Why We Are Leaving the Church

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This last week I learned that having been born in 1980 I am right on the line, classified by some as a Gen X’er and by others as a Millennial.  It doesn’t really matter. Some say it is only the younger generations like mine that are leaving the Church, I say it isn’t limited to age at all.  Some aren’t present even as they “actively attend” and I think many are missing the point as they argue over details.

Some will dismiss what I will share here as the musings of a no-body who could not possibly understand the complicated litany of reasons this is happening.  I would counter by saying it is just like Jesus to use no-body’s like me.

I have spent the last year asking, listening, watching and learning about why people leave the Church.  I have been listening and here is what I have heard:

Hurt. Hurt. And more hurt by all sides, like a live channel with never ending streaming content.

There was a long list of other reasons given, some regarding lack of faith, some about disagreements, personal preferences, etc.

All sides seem to have a long list of reasons to answer why we are leaving the Church.  I think all of those “reasons” are just the symptoms though, they aren’t the root cause.

I think it really boils down to this: It is about people not being seen, not being held, not being heard, and not being loved.  

I simply believe this- if Jesus followers stepped up and loved in the radical way that Jesus modeled and taught we would not be able to keep people OUT of church.

There is no such thing as a perfect church, true.  However, show me a spirit-led church with solid, healthy leadership, serving the needs of the people, equipping and training the congregants, and loving people right where they are while never hiding from the messy-hard and I will show you a church that is growing.

A few churches are doing this REALLY well, most aren’t.

Distract them with their issues, their selfishness, their pride and they will be useless– I can almost hear the enemy whisper.

Blinded, we are.

To everyone, people are going to hurt you, we humans tend to do that.  We get to choose to be the walking wounded or to be free. I am deeply sorry you have been hurt, I have too.  And we have all done the hurting at some point in time. Imagine if we allowed room for God to actually use it all for our benefit, even the most ugly, like He promises?  Imagine if we deal with our issues instead of playing with masks to wear? Stop running from the hard stuff, you are a warrior.

Leaders in churches, it starts with you.  You can only lead to the level of freedom you yourself have obtained.  No one is expecting perfection, which is impossible, so cast away that lie.  Our most basic need is to be seen, to feel valuable, and to be loved. Love covers so dang much it is mind boggling.  We need you to be striving to be an example worth following. How you treat those you want to lead and those who seek to help you matters profoundly.  Stay humble and teachable. Don’t play favorites. Rely on Jesus (I know you know this but do you actually do this?). And lastly, teach everyone else how to go and do likewise.  Already know and do all of this? Awesome. Would all the people not trying to kiss up to you agree with that?

Jesus followers, what are we doing?  I can leave “a church” but I could never leave THE Church.  Why? Because I LOVE the people- imperfect, messy, broken, Jesus-died-for-each-of-them people and I deeply love Jesus.  His example is THE example, He is the goal, the Church is His beloved. As hard as it may be at times, we are meant to journey together.  You know what is great about 2019? We all have access to opening the Bible and digging deep into scripture. We have access to more information than any generation before us.  Our journey with Jesus is first our responsibility. What are we doing? Are we running after Jesus, after truth, after freedom? Or are we making it all about ourselves and whatever sounds good to us?  Time is short. It is time to grow-up, put on our big girl/boy pants and go deep with Jesus. Through Him we can do this radical love thing, instead of a judgy, I have-to-stay-in-my-comfort-zone, it-is-all-about-me thing.  Jesus didn’t say we wouldn’t get hurt. Love costs us, it cost Him. He said it would be worth it. Weary? Take a nap and then go deeper, don’t get going. We are failing a world in desperate need of us showing up and being the Church that Jesus has called us to be.

Signed,

An Observing No-body Who Has Been Changed by Jesus

 

The Death of a Son

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Jesus on the cross.

A few years ago I was asked to contemplate and create a piece of art through photography that spoke to that scene.  At first, I was overwhelmed. What could I possibly do with photography that could speak to this profound moment?

As I prayed, I looked down at my sleeping 8 month old baby whose fingers curled tightly around mine and thought, “What about Mary?”

The one who carried Jesus in her womb, the one who nursed Him at her breast, the one who did all the late night feedings after birthing Him into the world–she was there.  She was at the cross as He died. He was first the son of God, but He was also her son, and she held all the memories of raising Him while He hung dying on that cross.

Jesus was fully God and fully man, but I would pose that Mary was simply fully human and fully a mom.  And as a mom, I sought to ponder what it might have been like for her during those hours…

She knew it was coming, but nothing could have truly prepared her for the scene, the feelings, the smells, the sounds, the helplessness she felt.  Even if she was able to grasp the importance of the sacrifice completely, it had to war with her instincts as a mother, powerful instincts to protect and defend her child, her son.

As she watched Him die, did she flash back to that baby she held in the humble manager? To the fingers that once curled around her own in total dependance on her care, now being drained of their life while He hung on the cross?  Did she think back over the thousands of memories she held of watching Him grow into a man? Did she weep bitterly knowing that while this incredibly hard thing was God’s will, it felt like it was impossible for her to bear?

Mary, you didn’t run from the hard of any of those moments.  You stayed present. You stayed steadfast even as your knees dropped to the ground, and you wept and your heart broke into what seemed like possibly irreparable pieces. We know God had you even then, especially then, because through incredible pain and with extraordinary effort Jesus spoke from the cross about you:

“‘When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!’” John 19:26-27

Ordinary Mary. God used her to do an extraordinary thing. He chose her, He loved her, He had her…even and especially in the shadow of the cross.

He has you today too. From the cradle to the crosses in your life, He has you. He loves you. In the pain he promises to bring forth great purpose. Even when we feel crushed, He has a plan. He is never surprised, and He always gets the victory.  Like Mary, may we draw near to Jesus and not only find the resurrection power but also find the power that only comes at the foot of the cross.

 

The Hard Place

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.  14 years I waited, while hope of ever carrying a child myself grew worn and faint. Yet it steadfastly flickered on–unwilling to be snuffed out.  Three years ago this month God breathed life into her lungs as we heard her cry for the very first time. Hope majestically fulfilled, finally.It was one of the single most incredible moments of my life. It also marked the beginning of a journey through physical pain that I never even dreamed possible.

Hope flickers, still unwilling to die.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  I wasn’t supposed to be a broken mommy. And yet

It is life in the hard place.

The place of questions and fears and battling to hold onto hope and God when you just do not understand.

The hard place.  Perhaps you know it? If not, you will.

It threatens to steal your breath and snuff out the flame of hope.

Somewhere along the way He has drawn me in and completely convinced me of his greatness and his goodness, even in the waiting, especially in the hard. He is it. When he doesn’t quiet the storm, when the pain continues, when wave after wave of hard hits, he still has you.

And the gift?

You see him more clearly in the pain, all ideas of your “god-ness” fall away.  You finally comprehend that you can’t do this without Him. The sweetness of total surrender is now understood because you are certain of your need. Maybe that is the greatest gift in the hard–the pearls of his presence unequalled even in seasons of great pleasure.

I wish there was some other way, but we wander. We are too quick to believe the lies, and to take our eyes off of Him. And so, though it never ever feels like it, maybe it is one of his greatest mercies after all– lest we get so full of ourselves we believe we never needed Him.

My hope remains unbreakable because it firmly rests in Him.  Where is your hope today?

 

To the Parent-Who-Just-Can’t-Today

To the Parent-Who-Just-Can’t-Today,

To the new mommy who is trying to figure out breast-feeding, is still rockin’ those awesome post-partum mesh undies, and cries at all the things, I see you. To the weary parent of littles who can’t use the bathroom without interruption, who hasn’t gotten a good night’s sleep since before parenthood began, and who feels their biggest accomplishment today might just be the shower they squeezed in during naptime, I see you. To the parent who faces the child entering the land of hormones, where their mouths can be as big as their mood swings, and are tempted to ask the doctor to medicate one of you so that you’ll both survive, I see you.  And to the parent who is saying goodbye as their adult-but-will-always-be-their-baby heads out into the world, who is flooded with all the feelings, who wrestles with wondering if their precious will be ok and if their parenting was good-enough, I see you. To those parents who feel like they just can’t today, and secretly wonder if they are failing at this parenthood gig, this is for you.

Just breathe– right now, right where you are. Just take a deep breath.  This is life in the middle of the beautiful and hard, the stretch-you, teach-you, touch-all-your-buttons-and-remind-you-that-you-need-Jesus messy middle. Just breathe.  You are not alone.  I am there along with all the others who do the work of showing up for this parenthood gig.

One question: What has captured your focus, the mess or the Maker?

That was the question that whispered over and over in my mind as I observed a newborn baby and her daddy this week.  The baby girl in his arms perfectly surrendered to his care, staring wide eyed up at his face, tiny fingers wrapping and unwrapping around his finger; perfectly held.  The love of the father pouring over his precious child was evident in every detail. The look, the attention, the hold, the provision–he had her and she knew it. Stunning.

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The mess was my focus. The strength was my own. The peace was gone along with my patience, replaced by fear and doubt while everything pulled for my attention and drained my emotions. Sometimes the busyness in the hard is the enemy of our focus and the thief of our peace.  Sound familiar?

The moment I decide to, I can be in the presence of my Father, eyes firmly fixed on Him while he lovingly tucks me in and holds me in the middle of the messiness.

Let this sink in a moment:  The God who heals the sick, who raises the dead, who gives sight to the blind, who touches lepers, who loves on outcasts, who walks into all the pain and all the hard of all the people who call on Him, who remains steadfast in every season, and can do all things is the God who says, “Come to me.”  Why would we not go to the one who CAN when we know darn well we CANNOT? He has us, but do we know it?

So, dear ones, I encourage you to keep your focus fast on Him and not on the mess.  Let your body relax as you lean in and he wraps you in his amazing peace. Let him quiet your heart, equip you with the strength you need today, and listen to His neverending wisdom.  He will hold you in His perfect love even when the storms rage…and that changes everything.

 

The Why (The Day I Attempted Suicide, Part 2)

“…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32

IF I were dying, THEN they would realize how much they love me–this was a fantasy I would play out in my mind often as I tried to fall asleep at night. My mind was a safe place where I would try to sort out all the feelings that were far bigger than I was at the time.  At four, one does one’s best to wrestle with complex issues, and this was part of my feeble attempt. It was the year I was first sexually violated and lost my innocence. Throw that into a whirlpool of flourishing familial dysfunction, and I would begin to understand pain and rejection for the very first time. Sometimes our greatest traumas come from what isn’t given.

Survive–we are hard coded to survive until it is pecked away by the brokenness. Surviving is not the same as thriving… So much can be robbed from us in moments, leaving behind decaying parts that long for redemption to breath new life.

17. He spent at least a year grooming me, testing to see just how broken I really was, before he attacked me. After so many sexual assaults through the years, THIS ONE had to be my fault, right? I should have known better. I should have been wiser.  And yet, wasn’t this story familiar somehow– the one that seemed to speak of my worthlessness again and again? I had even met Jesus, so how could these things happen still? I was tired of surviving. After I managed to get away, I sat mostly naked and sobbing on my bedroom floor.  I studied the pill bottle on my vanity. Gone were my childhood fantasies, left were rotting wounds. How could I go on? What was the point? So much pain. That first thought was nothing but a whisper…just take the pills

The seed had been planted before I was old enough to add, watered with every trauma life brought, and fertilized by my ignorance.  Suicide...maybe it was the only way the pain would ever stop. It became the new fantasy, a false promise that maybe it was the only way to end my pain after all.  So, with every incredibly dark and painful season this thought would echo through my mind like a sweet promise of freedom…

Lies are always powerful, but the truth holds greater power still.  I had yet to learn that lesson, though.

The day I attempted suicide, the birth control pills had pulled the proverbial trigger, but the gun had long ago been loaded.  Take away the synthetic hormones and my mood would indeed regulate, but it would not teach me what I desperately needed to learn. The trigger was always there, tempting me to just pull…

…when the infertility news arrived.

…when my twin daughters died.

…when I faced rejection more profound than I had ever dreamed possible before…

..the thought came like a drink of water that promised to extinguish my fire. No more pain.

What was wrong with me?  Who thinks these thoughts? Clearly only crazy people! The shame that enveloped me held my tongue until I was bone weary of the plague it had become.

The perspiration beaded on my brow and soaked through my shirt as I finally blurted out my secret to my therapist.

I struggle with thoughts of suicide, and I don’t understand what is wrong with me!” I cried.

The flood gates opened, the tears I had cried behind closed doors for years spilled forth, climaxing into an ugly, snotty sob of confession.

Amazingly, she NEVER said what I was so terrified was true–that I was indeed crazy.  (In fact, I asked her repeatedly just to be sure.) Instead, her words would shatter my shame, breathe life into my desert, and pave the way to greater freedom than I had ever previously known.  I would finally understand the why, I would begin to see the truth and slowly she would teach me to understand just what I could do.

Freedom. Finally.