witnessed firsthand the cruelty that can be perpetrated in the name of religion. And in the story, she faced countless people who were willing to unquestionably believe lies proferred by a “Godly” man.

It’s a danger we in the church face, and we need to be wary. To turn to God, to beg Him, for discernment and wisdom in all situations. To stay in touch so we can see Him, hear from Him, respond like He would. I also think we need to remember that although churches should be the places where we see God most clearly, the two are not interchangeable. And God doesn’t live only within the church. I know that genuine faith can exist outside of that framework, and it often does. And that only serves to deepen my faith in the sustaining power of a relationship with God.

But sometimes the church itself is the thing pushing people away from God. Because God’s people don’t always behave as God would have them behave. In their passion and fervor, throughout time, men have used their belief in God as a trump card, twisting their religion to line up with their personal agendas. I don’t have to tell you this. We see it almost daily in the news.

But here’s the important thing to remember: God is the ultimate and final judge.

I can’t imagine how my faith would suffer if I didn’t have a body of people with whom to share my stories. People who pray with me, stand behind me, teach me, inspire me, and help guide and direct me. I’m fortunate. I know that everyone does not have this kind of support in their churches. And if you do not, can I encourage you today? Maybe you can initiate that—reach out to someone at your church. Intentionally develop friendships. Pray for one another. Try to create what you long for.

If you’ve been hurt by a church, pray about how to find reconciliation. Take the first steps if you can. Or if the wounds run too deep, take that leap of faith and walk through the doors of another church. Remember that people there—anywhere, everywhere—will be flawed. We all make mistakes, no matter how well-intentioned our motivations. It doesn’t excuse the wrong-doing, and I am not belittling the very real things you may have experienced. When we focus our attention on man, though, we miss out on seeing One who is so much bigger than all of that.

Because there is One who never makes a mistake. One who can bear the weight of the pain you’ve been carrying. One who will meet you wherever you are, whenever you reach out. One who longs to heal you, comfort you, reveal Himself to you. One who really can mend. Who can soften hardened hearts and open closed minds.

Dear Lord, help us to see You. Help us to represent You in truth and generosity, in love and kindness. Continue Your healing of all those who have been hurt, and strengthen our faith. Help us understand that You are worth whatever we have to go through in order to find You. And give us the resolve to keep searching. Surround us with bodies of people who are also seeking to find authenticity in their faith. Help us to find You. In the sweet, sweet name of Jesus I pray, Amen.


I received a copy of Jaded in exchange for an honest review. You can purchase it anywhere books are sold (including here). But don’t stop there: Justified, the next book in the series is also now available!

 

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