I Lie at Church

One Sunday as I sang along to the song on the screen, I realized I might not entirely mean what I was singing.

My wealth is in the cross *
There’s nothing more I want
Than just to know His love
My heart is set on Christ

Or another song, one I haven’t sang quite as recently:

You’re all I want **
You’re all I’ve ever needed
You’re all I want
Help me know You are near

You are my desire
No one else will do
‘Cause nothing else could take Your place
To feel the warmth of Your embrace

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Photo by Bill Hamway on Unsplash

Do I intend to mean those words? Yes. Except most days, to say “There’s nothing more I want than just to know God’s love” would be a big lie. I want that, sure, but it’s one on a list of many wants, and while I know what the order of those desires should be, it rarely actually looks that way. As I go through my regular days, if I thought about, “What do I want most in this moment?” my answers would often be very small, immediate things. A hot piece of pizza, a kind reply to a difficult email I had to send, some hazelnut coffee left in the pot in the kitchen at work. Digging a bit deeper, I might also want a friend to reply to my text, a nice guy to notice me, my dad’s recovery from surgery to be going well.

Should God be all I ever want? Absolutely. Should he be the only thing I think I truly need? Yes. But I also feel like I need friends and a house and food, and while on some level those are needs, they aren’t deep-level needs like I’m supposed to need God.

And then, maybe, after those are out of the way, I’d remember to articulate my desire for God to be enough in my life. But I’d still want all of those other things.

Should I stop singing these kinds of songs until I can mean the words with 100% truth?

I don’t really think so. As godly and noble as the writers of songs might be, not even they could mean the words they write every single moment of every single day, yet they still go ahead and write them anyway. When we sing worship songs or read psalms as our prayers, I think God knows our heart behind them even if we struggle with fully meaning what the words are saying.

It’s helpful for me to think of singing these kinds of songs as both a proclamation and a prayer. There are glimmers of moments where I truly do believe God is all I really want, but also, I sing those words as a desperate plea for God to continue conforming my wayward desires to look like his. The hope is that day by day, month by month, year by year, the times God truly is all I want will only ever increase, until maybe, someday, it’s more true than not true. I’ll never perfect it in this lifetime–I’m far too full of human-ness for that to be possible–but the hope of the Christian life is that we continually become better than we were the day before.

So I’ll keep singing the worship songs with gusto, even if I don’t feel like I fully believe or mean every single word as fully as I should. Because while I may not be at that place today, maybe someday I will be.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

*Read more: Hillsong – Crowns Lyrics | MetroLyrics
**Read more: Kutless – Draw Me Close Lyrics | MetroLyrics

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When It Seems Like God Lied (From the Midweek Encounter Blog)

Every few weeks, I write a post for my church’s Midweek Encounter blog reflecting on that week’s sermon. We just started this year’s Christmas series, and I suspect I will be taking away a lot from it. The first message was on God’s promises and how they often don’t look like we expect them to.

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Francis

When It Seems Like God Lied

There are many promises throughout the Bible.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

In our best moments, these verses likely come as a source of deep comfort. When we’re in the middle of difficult times though, having these verses offered as solutions to our problems can be frustrating or even annoying. Does losing a job seem like a plan to prosper us? Do illnesses, failed classes, divorces, cruel bosses, or financial ruin seem like giving us a hope and a future? There are times when God’s promises feel more like lies than truth.

Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.

Looking Back for Thankfulness

Last year at this time, I was not feeling overly thankful. A variety of situations, most of them entirely out of my control, had spiraled me into a place of frustration and discontent. Looking back at my journal from that time, the resounding theme was, “I don’t know what to do.” Getting out of that place required difficult and what proved to be wise yet un-fun decisions, combined with the simple but irritating solution of time.

 

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Photo Credit: Andy Chilton

Comparing our past with our present can be a dangerous game, because things don’t always turn out to be greener on the other side, and while memory lane is a nice place to visit, it’s an impossible place to live. This year though, looking back is giving me a fresh perspective on my reasons to be thankful. It’s both a general and specific thankfulness–I’m thankful life is going better than it was last fall, though much of that isn’t my own doing so much as the circumstances around me happen to different. And specifically, I am so thankful to have a place of my own to call home, a place I chose, I bought, and that I will get to decide when and if I move out of it. After the past few years of moving frequently, it feels like an immense gift to know next fall, unless something really goes haywire, I will still be living in the same place. It’s beginning to feel like real home, and to know I get to continue to build that sense there is deeply, profoundly comforting.

While much of my thankfulness stems from an upturn in life circumstances, there is a spiritual component to it as well. For an undetermined amount of time, I’ve felt an uneasy distance and strangeness in my faith. Though I’ve come to see it as a natural part of being in any sort of long-term relationship, I’ve never welcomed it or been particularly at peace with it. Maybe the season is beginning to change in my relationship with God, or maybe I’ve grown used to this place enough that it doesn’t bother me anymore, but it doesn’t concern me like it used to. It’s not a giving up, walking-away-from-faith kind of change. Instead it’s a peace, however still unsettled, with not fully understanding how the ebb and flow of a relationship with an unseen God works.

None of this is permanent, none of it is guaranteed to be the same (or even better) next year, and there are still plans and hopes I have for life that haven’t shown as much of a glimmer of turning out like I thought they would. Those things don’t go away, but I can choose to not let them detract from this, here, this place and time where I am thankful for what is instead of so caught up in what could be. 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What has looking back made you thankful for?

Christian Baggage

Growing up in a Christian community is simultaneously a wonderful gift and an odd kind of difficulty. I don’t know what it is to not know about God, to not go through the practices of prayer and devotions and church, to not be taught all the stories of the Bible alongside English and math and science. For me, they were all commonplace, the usual, simply the way of life. There is certainly a grace in my kind of upbringing, even while recognizing other’s experiences have graces all their own.

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Photo Credit: Mayra Carreno

At the same time, approaching Christian faith as a school subject taught me to read the Bible in an academic way, poring over it for answers to fill-in-the-blanks and multiple choice questions and essay topics. There is much value in the ability to read the Bible closely and study it thoroughly, but there’s also a subtle danger. For as much as the Bible is to be studied, it also meant to be experienced and lived. Aspects of my schooling tried to incorporate that crucial element, but there is only so much that can be done in a school setting and with students who are there, primarily, not through their own choosing but through their parents’. Only recently have I begun to notice the baggage I carry with me as a result of growing up in such settings. It’s not any weightier or more profound kind of baggage than many other people who grew up very differently than I did carry, but it exists all the same.

In my current phase of life, this plays itself out in the ways of faith formation I am and am not drawn to. The kind of writing that ties up difficult sections of the Bible with neat little bows and a “The Bible said it, that’s the end” mentality makes me break out in hives. There are so many ways to interpret the Bible, and I am increasingly less confident that there is one way that is the only way. Certain kinds of Bible studies, the ones that require lots of fill-in-the-blanks and copying down answers straight from a Bible passage, make me want to run away. I filled out many Bible worksheets as a child, and while I absolutely believe they have value and can be a helpful guide, they are the exact opposite for me at this point. Any idea that memorizing Bible verses or working down a “spirituality checklist” is a magical gateway to getting closer to God makes me nauseous. Knowing the Bible is so important, but there are other ways of knowing it that better meet me where I’m at today.

As I’ve been noticing some of the Christian baggage I carry, it’s tempting to feel guilty. Shouldn’t I be looking for any way to work on my relationship with God, through any means? On some level that’s true, and I want to be faithful to the practices that help facilitate that possibility, recognizing some form of these are vital to the Christian life. But I’m also a firm believer in the idea that we experience seasons in all areas of life, be they physical, emotional, spiritual, or anything else. Being taught the Bible as though it was another school subject was good for me in many ways, but just because it was good for me then doesn’t mean it’s good for me right now–or that it won’t be good for me again at some point down the road.

What to do with baggage is a complicated question. For now, I think it’s enough to begin to see my baggage for what it is and to recognize the ways it does and will continue to shape the way I approach my faith, while also appreciating that other’s journeys look different than mine. And to know that my own trek is, in many ways, just beginning.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How have you dealt with any baggage from the faith background you were or weren’t raised in?

That Time I Bought a Condo

At the beginning of this year, I picked one word I was supposed to focus on, one word to to provide a sort of framing and direction for the year. I attended an event at my church where we painted or decorated little canvases showcasing our word, meant to be a reminder we could hang somewhere we’d see it often so we would look for it and be aware of the way that theme was playing out in our lives. For the first few weeks, I did look back at it often and tried to seek it out in my daily life, but I never found a great place to put that little canvas in my room. After a while, I mostly forgot about it. It sat on my desk, more and more layers of papers and receipts and random paraphernalia collecting on top of it.

Until, finally, I unearthed it. I hadn’t forgotten my word, not in a large sense, but I had forgotten to let it soak into my everyday–which is a bit funny, considering my word is dwell. When I chose it, I wrote:All at once a command, a reminder, and a promise. It feels gentle though, and kind. Something I can manage.”

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And while in one sense it felt manageable, in another sense it felt so very, very far off. The spiritual component, of seeking to do more dwelling with God while also more fully internalizing the mysterious beauty of him already dwelling in me, seemed doable. That was a space I had been before, and while it had been a while, I could see there being a path back. In the physical sense though, I had no idea what dwell would mean for me in 2016. As a young, unmarried adult, housing had been complicated for years and there seemed to be no end to that in sight. Since graduating from high school, I hadn’t lived in the same place for longer than 14 months. For someone who often struggles with change and doesn’t do well with uncertainty, it had become incredibly taxing. To dwell in a physical sense seemed nearly impossible.

Yet, when I finally found my little canvas again, I did so with a sigh of deep, deep gratefulness. Because I found it when I was starting to pack to move into a place of my condo, a condo I bought, a home that will be mine for the next while and hopefully won’t cease to be mine until I decide otherwise. A place where I am throwing away the boxes because I likely won’t need them again in a year, a place where I am thinking of affixing shelves to walls instead of decorations hung up with poster putty. For the first time, I changed my permanent address to something other than my parent’s house. I’ve been in my new place for a few weeks now, and it is slowly beginning to feel real, to feel like mine.

It also feels like such an immense gift.

Through the whole process of looking at condos, making an offer, getting finances squared away once my offer had been accepted, having the inspection done, and waiting to hear that everything had gone as it was supposed to, I kept expecting something to go wrong. Being the largest decision of my life, and one I both had and got to make completely on my own, I prayed furiously through the whole process, begging God for something to go wrong if this was not supposed to be my place. People talk about the excitement of buying a house, but they rarely talk about the sheer terror that accompanies it. But everything fell into place. I signed a stack of papers, and suddenly, I owned a condo.

Dwell had come true in the way I least expected it to.

Now, my little dwell canvas lives on my fridge (I have a fridge) in my kitchen (I have a kitchen) in my condo (I have a condo). 2016 is far from over, and that word may take on depths of more meaning in the coming months. But already, it’s a reminder to not only look forward to what is to come, but also to know that God is at work even when we forget he is.  

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. If you have a one word for 2016, how have you seen it shape your year so far?

When What You Want Isn’t What You Need (From the Midweek Encounter Blog)

Every few weeks, I write a post for my church’s Midweek Encounter blog reflecting on that week’s sermon. We’re in a message series about layovers in life, and I especially appreciated the reminder this week that while God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want him to, he does answer them how we need him to.

 

When What You Want Isn’t What You Need

There’s a worship song we sing pretty regularly at Encounter that I struggle with at times. Called “Always,” it includes these words:

Oh, my God, He will not delay
My refuge and strength always
I will not fear, His promise is true
My God will come through always, always

 
One Sunday after singing it, I remarked to a friend that I wasn’t sure I bought it. At that point in my life, it seemed as though God was either moving really, really slowly, or perhaps not at all. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe God was there, but it was difficult to see how and where he was working. When we’re in a layover season in life, a time of uncertainty, disappointment, loss, heartbreak, change, or any number of other things that seem to keep us from moving from one place to the next, it can feel like “He will not delay” is a bit of a lie.

 

Keep reading at the Midweek Encounter blog.

I’m Afraid of the Holy Spirit

In the religious tradition I grew up in, the Holy Spirit was by far the least talked about member of the Trinity.  When he was referenced, it was in ways like, “Let the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts and actions today,” or “Listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit.” And let’s be real–my life has been steeped in the Bible and Jesus and prayer and all that, but I still don’t truly understand what any of those phrases about the Holy Spirit are actually supposed to mean and how they’re supposed to change the way I live. As a concept, I understand that the Holy Spirit should be as much a part of my life as God the Father and Jesus are because of the complicated three-in-oneness of the Trinity, but on a life level, I do not understand it.

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Photo Credit: Dominik Lange

For most of my life, I was fine with mostly ignoring the Holy Spirit. As I’ve learned more about the different streams of Christianity though, I’ve discovered just how much many Christians decidedly do not ignore the Holy Spirit, and this is where things get complicated. I don’t think my way, of ignoring the Holy Spirit, is a good or healthy way of not understanding him. The way some Christians interact with the Holy Spirit is so dramatically different than I grew up with though that I don’t quite know what to do with it.

When people talk about speaking in tongues, it’s like I don’t have a category for where to process it, the same way I don’t know what to do with faith healers making people stand up out of their wheelchairs and ridding people’s bodies of cancer. I believe some people who speak in tongues and heal people truly love Jesus and are performing those acts in genuine, God-fearing ways, but I also believe that some people abuse and warp those seemingly good gifts. Even less extreme examples, such as people saying they made a certain decision because they heard the Holy Spirit talking to them, are outside of my own personal experience and make me pause. What does “heard the Holy Spirit” actually sound or feel like? And how do they tell the difference between the Spirit and their own thoughts?

It’s not that I don’t believe the Holy Spirit can and does work in these ways–I do. But if the Holy Spirit hasn’t worked in those ways in my life, does it mean I’m doing something wrong? Admittedly I think I am missing something about the Holy Spirit, in the way I live out my faith and also possibly in the way I believe in and think about the Holy Spirit, but I also wonder if the way I’ll experience him will just be different than those.

Perhaps the logical thing to do would be to set out on a religious quest to learn all I can about the Holy Spirit, with the hope that learning would lead to experience. There’s value there, and I am making steps in that direction–but it’s with trepidation. I’ve grown rather comfortable not really understanding the Holy Spirit, and I’m a little afraid at what I might discover, because I don’t think I’ll end up in the same comfortable place I’ve been in. Change is scary, and I suspect the Holy Spirit may have work to do in my life that I don’t want to admit to. When I pray, I’d rather avoid leaving time for silence to listen to the Spirit, because who knows what I might hear? It’s so much easier to ignore uncomfortable parts of our faith than to face them head on.

My time for ignoring the Holy Spirit needs to be up, though. It never should have existed to the extent that it has, and I need to learn a better way to understand all three persons of God. I just don’t know what it’s going to look like.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What has helped in your understanding of the Holy Spirit?

When Holy Week Gets Complicated

When faith is still a bit out of sorts, things like Holy Week can be complicated.

The story itself isn’t so complicated, in theory–Jesus rides into town on a donkey on Palm Sunday, he has his last supper with his disciples on Thursday and then is betrayed by one of his own, Friday he dies, Sunday he rises. There are complexities and nuances in there, of course, but those are the bare minimum details.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User ArturoYee, Creative Commons

Why did he do all this, though? Who really killed Jesus–the Romans, or God himself by allowing this to (or making it?) happen? Did Jesus actually go to hell? How is salvation accomplished? In what order does salvation occur?

And if I haven’t fully figured out my answers to these questions, but instead can see how people arrive at different conclusions and appreciate those differences, does it make me a bad Jesus follower?

Not exactly the questions most people discuss over Easter dinner.

But every year, Holy Week invites us to experience the story of Jesus and ponder what he means to our lives. They’re all good, valid, complicated questions worthy of studying and discussing and revisiting time and time again. Yet, if I let myself get lost in them, I’ll miss the things I am sure of–or at least as reasonably sure as I can be.

 

I believe in Jesus.

I believe he was God and human, that he lived on earth, that he died but didn’t stay that way.

I believe that somewhere in that process, salvation was accomplished.

Salvation to set me free from the messy sinfulness of humanity I was born into, and that allows me to live for a purpose much greater than myself.

 

I believe much more than that, but for now, those three things. The whys whos hows and whats will always be there, and I can’t–and won’t–ignore them; but these three things I believe ground me. Everything else comes flows out of, and comes back to, these three. And mainly, Jesus.

Not that I follow him well every day, or even ever for that matter. But I believe in him with all of me that can, and I’ll keep coming back to that.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Does Holy Week get complicated for you?

Faith Lessons in the Dark

As part of the launch of her new book Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, Addie Zierman is hosting a synchroblog sharing stories of faith in the dark. I haven’t read the book yet, but I have a sense that much of it will resonate with me. This is my contribution to the collection of stories, and you can read others here.

In life and in faith, there are different kinds of darkness.

Some is sudden, all-consuming, like the flicking of a switch.

Some is gradual, gentle, like the fading from day to night.

Nearly all darkness is confusing.

When what was once so easy to see becomes murky and unclear, it can be tempting to become angry at the dark.

 

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Photo Credit: Flickr User heyFilbert, Creative Commons

For a longer time than I can keep track of anymore, and a much longer time than I would have expected, I have been in the shadows of faith. Not always, not completely, but often. I’ve never been able to pin its coming on any one specific instance or circumstance, it just arrived, all on its own, uninvited. But sometimes even uninvited house guests have their merit, and while I am not yet to the point of being able to say I’m truly thankful for the darkness, I am beginning to develop a hesitant appreciation for it.

It turns out there are more people in the dark than I thought, and being there myself has made me seek them out in ways I wouldn’t have before. Having questions, not feeling like God is there, struggling to understand why God does and doesn’t behave in certain ways–there are, and have been, many people who have been in the same place of wondering and wandering. Though I grew up in a Christianity-saturated environment, these weren’t topics that were wrestled with often. Since I didn’t struggle with them in any sort of significant way for most of my life, the absence of those conversations didn’t bother me. Darkness feels a little less lonely when there are others in it though. It’s not that I would wish darkness on other people, but if they’re in it too, it’s better to know we are not alone. Blogs and books, like Addie’s and many others, are a gift for the darkness.

As valuable as reading about people in the darkness can be, experiencing it is something different. Defining the darkness of faith is a tricky business, because it looks so different for different people. For me, the darkness has made me realize much of faith is not black or white but myriad shades of grey; it’s made me more okay with uncertainty, and helped me make room for other’s uncertainty as well. I still believe most of what I used to believe, but I cling a little more loosely to some of it. There has been a lot of value in being forced to reexamine how I approach my faith. Not “feeling” God has frustrated me, but has also made me realize that, like all relationships, there will be seasons in my relationship with God. During some I’ll feel close to him, during some I’ll feel farther away, and neither of those are objectively a result of me “succeeding” or “failing” at doing faith well. For all the good that reading the Bible and praying are, they are not magic ingredients to a faith I’ll always feel. True faith doesn’t work like that.

Perhaps the most valuable thing of all that I’ve found in the darkness is that God is enough. Even when it doesn’t feel that way, even when I’m sick of trying so hard and feeling nothing, God is still enough. Enoughness is who he is, part of his very essence and being. Always and ever, he is enough.

I forget that daily. Almost always, really. I want more of him and from him than I may ever get, but it’s because I already have enough of him for all that I need. Even in the dark.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What faith lessons have you learned in the darkness?

Doubt is Not a Bad Guy

The other day as I was driving, I happened to be listening to a Christian radio station. I have a hard time not nitpicking Christian music as it is, and this lyric jumped out at me:

I don’t wanna ever doubt You

It’s a noble goal in theory, but in the face of real life, real problems, real heartache, it immediately struck me as unrealistic.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User Barbara Walsh Photography, Creative Commons

No matter how well we strive to follow Jesus, there will always be moments of doubt–maybe not doubting his existence, though that’s certainly a possibility–but doubting his plan, doubting his goodness, doubting how things play out in our lives and in the lives of those around us. I don’t think we’ll ever fully escape those kinds of doubts.

And, I’d argue, that’s not a bad thing. There are times when we learn more through doubting than we would in any other way.

Wrestling with doubt can be holy.

It can also be treacherous, which is why it gets portrayed as the Bad Guy. If doubt causes us to only seek out people and places that tell us our doubts are all valid and everything we’ve believed is a lie, it’s problematic. That kind of doubt is only enforcing what we may already want to hear. Perhaps even more dangerous is the kind of doubt that does nothing at all. Instead of doing the slow, hard work of confronting doubt and examining it from every angle, ignoring it moves us nowhere. It’s a grand stalemate, a lazy kind of doubt that’s afraid of finding any sort of answer, because those answers may be uncomfortable.

But doubt can also spur us to action. It can force us to reexamine, rethink, and possibly even renew what be believe. There is value in exploring how other people have dealt with similar doubts, no matter what conclusion they reached–there is good to be learned in seeing their process, in seeing echoes of ourselves reflected in other people’s stories. It doesn’t mean that our process or destination will end up looking the same, but there can be comfort in the commonalities.

 
This may not be a popular opinion in Christianity. There are no guarantees when we set out on a journey to examine our doubt, because doubt is messy and complicated and painful. But saying it’s always bad only makes us afraid of something any Christ-follower will encounter at points along the path. Presenting doubt as the objective Bad Guy makes people hesitant to talk about it, and can leave people feeling as though they are the only ones who have ever struggled with it. When doubt is presented as a likely part of the faith journey instead of an aberration, we create space to talk about it honestly in community, instead of struggling through alone. Talking about it doesn’t mean we, or our faith, will come out unscathed–there is far too much mystery in God and faith and grace for me to understand how two people’s seemingly similar paths can have such dramatically different outcomes–but it may mean we won’t come out alone.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Have you encountered good in doubt?