I went to church

Hi friends, (cue Eminem: “guess who’s back, back again”…) I would say I’m back, but I’ve also grown enough this last year to know that I might just disappear off the face of the earth for six months next week – so I make no promises. However, while sitting on the train last week I began to write about a HUGE part of these last two years. And I thought I would share.

Now, bear with me, this was a messy ramble interposed with the rustle of a lady eating fried chicken in the seat behind me… while my mind was delving into the depths of existentialism and the hurt of the last few years, my physical self was stuck on a grotty train surrounded by hungover people returning home on a Sunday morning.

Ok. here we go.

This year has looked like distance – like space – space created for the picking apart, for confusion, pain, cynicism, doubt giving birth to contentment in feeling independence and then boom: anxiety (walking into or past a church building – legs almost buckling beneath me), shame placed on me from others, shame placed on me by myself. I have justified and justified; saying I am as much a part of the body as ever, or nitpicking the details of churches and writing them off as non-negotiable red flags that I could not overlook in a community of Jesus followers.

I have grown sick of the disapproving looks from family members and friends who sighed every time they asked the same questions regarding my church attendance – as if I would fall off the rails and my salvation would hang in the balance. This is not to blame them, part of the reason I so detested this line of questioning was that two years ago I would have been in the same place – and to me, it was not simply church attendance that became a non-negotiable check box for salvation, I had come to believe that salvation was contingent upon serving, call times, lyrics remembered, correct colloquialisms used in common prayer from stages or in circles around run sheets.

I would have looked at me now and labelled myself as divisive, ‘anti-culture’, bitter, disillusioned, seeking worldly things. Reality is, this is far from the truth. The level of conviction walking away from what had been comfortable for decades far outweighed my desire to not be labelled the above. It still does, and it was the unpacking and unravelling of this new revelation in which I seemed to experience the birth pains of personal conviction and after time, the development of sturdier roots, a sturdier “why”, a belief system in which I do not have to piggyback off someone who seems to have their theology down to a T. I guess I really did not think I would step foot into a church again.

I read Lamentations 3 in the Message as I was entering the last couple of years… it speaks of the dichotomy of God being tender, yet simultaneously severe… I thought it sounded weirdly poetic, but did not quite have the roadmap as to what that practically looked like. I guess I knew of God’s tenderness, but my focus had forever been on His severity – the necessity of holiness and sanctification. I had experienced his grace, yes, but alongside my A-type personality, this equaled an end by which I thought I could enter His courts only through striving after holiness – something that never quite seemed attainable. Therefore, while this period has been messy, I am actually thankful, I have been humbled by my neediness, and experienced the tender grace and patience of God in his subversion of the religiosity I had alway thought was necessary to live according to His will.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
– Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)

“When life is heavy and hard to take,
    go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
    Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
    The “worst” is never the worst.
Why? Because the Master won’t ever
    walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.”

– Lamentations 3:28-31 (MSG)

Throughout this, I began to learn the art of spiritual archaeology: picking up every fragment of my shattered faith, my shattered expectations and inspecting each one. I had to learn to hold up each indistinguishable piece to see if there was a likeness in it to the nature of Jesus. Who, while the world may not have understood my lack of interest in traditional church attendance, was standing beside me, firm but patient, as I stooped down to pick up the pieces I thought were forever broken – handing me the glue for what He affirmed was ok to piece back together, and holding the recycling bin, ready for me to reshape that which was skewed to begin with.

So, this brings me to today. While I may have a faith mosaic now with a rough, higgledy piggledy surface, one that may look a little jumbled up, way less put-together, I am a whole lot less fragile. I have forgiven those who hurt me (whether intentionally or not), and through a lotttt of prayer, no longer feel the sting when thinking about particular spaces or activities. I don’t think church for me will ever look the same, but I am also aware that there is a point at which Jesus says: “get up and walk” knowing full well that healing has occurred and should I stay sitting in the same conversations, spaces, I may develop spiritual gangrene (gross) . It’s time to pick myself up and ask “what next?”

I moved back to Aus in Jan last year. There is something disconcerting about being in an environment that is so intrinsically ‘okay’ without dependence upon the Holy Spirit. People find success in striving, morning rituals, matcha, sex, social media, and overpriced pilates classes. Their need for the Lord is dampened by the glossy allure of secularism – which really has just become a synonym for capitalism, or materialism.

What is interesting about this, is that even when I was not found in a conventional ‘church’ community, I was always surrounded (and I mean surrounded) by like-minded people. Conversations about Jesus’ involvement in the everyday has been as commonplace as a conversation about the weather in my circles. Take a step out of that – and you really begin to understand the concept of the world, the flesh. It’s empty, and it leaves a longing for His presence around tables, with friends, in healthy criticism and love-infused growth that I did not realise I was lacking in.

So, I went to church today – not because I necessarily think that it is the church for me, or because I needed to get out of the house. Maybe it is because deep down I know there is power in gathering (although I am definitely introverted and would be absolutely content in total solitude every weekend), in communal worship, in people from different backgrounds, generations etc. finding a mutual friend in Jesus. Maybe it’s because unlike Africa, this country feels pretty devoid of places where people are intentional in seeking the Holy Spirit, and I am craving those spaces more than ever. Maybe this really is what healing looks like.

More to come, maybe in a week, maybe in a year. But I am excited – to redefine what Jesus-loving community can look like.

If you need prayer or want to chat about the questions that can feel totally all-encompassing, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Matilda xxx

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