I used to think…

I used to think I had it all figured out. I knew exactly what it meant to have faith and believe. Everything was in a pretty, wrapped up box and made total sense. We were meant to be happy all the time and go on with our lives accepting the sadness, but quickly flipping the coin over to joy.

I used to think I needed to keep Jesus in a box too. I knew this whole Christianity thing was supposed to be about following Jesus and being a disciple of him…that it means so much more than a label or a checklist or rules of right or wrong, but I spent so much time trying to be good, trying to make sure I was doing it right, and saying and believing the right things. I was missing out on the person of Jesus and who He was and how He is.

I used to bristle at being called a Christian…too much hurt, too much misuse, too much baggage is associated with that word. It was something I was not proud to be labeled as and the day I realized that a little part of me unraveled. What was wrong with me that I recoiled at this label? And even while I took a step back from the beliefs and traditions I’ve always known and confronted these doubts and questions, I never could shake Jesus. I never could shake that name, that person, that relationship and the more and more I stepped back from my pretty, wrapped up boxes and black and white definitions, I felt like I took a step closer and closer to Jesus.

I started to really think about who he was, what he stood for and if I’m going to say I follow him, what does that mean? I used to think it meant I had all the answers, I was on the “good” path, I should be able to fix everything and make sure it all works out for good. I should be happy all the time, but that’s not how this works, at least it hasn’t for me. My pretty wrapped up boxes have been destroyed, my world has faded from black and white to all kinds of shades of gray and I embrace the wonder, the messiness and the times it just doesn’t make sense because I don’t have it all figured out.

When you’re sitting in a funeral for a student who had been shot and killed, there is no way to fix that. When you watch his mother and brother and family cry out when that casket lid shuts, there is no pretty, wrapped up box for that to fit in. When the pain and the grief was choking me and all I wanted to do was make it better for them, all I could say was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. That name over and over again. Because what else can you do? This doesn’t make sense, how does my faith explain this? I don’t know, but Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…

When I’ve been in my darkest place, feeling like the despair, the confusion and the loneliness may just overtake me, there was no pretty, wrapped up box for that to fit in. When I felt like the world swirled around me like a tornado and all I could do was hang on for dear life, I didn’t know how this fit in my black and white categories or my understanding of my faith. It didn’t make sense to me, but Jesus did and I said that name, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Sarah Bessey says, “In your heart of hearts, in your raw place of grief and suffering, in your rich center of love and redemption, who do you say God is?” God is with us. That’s who God is to me. God is with us and he is love, he is comfort, he is peace and he hates what is evil. It is not his will for a teenager to be killed or for us to suffocate in the darkness, but Jesus is on the side of those who suffer and rather than looking down on our pain, sits with us in the brokenness, in the grief and in the sadness.

I used to think we were doing it wrong if we were sad and didn’t have a quick answer or reassurance for when that terrible thing happens, but now I know that we are going to be sad, we have to feel those feelings and there are no quick answers. We have lost the practice of lament and how true healing comes from walking through the grief.

I used to think I was damned for not loving being called a Christian, but now I think I am not alone in that and now I know that a label is not who I am. I never could shake Jesus and that’s who I want to be known by. I want to be known for all Jesus stands for…for love, justice, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, goodness, life, comfort and peace.

I used to think Jesus was present in my life and was the person I pointed to when asked who I believed in, but now I think He is so much more than that. He is there with me always, holding my hand to keep me grounded when the world is in chaos around me, sitting with me in the grief, walking with me in the wilderness and celebrating my joys. Always reminding me that He is there, he is love, he is comfort, he is constant, thank you Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

{This is part of the Out of Sorts Synchroblog with Sarah Bessey answering I used to think_____ but now I think _____ …head on over here to read more!}

Out of Sorts.

Have you ever felt like you had it all figured out and then you didn’t? Maybe that you knew exactly what you believed about that one thing and then you realized, wait, maybe I don’t know what I think? Or that at one time the world was really black and white and everything you believed made sense…and then it didn’t? Have you had doubts, felt more like you’re wandering in the wilderness every Sunday morning rather than sitting in that comfortable church pew?

My answers to all these questions? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. My faith has always been a part of who I am, but it has changed and evolved over the years. Sometimes it has made sense to me, other times it hasn’t. Sometimes I welcomed the changes and sorting out with open arms and sometimes I clenched my fists and fought against the feeling that I need to let go of these ideas that I always thought were right. Sometimes I felt really alone, other times I felt like just when I thought it was just me out here wandering, I would see Jesus and a friend would come alongside me too. In her new book, Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey is that friend.

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Sarah Bessey is one of my most favorite authors and her new book did not disappoint. I think every other line is underlined and I’ve lost count of the number of times “yes!”, “amen”, and “me too” fill the margins. It’s packed full of so much truth. It’s her story of how her faith has evolved and how she has made peace with that, but through her story you are confronted with so much truth. Truth that makes you dig deep, that makes you reflect on your own story. Her words remind us that we’re not alone and that God is oh so present in the sorting out. I see my story in her story.

It’s hard for me to articulate all the goodness found within Sarah’s writing so I think I’ll have to do a series of posts about it, but whether she’s writing about the Kingdom of God, community and friendship or the Church, her words drip with truth, life and light. It’s clear her writing is Spirit led and this writing is necessary and important to us all. It made me feel less alone and has helped me make peace with my evolving faith and I think it will for you too.  Sarah explains what the book is about, “Really, it’s a book about not being afraid. This is my way of leaving the light on for the ones who are wandering.”

Sarah also says, “There are many of us out here sorting, I think. This might be a small candle, but I’ll set mine on the lamp stand and you can set yours there too — and maybe our glow will light the path of others.” So join us on this lighted path so you can join your candles with ours and we can remember that we’re not on this journey alone.

{I was lucky enough to be on the launch team for Out of Sorts, which means I received an advance copy of the book in order to review it and spread the word about it. I didn’t receive any compensation for this, just the benefit of reading it so I can tell everyone how great it is and that you should buy it! You can find it on Amazon here.}

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I was so excited to get the book! Seriously…go get your copy!!!

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And just in case you need any more reason to love the book, there are the cutest printables with some of the themes from the book that you can find here.

It’s About More…

A few months ago, I went to a church that was holding a panel on racial reconciliation. The pastor asked the panel, why should Christians care about this talk of race, reconciliation and justice? One individual responded about how we have to because it’s what we should be about. He talked about how we too often take the pieces of God that we like, people cling to the piece that has the most in it for them and what they like the most, the salvation piece.

We take the piece of God we like…the salvation piece. Too many people’s version of Christianity is just concerned with our souls. It’s all about going to heaven. I remember spending many days and nights worried as a kid that if I sinned, wasn’t able to ask for forgiveness and then died, I would go to hell because I didn’t ask for forgiveness and my soul wouldn’t be clean because my Sunday School teacher told me that was true. This is just really bad theology in my opinion, made me live in fear for a long time and totally made me miss out on the beauty of the gospel. (and makes me realize that I was way too worried about deep things at a young age…these were my thoughts as an eight year old. Anyway…).

Our souls are very important…obviously. Salvation is important…but God has so much more for us. We don’t get to just decide “we want to go to heaven” and take that piece of God and leave it at that. God is so much bigger than that. People ask me why I care so much about justice and equality and I honestly, truly think it’s because we’re supposed to. As people who believe in this great big God and claim to follow Jesus, we have to care about justice and equality. We have to care about our neighbors and what is happening to them. We have to remember that every single person is created in God’s image and we are called to love each other well. We have to remember that when we claim to follow Jesus, we committed to be a part of a bigger story, that we decided to be a part of God’s Kingdom coming here on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Many people have said about me before, “Abby…justice and loving and caring too much is her ‘thing'”, but it shouldn’t just be my “thing”. It should be all of our “things”. (And you know I’m no expert or that great at it, so we all need to be in this together!)

I was at the Justice Conference last weekend and got to hear Dr. Cornel West speak and one thing he said really stuck out to me…he said, as people who say they follow Jesus, we have to be about love and justice. They’re not equal, but their indivisible. If our faith and beliefs are rooted and all about love, with that comes justice. To me, it just makes sense, that’s what my theology is about.

We can’t just take the pieces of God we like.  We can’t ignore the injustices that happen around us. We can’t think that the goal in life is just to make it to heaven. It’s about so much more than that.

“The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.” – MLK Jr.

Doubts

I just finished up reading the book, Evolving in Monkey Town, by Rachel Held Evans and I’m so glad I did. Rachel Held Evans is a blogger/author that I really enjoy reading and sometimes I feel like she’s writing the thoughts right out of my head, other times I feel like she’s articulating things I couldn’t articulate myself, other times I read something she writes and I’m unsure of it so I struggle with it and think about what it means for me, and other times she shares her experience and it brings tears to my eyes because I know I’m not alone.

Evolving in Monkey Town was the last one for me. It’s a story of Rachel’s faith journey and her experience with doubt. I would say our backgrounds are a little different, but her journey of faith and the doubt she experienced are very similar.

I feel like doubts are something you’re not supposed to talk about, so I haven’t. I feel like if I tell someone I doubt something about God or Christianity then they’re going to think I’m going to hell. I feel like if I talk about the fact that sometimes I’m unsure of what I thought I knew about God, people will discredit me. I feel like if I share what I really think about things and how over the last few years the world has faded from black and white to grey, people will “question my salvation”.

I don’t want to be seen as a cynic. I don’t want to appear to be unsure. I don’t want to be understood as someone who doesn’t believe in God.

Rachel says this and when she said, it echoed across my soul and mind because it’s exactly what I feel. I don’t doubt God…I doubt what I know and believe about God.

Through reading this book and other things, I’m coming to accept my doubt and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

Because of my doubts my faith has become stronger.

Because of my doubts I’ve realized it’s okay to say, I don’t know.

Because of my doubts I have had to realize what I really do believe.

Because of my doubts I have developed an openness I didn’t have before.

Because of my doubts I’ve realized this thing of following Christ and choosing to love Him and because of that love to love others well is a journey, always evolving, and there’s always more to discover. More to discover about the mystery God, the person of Jesus, more to discover about myself, others, and God’s creation.

I’m not ashamed of my doubts. I don’t have this whole faith thing figured out. It kinda worries me when people think they do. I don’t want to ever think I have it all figured out or know it all. I never want to stop asking questions.

Because I believe in a God that invites our questions, can handle our doubts and wants us to keep moving forward.