(this post: a reflection from this past weekend) It’s been almost a month since I’ve been back in the US, and I’m completely certain that I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel weird at times. There are days when it’s the lack of chocolate filled pastries, and then there are the days when it’s the saddening realization that the adventure really is over. This morning, it was the revelation that studying abroad and going away for almost 4 months didn’t fix some of the problems that I thought it would, the moment when I realized that instead of dealing with some things while I was gone, I ignored them instead and pushed them down, using the adventure and the limited time in a foreign country to rationalize doing so.
The specific thing on my mind this morning was my still rocky relationship with churchgoing. In the time leading up to my semester abroad, I went on a church fast for about three months that continued into the next three and a half months while I was in Spain. While I fabricated a super spiritual sounding reason for this fast, trying to find out what being a Christian really means and hipster stuff like that, the real reason I stopped going was that it was painful and maddening to go to church.
Having had a complicated and unpleasant experience toward the end of high school when I tried to come out the first time, I’d built up this wall around that part of myself. After being told that I was broken and needed to be fixed for so long, I constantly harbored this defensiveness whenever I entered a church or the presence of people that I knew to be particularly conservative. Coupled with some other interactions with other Christians I had previously considered to be friends in which I had to defend the veracity and legitimacy of my own faith, I just didn’t feel safe in church. I hated the thought that I’d probably have to explain myself and defend my faith to anyone in the room who knew about me, the thought that at 18 I’d be expected to have my theology, my faith, and my beliefs completely figured out just in order to appease people who wouldn’t even take the time to really get to know me.
So, I decided that I was done, at least for a little while. I relegated myself to worship playlists and long bouts of prayer journaling instead. I allowed myself to be real with people who, while maybe not necessarily agreeing with me one hundred percent, didn’t constantly question what I believed, who let me talk about the guys that I liked sometimes, without needing to ask me for the twelfth time if I was sure that I believed that being in a relationship was okay, people who were just my friends and not trying to be the morality police, people who trusted that I had my relationship with Jesus and that He would help me sort out the important things. And having that, having that safety and that community was something that was freeing.
But somewhere along the way, I ended up fooling myself into thinking that distance would fix everything, that after six months or so of church absence I would just be dying to get back to it. While a cute and highly romanticized idea, that wasn’t the case. I still can’t go to my old church for the same reasons, and it just sounds like a lot of work to try out another church that might leave me in the same situation. I know that’s sort of lazy reasoning, but that’s the place that I’m in, and I think God has affirmed to me that it’s an okay place to be in, because it’s okay to be searching. It’s okay to be in an in between place.
So, instead of going to church this morning, I stayed home, put on some worship music, sang to Jesus, and talked with Him for a long time. What He told me during that time is, I think, a sign that whatever this place is that I’m in right now, it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. This is what He said, through Paul’s letter to Philemon regarding his slave Onesimus who had run away, but was being sent back to His master after having met the Lord.
“Formerly he [Onesimus] was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and me…I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not be forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever – no longer as a slave, but…as a dear brother.”
- Philemon 11, 14-16
I’m not sure how long I’ll be in this intermediary place, but one thing I do know for sure is that God has me here for a reason right now, so that when He is ready for me to go back, I’ll be able to go back forever, without having to return to this place.
Even more importantly, I think it’s a good reminder that God doesn’t punish us for going through periods of searching and definitely doesn’t tell us to just suck it up and it’ll all get better if we just power through. That may be true in some cases, but not all. I think that He knows and even plans for our lives and our spiritual journeys to take detours sometimes so that we can see more of Him in a way that’s untarnished by the fallen nature of other people. Then, when we’re ready and He’s worked on us a little, He sends us back to the crowd when we’ll be able to see His face and His truth and love past the human flaws that sometimes distort the picture of Him we see, making Him that much clearer.
Until then, search on.