When your faith story finally gets interesting

Mar 28, 2014 by

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My faith journey is not original. Nor is it very interesting.

churchWhenever summer camp came around and we were asked to give our testimonies around the campfire, I always cringed and retreated to a dark corner to look busy. Hello old tree stump, I’m about to have some major allergy needs.

I had nothing to say. No miraculous conversion story, no tearful confessions, no extraordinary prayer requests. Of course I always tried to conjure up emotion, some sense of remorse or shame like the rest of my peers, but all I felt was mild boredom and mosquito bites.

The day I was baptized, the only thing I felt was confusion and a sharp panic. Will everyone be watching me? What if I don’t cry? Do we really get gifts for this? Shouldn’t I be overcome with the joy of entering into this beautiful fusion with God? Shouldn’t I feel something?

All morning I waited for the tears to come, but when my moment finally came — all I could do was laugh. In reality it was more of a snort, followed by a deep and guttural gurgle as my somber pastor poured water over my butterfly-clipped hair. It was all very embarrassing, especially the butterfly clips.

Luckily no one noticed, or at least they pretended not to notice because there’s nothing more awkward than the girl who isn’t taking baptism seriously.

The truth is I was born into Christianity just as I was born into being an American, without any choice in the matter. I had no conversion story because there was nothing to convert from. I was already there. It wasn’t a good or bad thing. It just was. We went to church every Sunday morning and youth group every Wednesday night because that’s what my people do. I sang the worship songs, played the Bible games, and used my pink highlighter to stain Proverbs that sounded nice out of habit. From as long as I can remember, I loved Jesus the best that I could.

And really, I thought he was a good guy. I said thank you when I remembered and asked for help when my aunt was dying. There was never a moment I didn’t believe he existed. It was church I could never quite believe in. The whole thing seemed sort of contrived. The sappy songs, the guilt-trippy altar calls, the sob-filled sharing times. For the love of Pete, are we still talking about Don’s ankle?

I’ve never been a very patient person.

Of course I didn’t know I felt this way at the time. I was too focused on fitting in and looking busy. One Sunday I even rubbed soap in my eyes to look teary during a particularly guilt-ridden service. The lengths we’ll go to not look like an outsider.

Famous pastor Andy Stanley likes to joke that the reason why 18-25 year old young adults don’t go to church today is because they’ve been to one. There is truth to that. Church can be a giant mess, filled with evangelical bullies and self-righteous pharisees. I have witnessed its abuse, its dark corners, its hate filled agendas. I have had close friends bullied into silence for their positions on everything from blue jeans to homosexuality. You know, the “big ones.”

And yet let us remember the wise, wise words of Anne Lamott: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

The church is a mess but so are we. We are all hypocritical, self-righteous jerks with hidden agendas and coffee breath. Each one of us. It is the nature of being human.

A little over a year ago I wrote a post about church that is, by far, my most read work. It hit a millennial nerve which was both wonderful and horrifying because I realized how very ordinary my feelings were. Isn’t that how it always goes?

A few weeks ago I drug my sleepy family to a Sunday service out of nostalgia. Despite its downfalls, church was a second home to me as a burgeoning youth. There were people who cared, people who helped, people who knew it was my 14th birthday and kissed me on the cheek when I played piano for the offertory. I wanted to feel those feelings again.

We went to a small church in the suburbs where people wear jeans and sing a cappella. The service wasn’t perfect. There were moments of boredom, hymns I didn’t know, kids spilling their markers all over the floor. Then sharing time began, my biggest eye roll. I sat back in my chair and thought about lunch. A man stood up. A father of five little girls who had recently been in a car accident, teetering dangerously close to death. His speech was not eloquent. He did not praise the Lord for a miraculous healing or offer an altar call. Instead he simply thanked his doctors, praised his nurses and said thank you. Thank you for the meals. Thank you for the prayers. Thank you for picking up my kids from school and holding my wife’s hand. Thank you for showing up.

My eyes filled with tears.

The church isn’t a building. It has nothing to do with Sunday mornings or knee-length dresses or liturgies. The church is people. As the Quaker-Mennonites say, people holding each other in the light.

Eleven years ago, I walked away from the church. I felt suffocated, burdened, annoyed and really, really tired. I needed a break from being told what to believe. I needed to wander through my 20s with cautious faith.

It isn’t my children who pulls me to church. It isn’t my husband (he’s still not ready). It isn’t my peers or Rachel Held Evans or approaching 30. Instead it is an unfamiliar pull toward collective faith, joined song, and the heavy truth that we need each other.

I am ready to come home.

Kate Baer blogs at MotleyMama where this post originally appeared.

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