Singleness and Community

Visiting new churches is difficult, no matter if you are a married or a single. I have mentioned this a time or two, and I know from friends that have kiddos that it’s especially hard to pull them up from the friend group to search out a new church home.

Recently I felt a bit uncomfortable with the comfortable nature I was feeling at my church of three years. The only tension I was finding was in seeing how comfortable the walls and rows had become with being right where they were. It bothered me so deeply that I decided to take a pause from my church and explore other options. Friends who are at other churches that I’d heard about or listened to their podcasts in the area suggested I check out their churches.

But I have to be honest here, I lost every bit of accountability the moment I walked out of my home church. If I didn’t show up that Sunday? Well that’s okay, no one would know but me…and God of course. And so for the past two months I have sort of coasted through this tension of my spiritual walk in finding a church based solely upon my expectations and not what the church is there to do-disciple and minister to the lost.

As I shared with a friend last night when he asked what he could pray for me on, I think I already knew where God was leading on this. Because as a single, we desperately need community rooted in the walls of the church. We need that accountability and that connectedness more than we need the church to live up to some expectation we have set for her.

For me what I didn’t recognize was a season of tension in my selfish expectations and the needs of the church right where I was at. I made it about me rather than about those around me. I directed it all inward rather than outward and upward. I pulled away from friendships and relationships out of a selfish need I discovered was rooted in lies, rooted in doubt and worry, judgement. Instead of taking it to others, I simply pulled up stakes and walked out.

When you are single, whether you are a leader in a ministry or even a pastor, you need that circle of relationships, you need the church and it’s community. You need the care and relationships that can sometimes be difficult and not what you expected, but it’s what God has placed there for you at that exact time. And it can be tense, it can make you want to turn and walk away. But more than anything, that’s when we need to cling even more to Him and His people. To the community. Even when we don’t feel like showing our weaker side, our doubt, our worry, our fears and our hurts. We like the comfortable when it comes to how we do church and community. We like the sheen of fine a bit more than we realize or admit. We worry about what will be said about us, instead of what we are living out of His Word.

It’s a difficult thing to admit you lived into your fears, doubts and anxiety. To admit you were selfish in your expectations. But it’s even more difficult to live it without community. Without the church.

Legos, Pillars and the Temple

When I was little I often preferred Legos to Barbies. That’s not to say that at some point there wasn’t a large box filled with chopped hair, markered face, scandalously naked dolls in my room (I tended to not like outfits on my Barbies, but did like to cut their hair thinking it’d grow back). But there was a large red bucket of Legos that I would avidly drag out more times than not. The reason being is that I loved to build things. To construct and design what I wanted, just the way I wanted it.

legosMy own community, created and orchestrated by my hand.

If I am honest, I haven’t changed much in that mentality from those days of playing with those Legos. I like community on my terms, even when it comes to those in the Christian faith, my very brothers and sisters in Christ. Yep, I’m admitting that frankly it’s alot easier to be with and listen to people who I choose. To not be challenged to love harder and think deeper, to sit in judgement rather than in the hurt and compassion of others. I like community on my times and in my orchestration.

And yet, that’s not how the body of faith is built. And it most certainly isn’t how I am called to be a part of it either.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Ephesians 2:19-21 (ESV)

I am being fit into the building of His very holy temple. The imagery here points back to when the pillars were built on structures, and no seams were seen on how rocks were smoothed and sanded to fit, to mold into one specific structure with complete unity.

That means I am being fit in to the very structure that has laid the likes of Paul, John, and Esther alongside the ones I find difficult in the church, brothers and sisters I would “rather not” with. It means I am being sanded and smoothed down to fit in complete unity with them too. My roughness and scratchiness smoothed out to be in community in order to build a seamless temple for the Lord. His holy Church, the Bride He awaits.

And I really don’t like that idea because it butts up against my selfish nature, my comfort and my idea of control in what community is for me, for the church. And y’all it’s just plain ugly. To live in the comfort and security I have created and ordained as “good and right” rather than what He has defined as the Church. It humbles me to think of the selfish nature and my personal preference has taken the prime spot of life instead of listening intently for where I am supposed to be in the community of God.

It means disagreeing in love, it looks like uncomfortable silences and awkward reintroductions. It means giving forgiveness when I really just want to be self-righteous in my pride. Most of all, it looks like a seamless temple being built not out of my design but out of His.

Community, James, and Doubts

For the last six weeks I have spent Monday nights with a group of women, talking and getting to really know one another. Let’s just end any similarities to the Bachelor/ette viewing parties right there. Because I was in fact, not at one of those, but spending much needed time in community with women in the Word of God.

Y’all. Can I confess here? I was apprehensive about going. It was a study of James (I had just finished studying it on my own with SheReadsTruth) and it meant adjusting my calendar on Mondays. This is coming from a woman who used to lead a small group, reads multiple faith-based books a month, and writes a devotion for her church. CMON. This should have been right up my basic, white Christian girl alley.

I have been hurt in female groups before and will be again, especially within the church because we. are. human. We are post-fall, culture living, sin-struggling humans. Every single one of us. Including me. But that lie that community will only harm was what had me questioning stepping into the room full of women. Who love Jesus. Who want to study God’s Word.

Just like me.

Little did any of those women know that for the prior eight to ten months my heart and prayer had been for women who yearned for the word of God. To study and be present with one another digging into what God was speaking in His Word to them and through them. The reminders that He still works and moves. He is active among those who seek Him.

19732017_10154738616990963_1382455788602163614_nSo last Monday night, as we wrapped up five weeks of gut-checking study, of sharing and being open with women I held in deep respect and those I never met before, I stood and shared that exact thing. I pointed back to the very first chapter of James where he urges us beyond just hearing the Word, but doing the Word. Doing means stepping out when it might cost me something, when it will cost me something. My self. That pride. That ego. That self that tends to lead me in the opposite way of His Word and into doubt and fear. That leads me into less community and more separation.

It was community right there in that room that showed me exactly what the prayers answered can look like. Prayers of months, of a heart desiring women to gather and dig in to His Word, for them to desire it and step into it, when I was skeptical myself. When I doubted He’d be able to do a thing. It was Him at work, when I felt it wasn’t possible. It wasn’t wanted.

Sometimes your answer to prayer means you are the doer…facing the doubt and lies on something so insignificant in many ways, but something so eternally impactful when stepped into. Because when we are only hearing the word for ourselves, we live in that deception of our own voice, our ego, our sin-soaked selves telling us no one else wants it so why desire it, pursue it, mention it? Why choose to change your schedule and pick a bit of discomfort in order to gain so much more?

Because He is so much more.

Deserving More Than

Last week I shared about how you are more than your title, more than your work. I believe that to be 100% true, and also it’s what God says about us that matters. I worry though that we often fall into a pit on the other side.

Where you think you deserve more than what your title says, or what God has given you in the now. Or maybe it’s just me that has had these thoughts over the years.

But I am guessing that’s not the case…

I look around me at what others have, examine my own giftings from God, and say “Excuse me, I believe wholeheartedly I can have what they do. This right here in my life? That’s great and all but I should get more. I should have more to my name. I have proven I am worthy of it, so why not give it to me?

Do we actually say this? Probably not. But we live it out with the words we say and the things we do in our lives towards God and His giftings. We look at friends or coworkers wondering why they have the thing which we believe we should have to, after all we have shown we are in Christ’s leading. Many call this coveting or fear of missing out.

When you dig into though I believe we have a worth complex. We do, we strive, we obtain to be called worthy. To prove our worth. Proving our worth though isn’t where efforts should be placed as children of God. Our worth is defined by God Himself, who calls us heirs with Christ. When Christ looks at the 12 as He prepares to send them, He speaks our worth out saying we are worth far more than sparrows. He values us, when we can do nothing for Him, to the point of giving up His life for us. Even in our attempts to prove our worth like Peter.

When I believe I desire more than what I am given, when my mind foolishly deceives me into thinking that I deserve more than I pray I remember the story of Korah in Numbers 16. You see Korah thought the same thing, as Moses and Aaron (called leaders by God for His people) gave the responsibilities to the tribes among them as appointed by God. Korah and his friends felt they deserved more than to serve in the tabernacle. They wanted holy priesthood in addition to those already appointed. They speak out against God, falsely lay claim of being led out of the Promised Land of Egypt to die in the wilderness and call their leader a deceiver. Korah and his team soon found themselves cast out by God in a pit that swallowed them up, literally by fire.

When we fall prey to the lies of deserving more than, we can find ourselves in this same pit. We become consumed with what God isn’t giving us but everyone else is getting. It pushes us farther from community, from Him and from any relationship we need.

But we have a God who redeems us. He gives as He sees fit that is for our good. Often I don’t want to trust in Him for that. I want to usurp Him and tell Him what is for the good of me. But He knows. When I forget that I truly deserve nothing but death, He is there to remind me that my worth lay in Him, not in titles, responsibilities, relationships or the lack of any thereof. That strivings and yammerings cease when I realize my value is defined by God who needs nothing from me but me. Just me. Not the stuff. When I live out what He has gifted me with in the right now, I grow closer to Him and appreciate Him more. I draw closer in to Him and not the pit of consuming worth.

What A Hip Hop Dance Class Taught Me

Lately I have been taking a hip hop class at the gym I go to. I was getting bored quickly with the elliptical and treadmill, even though it had a tv and I had podcasts.

When I run outside, it’s just different. The monotony of a machine makes me want to put a pencil through my eye, but I digress.

Nervously I entered the incredibly full class the first week, inching my way to the back so I could blend in. (SN: a woman from my Tuesday step class had misinformed me that this was also a step class, it is most definitely not.) That just wasn’t possible because this class builds on itself each week. Regardless of my trepidation, I told my 34 year old self that this wasn’t middle school and that I was going to do this. So I have for the last few weeks.

Last night I looked around at the smaller group, since it’s the holidays, and saw a pregnant woman, a 70+ year old woman, and a couple on the back row with me that were just having fun, moving. Yes we were out of step, but we were having a good time and getting some exercise in.

It takes us all a while to loosen up in these situations-where we are out of our comfort zones or are pushed to be beyond our boundaries of security. I felt a little whisper last night as I was completely off on one whole routine that said, “Be confident in yourself.”

Fear’s a good liar. It reminds us of the long-forgotten mistakes, errors and embarrassments. It points to the awkward and the negative, the judgements and the critics. And we can buy into fear, and it’ll keep us on the back row in alot of life, or even outside the doors. It’ll tell us that we don’t have the body, the rhythm, or the drive to do that. It’ll whisper we aren’t as good as the former dancer in front of us and cause us to misstep. Then it will point at that misstep any time we falter or question whether we should go back, try again, or take another leap.

Yes, this is about a group fitness class, but it’s so much more than that. That’s where we often find the lessons in life-in the unexpected. That’s also where we take one more step against fear and self-doubt, banishing them with a confidence in ourselves to be bold, be brave and to fear not.

As we start to look at a new year, may we live in the confidence of the gifts and abilities we have been given by a God who designed us to live fully into them. Using them as blessings and goodness, and understanding that fear is based upon the lie of worth and value. Take that step into the room, move up from the back row and get off the sidelines this year. Show fear it has no place in your head, your heart and your life.

Because if I can take a hip hop dance class, trust me, you can do the thing you have been fearing too.

Piddling Conveniences.

Sometimes you just can’t get ahead. The last two weeks have been filled with busy. Good busy, but busy all the same. I haven’t felt myself physically or mentally and definitely didn’t feel up for putting thought to word-as most thoughts were on the lack of sleep I was getting or the growing list of to-dos.

Don’t you hate that? It was/is an ever-growing list and I fear as the holiday season heads into full swing that it’ll only continue to elongate and enumerate. (probably not the proper use of either, but I am tired and I just don’t have it in me today)

As I was relishing in a few moments of quiet, catching up on washing dishes that had sat for a day too long-yes I hand wash some dishes because I have nice pans and it’s therapy for me. I went to put the dish soap away and discovered quite the pond of water growing and bursting fourth onto my kitchen rug. Yep, there was a leak. There is a leak I should say because it’s still happening, into a bucket at present, very slowly.

It’s that garbage disposal, which thanks to my trusty sister whom I called at the discovery, which has a short life span. It’s a convenience we didn’t grow up with at our house (nor with a dishwasher…hence the therapy of handwashing now). But one that I have come to enjoy in my years of life in an apartment and now my own home. It’s the conveniences that get us though isn’t it?

We rely on things we didn’t realize we ever truly needed in an effort to expedite ourselves onto the next task, the next item on our to-do list. When that thing breaks down? Well then we are inconvenienced and frustrated, and all of our time we had stored up (or money or energy) is now pushed into this convenience that has become not so convenient.

Truly I think we have become a society of conveniences. What is has gotten us is a whole of busy accomplishing not much. My dad used to say he would be going to “piddle” in the garage. This wasn’t a synonym for using the restroom, but literally just piddling away time not really getting much done but nevertheless choosing it for himself. I think we are piddling away at life like never before without much to show of real value-better families, better communities, better churches and better homes. Instead we are harried, sick, tired, rushed, separated, alone, and combative.

While the garbage disposal breaking is one more thing on this list of mine, I must also see that conveniences can often lead to more hassle than they are worth in life. That I have to be intentional to foster value and worth not in the things of convenience but the people and relationships that can often be a bit too inconvenient and don’t fit on a to-do list. I’d rather deal with a broken disposal than a broken relationship.

Control Freak

Inherently we all like control, over something or someone. There’s a pull from within, at our very core, that seeks out control in our lives. You find those who say there is nothing in this life to control and then on the other end of the spectrum, those that say if you want anything in this life you have to gain control. We all fall along that spectrum somewhere, in some part of our lives (or even in all parts for many). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has some links to issues of control and managing of one’s life. Perfection is achieved through control, right?

For many of us, including me, control manifests out of a fear of the unknown. It also comes out of a desire for a certain, favorable outcome. Both, when pushed to the brink, have such negative effects on our lives and our relationships. We grasp and strain harder against the unknown factors, and fear whispering in our ear, to gain that one thing we want to come out right, that one relationship we want to work. We grip and hold tightly, we manage and micro-manage. We grow frustrated and confused, ultimately laying flat in exhaustion simply from pursuing after the things which we never had control of to begin with.

Recently I was reminded by a friend that we really have no control over things or people, the circumstances or what we are given to deal with. We simply can choose our response to them. We can choose our attitude and our effort in those things, and that is it.

At least I am finally coming to see that.

It took me quite a while, and much thrashing about with myself, to arrive at this place though. To figure out that the only thing I should and can control is my attitude and the effort I give to life, to relationships, to my work, to God. I have control over that entirely, regardless of others, their reactions, their own issues of control or other circumstances.

I don’t know where you are today, in what situations you find yourself in at work, in your marriage or lack thereof, in your relationships or with God. But I hope you are able to gain control over your attitude and your effort instead of trying to do that with others or situations. Because it’s fruitless, only causing harm and a ripple effect on all those you come into contact with (and possibly those you don’t). It’s a work, and a long work in progress at that. But let’s stop grasping for control outside of ourselves and instead gain it from within.