You see, these two holiday months-November and December- don’t create warm fuzzy feelings in me. I am not thankful this time of year. I have whole lists (and probably lists upon lists if I am honest) of what I am missing in my life, places that have come up dry and hard, painful and sore. Missing holes that I’ve asked the Lord to fill, but for now He has chosen not to. It’s a hard season to swallow for me. It’s a hard season for me to be thankful.
Holes and wounds and brokenness- they just aren’t things we associate with thankfulness. But this season is about thankfulness isn’t it? Isn’t it about “1000 gifts”, prayers of thankfulness, and acknowledging those we love?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s about those things, or maybe it’s a season in the year to just endure. I can keep my lists of all the things I don’t have that seem profoundly long this time of the year and grow frustrated and lonely. But then there’s this concept of gratefulness that I do have.
Gratefulness: warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received.
Gratefulness reveals a deep warmth of appreciation. It indicates something much deeper than thankfulness. It expresses the generosity of God in his Personhood (good, warm, loving, receptive, attentive, available). Gratefulness is receiving all the things I never knew I wanted but God gave me. I didn’t ask for them. I never prayed for them, but He gave them to me anyways.
Rather than listing all the things I am thankful for (don’t get me wrong, that is a good practice of the heart too!), I want to reflect on all the ways God gave me things I hold so dear now, that I never knew I wanted and never asked for in a few installments over the next few weeks. Check out part one, part two, part three, and part four. Here’s the fifth:
God gave me a new church home
I don’t like change. I don’t like anything to be inconsistent or spontaneous within reason. Not even the food I eat or the temperature I eat it at. Soups should be hot, not cold. Veggies cooked, not raw. Chinese on New Years and candy on Halloween. I thrive on structure and predictability. I like rhythms and flows and traditions. I like to go on an adventure on Saturday mornings and to see the same people on Sunday mornings. I prefer to eat lunch at a restaurant on Sunday afternoons and see my grandmother for Thanksgiving. I like that we sing a lot of the same songs in church that are a part of the church culture I have known. I like that several of my friends went to the same college as I did and have shared experiences. I like that I know when we have communion in church, who’s doing what in communion, and even where we buy our communion bread. I like that some kids have known me more years than they have not in their lives. You get the picture.
It’s just a part of the flow of church when you’ve been there long enough. There’s a lot of comfort when you’ve been in one place, with one people, for a chunk of time. You develop group think. I KNOW what he or she will think about something. I know HOW he or she may respond to this and that. I can predict which story they will draw from in explaining a certain topic or thought. I know that so and so prefers this color, food, activity, movie genre. It comes from sticking around a place long enough. It comes from getting to know a people well. It comes from a heavy amount of investment in the lives of other people. It feels warm and secure and comforting. There’s a lot of stability that comes from not shifting around when most my life has been about shifting and moving and starting new when I had no control in the matter. I like the familiarity that committing brings. If something’s working why change it?
That’s all fine and good, until it’s not working for you anymore. Until familiarity becomes more about conforming than comfort. Until circumstances outside of your ability to have predicted cause you to have to change- aging, maturity, graduation, ilness, death. Until you look around and realize that you are changing and shifting and no longer fit into the same contextual skin you once did.
But you have to. People are counting on you to fit. You are counting on you to fit. You don’t really know how to be anything else or do anything else or show up any other way than what you’ve been and known. But you want to. You REALLY REALLY want to keeping changing into the next thing, that next growth thing, that next maturity thing, that next God thing, but internally and externally it doesn’t feel possible. You can’t change alone, you see. You need a community of sorts who understands your growth, supports your growth and change AND can grow and change with you. Getting all three is hard. It’s hard for me when others change and grow. It’s hard for others when I change and grow.
We all need more than God plus a best friend. We need a group of supportive relationships, a community.
When the way I did life and living and love was no longer working and a change was needed, to say that change was hard is a severe understatement. In fact, it feels frightening. It feels like the very threads of who you are and what you’ve known will come apart, will be pulled apart. The pulling hurts. It tears. You can’t pour new wine into old wineskin. It will burst. You will burst. I felt like I was bursting, tearing, straddling what I had been for many years but knowing God was beckoning me into something new, a new season, but I knew so few of the details. I only knew the next step. It’s a frightening thing to trust anyone to support you with only “the next step”, especially a non physical God. He kept beckoning me to release my fear and my control.
“When we release in peace, we signal we’re now ready to receive. Receive what’s next. Receive what’s best. Receive what’s meant for this season, right now.”– Lysa Terkeurst
I knew I couldn’t stay where I had been. I couldn’t go back to where I was, what I was. The temptation to go back-to who I was and how I functioned and what I was known as-was too intense. There’s a comfort to being known. Sometimes few words are needed to be understood. Sometimes you can hear all the communication that is unspoken more than the words that are spoken when you’ve known something or known someone.
There’s also a danger, an expectation, that you will continue to be that way; there can be a resistance to change, especially when that change requires other people to shift in order to accommodate you. Change is hard for me and on me. Accommodating is hard for me when I’m not sure I have anything to gain from the effort that’s required. It’s hard for everyone else around me. Change requires even more change and affects more than one person.
I fought the Lord tooth and nail. He kept pushing me towards something different, beckoning me to step out, seek out, find out, and receive. But if you’re like me, you just like predictability, even if God is offering you what could end up being the best thing for you. Even if God may be asking you to give over what you’ve held onto for many years for the potential for something better, more whole.
I don’t want to give up anything for “potential”. Potential isn’t safe. Potential isn’t secure. Potential offers no hope or reassurance of safety. Potential is too risky. Potential asks me to step out into the roaring ocean with locked eyes on Jesus with no buffer as a back up. Potential tells me to go sell all my possessions, give up my home, my community, and follow after a Rabi with no assurance of gaining ANYTHING that I want. And I boy do I have a lot of wants.
“I dream of a faith community that demonstrates a love so scandalous and embarrasing that only the foolish and the rejected and the misfits and the cynics will find any solace in it. My hearts cry is that someone from outside the sphere of Christian endorsement might whisper, “Even me?” and be stunned by Jesus’ answer: “Always you.” -Jen Hatmaker
Sometimes, many times, God only gives the next step. It was clear to me God was asking me to take a step out to build a new level of supports in areas that I really needed it, to not forget or “throw away” my current friends and supports, but to recognize that my time at my current church was coming to a close, He wanted me to move on to the next place for me. Sometimes God wants you to move into something new and sometimes He wants you to get out of the way. Neither is better or more “right”. They are just different. Going to a place that is unhealthy or staying in a place that is unhealthy for you, for what God is doing in you, and for what He wants for you, can reap disastrous repercussions. When God moves, it’s best to move with Him. He doesn’t lead everyone on the same path or in the same way or to the same conclusions. I loved the people in my former church and it hurt to step into this new season.
“We are to develop our lives, abilities, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Our spiritual and emotional growth is God’s “interest” on his investment in us.” – Cloud & Townsend
Many people avoid making new, healthy decisions because they feel an obligation to individuals. I could avoid the guilty feelings of people who have been kind to me by ignoring the ways God was stirring in my soul. The idea is that because we have received something, we owe somehing. That was my guilt. The problem is non-existent debt. The love we receive or money or time-or anything which causes us to feel obligated- should be accepted as a gift. “Gift” implies no strings attached. The giver has no second thought that the present will provide a return. It was simply provided because someone loved someone and wanted to do something for him or her. Period.”
What do we owe those who are kind to us, who have genuinely cared for us? We owe them thanks. And from our grateful heart, we should go out and help others.” -Cloud & Townsend
I only had one step. I knew God wanted me to step out of my current church home and seek a new one. It was hard. Painful, often lonely and isolating. It was good. Healthy. Strengthening. Healing. I have such sweet assurance of this decision. I am so thankful of where I came from. I love my former church, the one I helped to start. I still see and pray for friends there regularly. My brothers and sisters are wound up in my heart. I wasn’t sure where I would be heading. It was the most painful and hardest step God has EVER asked of me. It wasn’t without some opposition and with much support from people I love.
And I thank God for the new church home I am settling into. I thank God that years ago He knew this would be a step I would need to make and that He was preparing me for it, even back then. I never would have imagined He’d ask me to let go of so much for the potential of a “better yes”. I would have refused if I knew. I would have tried to control everything. God knew what I needed when I only knew what I wanted.
I can help others through the gifts I’ve received from my former church. I am. I am giving gladly and not from obligation or guilt. I am so grateful for the way my former church cared for me. And I am looking forward to what God is doing in me in my new church home and the ways He will use the gifts of many in my life, in the lives of those around me. I am excited to give.
God prepared a new church home for me when I never knew I’d need it. I never would have even wanted it.
He has made it clear to you, mortal man, what is good and what the LORD is requiring from you— to act with justice, to treasure the LORD’s gracious love, and to walk humbly in the company of your God. -Micah 6:8
For this is what the high and exalted One says– he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. -Isaiah 57:15
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.-Hosea 6:6