Category Archives: Church

The Bond of Peace

I gave a devotional a few weeks back at my church’s Mother-Daughter Banquet which was my first time really sharing something that God had placed on my heart for a long time. The title comes from the passage that first spoke to me when praying about this event and that is Ephesians 4:1-6

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Now, I knew this wasn’t a passage specifically about mothers and daughters but more about Christians in general getting along with one another and working together despite our human flaws. But as I reflected on what a mother daughter dynamic tends to be, especially in the teen years, a bond of peace seemed like a beacon of hope. That is what I want with my daughter some day, and that is what I needed when I was a teen. I started to wonder, why is it that as little children we all love our moms, then as teens we tend to lash out, rebel, push away, and then once we’ve grown, matured, possibly had kids of our own, find our way back to loving and appreciating our moms. I know every relationship is different, and I was very nervous to share my thoughts because I didn’t have a great relationship with my mom as a teen but it is improving. And I know I held back some thoughts or illustrations during my talk 1) because it was already pretty long and covering a lot and 2) because it’s hard to find a balance of how much to share about my life/my perspective while respecting my mom as well. After much prayer, studying, more prayer, worry, nervousness, more prayer, and a deep breath, I laid it out there. Here is the beginning…

First, a few definitions from our passage because I can be a word nerd and like knowing not just the general idea behind a word but the nuanced meaning behind why God decided it had to be that particular word and not another similar one.

Vocation- A summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action.

Lowliness- the absence of any feelings of being better than others

Meekness- a quiet and gentle nature, not wanting to fight or argue. Enduring injury with patience and without resentment

Forbearance- a refraining from the enforcement that is due; A calm patience especially under provocation

Peace- a state in which there is no war or fighting; a harmony in personal relations

The first idea that struck me in this passage was the request that we walk worthy of the vocation God is calling us too. Vocation does not necessarily mean our careers or where we are employed. Being a mother is a vocation. If God has given you a child through pregnancy or adoption then He has called you to be the mommy to that child. So daughters must understand when our parents, moms in particular, are guiding us and setting limits that it is because God has called them to train us up in His ways. But as mothers, we also have to remember that God is calling our daughters to their own vocation and we do not know what that is. I know as parents, we all want to see our children be successful, but unfortunately too many of us define success by earthly standards. We want our children to go to college, get fancy degrees, have “respectable” careers that fit our ideals, but that’s not necessarily what God wants for them. I know many mothers and daughters who have struggled because where the daughter is feeling lead is not what the mother had in mind. I love that peace is defined as harmony in personal relations. Harmony is not two people playing the same note, it is two people playing complimentary notes to one another. One is melody, the lead, and the other is harmony, the support.

I think one of the hardest aspects of parenting is discerning when it is our place to be the lead and when we need to switch to harmony in our children’s lives and let God become their lead. As parents, control over our children’s lives is something we lose a little more of each day, and it’s a test in our faith in God because it was never about us. Our children were given to us by the Lord for a short while and we must do our best to guide and lead them with our own walks and teachings, but at some point we must let the arrow go. And as daughters, we must know the importance of following, learning, and trusting in God before we can step out on our own. We must realize the privilege it is to be alive, and to be serving our Lord, and seek out His Will and vocation for our lives not what mainstream media and society says is success. It is so hard to be a child or teen and be different than the world, set apart, and called for a divine purpose. God has given you parents for this reason, a direct line of support, advice, and leadership in meandering through the minefield of adolescence but it is our human nature to fight that and push it away.

Both mother and daughter must not think they are better than one another, must purpose in their hearts that they do not want to fight, and must be patient through it all without resentment. I know that’s tough but it is necessary, for both parties. I think the hardest part is to continue without resentment. Holding grudges and anger inside of us truly eats away at our souls. We must learn to see each other through God’s eyes and forgive as God forgives. We are all parts of the body of Christ and we must work together for His glory. In our physical bodies, our major muscles are set up so that there are always opposing forces, one push muscle, one pull muscle. The only way to move is for one to yield to another, to allow the action the working muscle is trying to accomplish to take place. It’s hard to see which member in the mother daughter relationship should be doing the yielding or should be doing the work, but God gives us the answer to this.

When we look for passages in the Bible associated with parents and children many times Colossians 3:20-21 and Ephesians 6:1-4 come to mind. In Ephesians, both commands to children and to parents end with a direction back to the Lord. God is our balance, our counselor when there is a struggle. He is the one both mothers and daughters should be turning to in order to find that bond of peace. If both are believers then God in them wants to be at peace with the other. The anger, resentment, rebellion, and hate are not from Him, they are of the devil, placed there to hinder the bond between sisters in Christ, to hold both of them back in their race for the Lord. We can’t allow this to happen. I urge both moms and daughters to look past the outside evidence and emotion and see that deep down there is love there for one another. That each others actions are rooted in love and any misunderstanding or clashing of opinions is not meant to cause harm but to do good.

Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” God perfectly designed a child for the parents. Not only do the parents have life experiences and wisdom that God knew that child would specifically need guidance with but also God designed that child to challenge the parent, their faith, and their character. We wonder why our children know just how to push our buttons or drive us crazy. God created them that way to show us where we still need work to be more like Him. Because guess what? We challenge God, we fight, we rebel, we push against His Will, we run away, we yell and scream and cry and wonder why us? We can be the moodiest of teenagers in our walk with the Lord at times… and sometimes, it takes a teenager or toddler to point that out to us in a very visceral way. But God still loves us. Just as we must still love our children. Not just the “I love you because you’re my child” love but the I love you because I see your struggle, your pain, your abilities, your opinions, and I see you fighting with the Lord and His Will and learning the hard way, and I’ve been there too. It’s usually at the times that we are most pushing away help and love either from a mother or from God that we are most hurt, confused, upset, and in need of that exact love. God is strong and gracious enough to take the punches, forgive, and still love and fight for us, are we as moms able to be like that for our own children?  And daughters can we trust that the limits set by our mothers, their wishes, and the experiences we have with them are all overseen by God and will ultimately shape us into who God wants us to be? Neither mother or daughter can do this alone, which is why we still need God living and breathing into our lives everyday.

So what exactly does God specifically command to children and parents? That will be part two, coming soon! I know I included it in the lesson that day but I felt like it was too much for one post, and probably too much for that one lesson, but I trust God worked through my mess of a talk anyways. Many blessings, my friends!

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What I Wish I’d been Taught as a Teenager

I’ve been going to church since I was a baby, grew up there, but still most of the time felt like an outsider. I’m one who likes to debate, discuss, question, and research, not things that generally are expected from the people in the pews. I never had many people to discuss subjects with or if I tried it was usually met with a verse or two, or a cliche’d saying and that was that. No one wanted to really engage, to really work things out, dive deep, and hunt within the Word. Or no one would really admit their sin, it was always happy smile faces, no reality. People will admit they are sinners, but not go into specifics. They’ll talk about how God worked in their lives by healing the sick or saving them from a terrible car wreck but not their every day struggles they have to turn to Him for. A lot of it seemed fake or insincere to me. So by the time I was a sophomore in high school I was thoroughly tuned out. I would go, I would listen to the same sorts of lessons being taught, but I wasn’t getting excited or convicted or lit on fire. I wanted more than just another class to sit in and to be taught at. I wanted, no, I needed direction. Most teenagers do. No one can tell you what to do with your life, or what to become, not even your parents. And usually you’ve been doing most activities or pursuits to make them happy or proud, or you’ve been rebelling because with more freedom you just can if things haven’t been great at home. Or if you’re like me, you’re doing a little bit of both. Seriously, after my teenage years I can definitely see why God hates lukewarm Christians, it is the worst place to be in. You’re acting fine at church and around Christians but then around friends you’re just different, maybe not worse, but usually that’s the case, and neither side knows the real you and you end up not really knowing the real you by the end of it. No one suspects anything or really gets close enough to get to know the real you and see the struggle you face… so you, just like everyone else, put on the smiling church face and carry on.

After thinking long and hard about those years because hey, I was one of the statistics that got pregnant at 18 in college and ever since then have had many many days at home to sit and think about how I got from saved and on fire little 5 year old spark to disengaged, counting my days to freedom teen. I’ve figured out a few things that I feel like would have made a difference. In all honesty, I wouldn’t change my life, I can see why I went through my journey but it was tough and challenging in it’s own ways. So here it goes.

Spiritual Gifts I WISH someone would have really dissected this whole spiritual gift thing and had me and my youth group actually take a spiritual gifts analysis. I can’t tell you how much I thought about what I should major in, what I should have a career in, what I should do with my life when I was in high school and even up til now. I only really started diving into all of this last year as I was reading Renee Swope’s book A Confident Heart: How to Stop Doubting Yourself and Live in the Security of God’s Promises. This settled me and gave me confidence to be who I am in Christ, who he designed me to be, not who my parents’ expected me to be, not who society said I should be, and not the perfect person I thought I should be. It was so freeing to see that what I thought were flaws or weird quirks were actually there because God made me this way to reach people for Him in my own unique ways. This was even further solidified by Jennie Allen’s book Restless: Because You Were Made For More! I was always taught that we were here to serve God and to go unto all nations and teach the gospel but I was never shown HOW to do that besides the typical go to church, dress modestly, pay your tithes and offerings, get involved in church activities, read your Bible everyday. So since I never felt called to direct ministry, I was just kind of left hanging. No one ever talked about how I can serve the Lord in whatever field He leads me. It always felt like my vocation was just an after thought and what was really important was church service. I can now see that whatever God designed us perfectly for, we must pursue it or else we are doing Him a disservice. If a God has blessed you with incredible athletic ability, then be the best athlete you can be for Him. If he has blessed you with incredible intelligence, then pursue the academic field He has inclined you for with vigor in service to Him. But in order to get that direction and light that fire to help keep teens on the straight and narrow towards accomplishing what God has set for them, we need to help them see who God has created them to be! Teens are so set on fitting in, being cool,  or not being cool on purpose, or just trying to please someone, their parents, society, friends. Instead of just teaching about being a good Christian example to others and keeping their purity, let’s show them what God has uniquely gifted them with and give them a reason to stay focused and drive on towards His Will.                                                                                                                                  I also feel like along with getting teens to see who God has designed them to be, it opens their eyes to the fact that God designed other people to be special in their own ways. I know I’ve become more accepting of others behavior, habits, or personality because now I can see that, hey, God didn’t create them to be the way I’m wanting them to be. They have their own gift from Him and as a Christian it’s my job to support and encourage that or at the very least to not knock them down for it.

How to Study the Bible As a teen, I knew I was supposed to read my Bible every day. I knew the Romans’ Road and the salvation plan. I knew the parables and miracles throughout the Word. But I didn’t know how to truly interact with God’s Word to find truth for myself. I am still working on this and reading a book about it. It can’t just be a rote reading a chapter or two and shutting the book. The few times I really did feel more engaged was with devotional books aimed for teens that would identify a passage, have you read it, and then discussed it. I don’t have all the answers for this one, I just know that I wish there was more discussion about resources to go to, how to put the Bible in context with the times it was written, and how it applies to our lives today. Maybe I’m just a nerd but I would have liked some historical discussion and some help connecting the dots a little. We can’t expect teens to just magically know how to dive deeper into His Word and discover it for themselves if we don’t teach them and give them the tools to do it. Just teaching them lesson after lesson out of the Bible on Sundays leaves them hanging for the rest of the week.

Slow Down I think this is said to teens all the time but I’m taking a bit of a different twist. Everyone tells teens to slow down, enjoy your high school years, adulthood comes fast enough, etc etc. I think we just need to teach them that it’s ok to live a slower life, period. We all want to see them succeed but what are we defining as success? More importantly what are they defining as success? What are their parents defining as success? Ooo I know I will step on some toes here and in the next point but hear me out. If we as parents are already outlining what we view success as for their life, whether it be a college degree,  a spouse and kids, a nice house, a job close to home, well then we aren’t letting God’s Will be the guide. As much as we’d like to think that we know God’s Will for our childrens’ lives, we don’t. Sorry parents, I’m right there with you. I hate hearing someone say to their kids or grandkids, oh you’re going to make a great ( blank ) someday. No, we don’t know what they will be great at some day. We can guide them, give advice, and show them where their strengths lie but ultimately you can not tell your child that he or she should be a pharmacist, or should live close to home, or should not follow this or that career path. It is not up to you! It’s between them and God, so show them who God designed them to be and give them the tools and knowledge to pursue Him more and follow where He leads. And pray pray pray! Please do not use your authority or place of respect and love in their lives to manipulate them into something that makes you look good as a parent. I love my pastor’s advice of going to one year of Bible college right out of high school. I think it’s an ideal place to get away from a lot of the parental influence, come closer to God, find a group of friends to fellowship in your race with, and get a solid start with the basics if college ends up being the path you pursue. But even that isn’t right for every child. Just be willing to finally let that arrow go and don’t try to steer it to a course you as a parent think is better, you’re only screwing up the flight path God had intended. You may just be surprised when you step back and stop pushing your priorities to see the true heart God has given to your child.

Parents Are Sinners I know as parents we want to be the best mom or dad for our kids. We don’t want them to see us as wrong or as messing up, but they need to. They need to know it’s ok to screw up and ask forgiveness of God and whomever you’ve hurt. They need to see real life scenarios of dealing with the consequences of sin, even after forgiveness is given. And I think most of all, they need to know that they are being heard. I know there were many an argument between my parents and me… mostly my mom and me. She held tight to her position, and I held tight to mine, both of us not really listening to the other side and not changing our stance. I can remember many a rebellious night just because I was mad at her (sorry Mom!). Again it comes back to needing that discussion point, needing to hash things out in debate, needing to be heard and to hear the reasoning. And as a teen, there were times where I knew the position they held was wrong, but they would never go back and admit it or apologize or really listen to my side of the story. I do this with my own kids and they’re not even in school yet. I have a presumption about what my son is complaining about or arguing for and am already jumping to a conclusion and defending my point. When really once he gets his side out, it was something different, or something that we could talk about and reason with, avoiding a meltdown or power struggle. I think many parents read Colossians 3:20 and quote it up and down to their kids but look on to Colossians 3:21

   v.20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.                 v.21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

     I think we skip over that one a little too often or don’t really reflect on how our treatment of our kids can cause some of the exact problems we’re trying to prevent. I will share my own story here. I wasn’t allowed to date my now husband for most of the time we were dating, when we were in high school. I still loved him and wanted to be with him and at school that was pretty easy. It was pretty easy to say I was going to hang out at a friend’s house, which I did do, and so did he. So we were pretty much still together, but instead of my parents getting to know him, seeing our relationship in person, and maybe even helping to steer us in the right direction, they were kind of oblivious for a while. I can still remember a New Year’s Eve party  that I went to with him. It was at his aunt and uncle’s house across town, with tons and tons of his family, a pretty benign evening really. But since I wasn’t allowed to date him, I had to say I was with my friends. I did get caught, sin will always find you out, but as a teen it was so frustrating. I was discouraged from even discussing relationships and boy troubles or really anything else with my parents. From there the sneaking around got worse, we got a little better at hiding it, and by the time I graduated high school I was dead set on moving out as quickly as possible. If he had just been accepted from the start, and we could have just had him over for family dinners and movie nights, I’m pretty sure things would not have gone the direction they did. My parents did accept him and start to like him later in my high school career but there was always that wall kind of built up from the start and again they never took responsibility for the part they played so the wall continued to build. I fully own that I sinned too, I played the major part but just saying, that temptation and that path would not have been so prevalent had I not been placed in that position to decide. I feel like when there are disagreements between parents and teens it becomes a power struggle when really we need to turn it back to God. Show kids in the scripture these two verses, ask them what you are doing to provoke them, why they feel the way the feel, and further investigate in the scriptures to find the guidance you’re both seeking. And don’t be afraid to say, let’s pause, pray, and sleep on it. Sometimes just stalling the decision and getting out of the heat of the moment can bring clarity to both of your minds.

Open Discussion This isn’t really something to learn, but I wish there were more places to have open discussion with important adults like youth directors or leaders, as well as with parents. I know parents try to talk to their teens and most teens grunt or sigh or roll their eyes at it ( guilty! ) but I just wanted to say to parents, don’t give up. Maybe think about what would make your teen more comfortable. Sitting at a table across from each other or right in the middle of a TV show or while they’re online might not be the best time. Why not set a special date and time every month to do something together and just be ready to listen, no judgement. If a teen feels like you’re going to judge or lecture them, they’ll never open up. Ask some questions and then just let them talk. Don’t give a ton of advice, don’t play devil’s advocate or try to use the Socratic Method. Just listen. And then ask them what can you do to support them or how can you help them. If they say nothing, just leave it at that and pray for them. If they do have an idea or just say I don’t know then explore it further but again, on their terms. I can remember times I would start to open up to my mom only to be shut down by advice, or her thoughts on the matter. I didn’t want to hear her thoughts, I didn’t want to have her fix it or tell me how to fix it. I was just trying to let her in on my life, and talk it out. Maybe this is a woman thing, but I just needed to talk to someone and since I didn’t feel comfortable with her, I’d turn to other people. If you do feel lead to share a verse of scripture, maybe ask if you can share it first. Then be ready to discuss it and hear their side out again. I know as parents we want to fix our childrens’ problems but sometimes we can’t, sometimes you have to listen to them hash it out and let them make the decision. If you want to keep the communication open, don’t shut it down by talking the whole time.                               And hey, I know they may have an attitude or say it’s lame in the beginning, but make the activities or dates fun for them, not for you, and just keep at it. Teens need time. Everything is changing and dynamics at school or work or within their groups are always fluctuating and they are searching for a constant. Show them that constant is God. SHARE with them how He has worked in your life. I can’t say that enough. SHARE WITH THEM! Tell them your testimony!!!! Let them see God working in your life and let them see Him in you! You don’t get that by yelling back, getting an attitude with them as well, or withdrawing and just turning them loose. I know it stinks to have to be the parent at times and to deal with hormones and mood swings. But they need you. They may not admit it until they’re older but they do.                And I think our youth groups could use a time of open discussion, just talking about what they are struggling with, even, or especially if, it’s something with their parents. I think teens get a lot of being taught at, you sit all day in school being taught, you sit through parent lectures, everyone seems to have advice or input on your life. Sometimes you just need somewhere to hash it all out. Ask questions, complain, commiserate with other teens, and be led by someone grounded in the Lord to better understand your parents’ point of view and God’s take on all of it. I feel like more than any other time in a child’s life from junior high to high school they are most impressionable and at the same time trying to define who they truly are. No one can teach them who they are, or tell them exactly who God made them to be and show them their exact path. They need a little room to grow and sort things out all in a safe, supportive environment. And they are moving closer and closer to independence and should be given respect to hold their own opinions and challenged to defend them. I’ve always found that in debating or discussing either you strengthen your argument or find the flaws and start seeing it in a different light. Just being taught what someone else’s opinion is might not necessarily change yours.

I don’t think this just ends with teens. I wish there was more discussion all over in Sunday schools or Bible studies. So many times it’s just a teacher teaching and it’s not very engaging or you don’t walk away with good action plans or takeaway points to work on further. Just a thought or feeling I’ve always had but never been brave enough to lead a different more engaging Bible study except online which pales in comparison of what could happen in a true person to person group. I’ve gone through three different books now, starting on a fourth that I wish I had a group of women to study and discuss with. I know I need that interaction, and I know I needed back when I was a teen too. If anything it just engages a person more than sitting in a seat, checking off that you went to church that day, and moving on. It challenges you to get involved, to pay attention, to think!

 

These are just a few of the things I wish I would have known or been taught as a teen. It’s a list meant specifically for me as a teen but maybe it’ll help some other teens or parents out there. I feel like when we first have a child, we’re reading all of the books, analyzing every decision, worrying about what impact this or that might have on our young ones. But as they grow, and become more independent of our direct supervision, things get busier, we start pushing for more of what society says we should be pushing our kids towards, ( sports, academics, college, prestigious careers ) and we spend less time evaluating the impact we are having. I know parents of teens are still concerned, no doubt, but instead of just wash, rinse, repeat, and hoping for a closer connection with your teen or a change somehow, maybe try something new. For women and girls, I highly recommend the books listed above. They are meant for young adults, possibly married and/or with kids, but I really think the exercises and studies they take you through could be sensational for teens trying to find their way, and for moms to work through as well! I also really like Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Mind. It was written so both teens and parents could read it and learn from it. Definitely something to check out!

What do you wish you had learned, had more of, or changed when you were a teen? 

 

Love & Mercy

I could have titled this post, The Dangers of Teaching for Good Church Performance.. but I didn’t feel it fit as well…. anyways, it’s a long one, and I know some people need to hear the lesson I heard yesterday but I’m kind of tired of hearing the same “church-centered” dogma taught over and over because God’s not a building and there are consequences when He is held in that light, I know I’m not the only one who’s been there and had these gut reactions. So… here it goes…

Yesterday was like any other Sunday, waking up with the dog to let her out, popping that dang thyroid pill, snuggling with my baby girl until we were both awake enough to finally admit it, and listening to my little boy wake up and stumble out of bed. Ok, my son doesn’t really stumble out of bed, he pretty much bounds out of bed, full of energy from the moment he wakes up until the moment I finally tuck him back in.

And so began our morning. There were donuts, laughs, cuddles, then the struggle of getting dressed began. Since my husband is away at training for the FAA, I’ve got to dress myself, and my two kiddos, one of which usually cries or throws a fit at the mention of church. My little girl has been dealing with some pretty significant separation anxiety since we moved back and my husband hasn’t been around like usual. My son had a whole year with his dad gone serving overseas before and is older so he’s been handling it pretty well, still misses his daddy though.

Due to health issues with my thyroid I’ve gained just enough weight to make some of my clothes ill-fitting, so I’d bought a few new things. But now that my medication is straightened out, I’ve lost just enough weight to still not be comfortable in my old clothes but my new clothes are a little too big and take some fixin’ to make them work right. This morning the particular dress I was trying to wear was just not having any of it. I ended up wearing the only nice “church-worthy” jacket I had which is a thick leather jacket with a big fur trimmed hood… and it was a balmy 60 or 70 something outside… I even had sandals on… I looked ridiculous. And if I’m really being honest, I didn’t even shower since I had the night before, just pulled my hair back, slapped on some tinted moisturizer, a few sweeps of mascara and off to get my kids ready. (tangent- why are kids’ clothes so easy to coordinate and the fit never matters, I’m so jealous) So there’s two young, energetic kids to wrestle clothes on too. Then getting them all out and loaded into the car. This particular morning since we were running even later than usual my mom actually helped get them in the car. But normally, it’s just me. I walk the kids out the door but then my daughter always has to pick a flower from the court yard, and my son usually takes a few laps around the car before he finally settles into his spot. Yesterday, I also had to bring a canvas to another church member who I had done a photo shoot with so there was balancing that, my purse, my Bible, my notebook, and yes I had taken one minute to microwave myself some coffee. As I drove away from my house, I also realized the joy that I had forgotten to shave my legs… great… actually it was pretty great because I knew the place that I was going was worth all of this craziness. I was headed to church! I was about to tuck my kiddos away and see some friends, fellowship with other believers, hear His word spoken, and to be filled back up after a long two weeks away since we were out of town last weekend. These two hours at church are literally the only solid 2 hours of alone time I get all week, usually. Yes my daughter sleeps in my bed so I don’t even have after bedtime to myself, and she sleeps right.on.top.of.me so it’s not super comfortable restful sleep either. I’m pretty sure I will have chronic back pain until our family is back together again and she starts sleeping in her own bed again. But we were on our way, leaving our house a few minutes shy of the time that services actually start… so yes we were late.

I’ve never been diagnosed with anxiety or any mental disorders of the sort but I know that I can very easily get worked up over something like being late. I used to not go to church at all if I was running late because I knew people would judge me for being the one that walked in late. I used to not go to my college classes if I was late for the same reason. I’ll show up for work late because I’m required to be there. And surprisingly my bosses in the past have had more mercy about life, kids, being a pseudo-single mom with my husband away for whatever reason and with running a few minutes late than the lesson I heard this Sunday.

Now disclaimer, I was late, I didn’t hear the “justification” for the lesson taught that day in Sunday School. As I sat there and listened it seemed like a lesson on judging others. This is a summary of what/how I heard the spoken words. “You see people on their phones, they’re not even listening or giving respect to the preacher(which is true), they must not be serious about God’s work. You see people leaving early or walking around during service, well I just don’t even know what to say about that” It seemed like a laundry list of sins and pointing them out and talking about how those people must be less of a Christian, or must not think God/church/”the rules” are important. Of course being late was brought up as well. I will fully admit that I am late, to pretty much everything right now. I used to be that good responsible ROTC kid who was 15 minutes early to everything with a notepad and a pen because “good leaders always have something to write with and write on”. And I grew up going to church, I’ve been saved since I was 5, and I know how most church going people think, which is exactly what was being taught. I’m sorry but I think Christians love to judge and to make themselves feel better by pointing out someone else’s sin. When really we should have love, and mercy, and grace as God has for us.

LoveMercy

I actually couldn’t take listening to the lesson anymore and was starting to cry, so I left. I am NOT a public crier. I usually have a nice tidy wall built up between me and other people while I’m out in public, sad to say, but for some reason I could not stop myself from crying. And I wasn’t even crying for myself! I’m grounded enough in God’s Word to know that the lesson was being taught to convict, and was being taught with good intentions. But at least for me, I didn’t feel convicted, I felt judged. Judged by the exact people who were supposed to be spreading God’s love and mercy and helping me grow further in my walk. I knew Satan wanted me to go with my gut reaction to just be angry at the teacher, to just grab my kids and leave and never come back, but I had to stop that train of thoughts, and fast. But I still couldn’t get over why I was having such an out of character and physical reaction to the lesson. I tried to get it together, what little make up I had on was long gone, and I headed back to the class after it was over to grab my stuff and head to the main church. But about half way through the song service I couldn’t help all of the thoughts running through my head and I just started to cry again. AH!! So much crying in one day, and in public, this is SO not me!
So I headed outside to sit and think. I started to really ask God to take away my human emotional response of anger so I could truly listen to what he was trying to say. And I felt, as I’ve felt many times recently, that I need to remember this feeling, this pain, this struggle. We have been so blessed over the years by God, but we have also struggled. Struggled so much. So when I heard that lesson, and felt that judgement I started jumping into the headspaces of my struggles. My current struggle- a pseudo-single mom with two kids, one of which is having some emotional issues, and I’m dealing with my own weight and wardrobe limitation issues. A past struggle I’ve had is again, pseudo-single mom with my husband deployed, dealing with depression and raising a baby by myself and some major weight issues. I’ve also struggled at times even when my family was together because we didn’t have money for nice clothes for everyone for church. And yes it shouldn’t matter what you wear to church, but for so many churches out there, it does, you will be judged or at least you’ll feel like it.

I could totally see how a single mom struggling with money, with clothes, with just getting kids ready and out the door could be discouraged from even stepping foot into a church for fear she would be judged for being late, week after week, even if she read her Bible everyday and prayed constantly because when you’re hurting for money and food and trying to take care of kids, there’s not much more you can do but pray and cry, usually at the same time. I can see how the family just trying to get by could be scared off by hearing that they were thought of as not prioritizing God, as making Him less important because they run late getting to church. Because guess what people, God is everywhere, we’re never late or leaving early from God, it’s for church, for a “rule” set forth by earthly people, that we’re not on time.

You just don’t know what God is doing in other people’s lives and if judgement by “Christians” is going to hold them back from a closer walk with Him, it breaks my heart. That is literally the feeling behind the unstoppable crying. I could not stop thinking about other people or other situations that would cause people to need to leave early or be late. Situations that I have lived before and know all too well the judgement I felt, the guilt that really didn’t need to be there, and the shame that I wasn’t as good as the other “Christians”. I used to have a job that I had to leave church early for just to make it only a few minutes late vs half an hour late to. But if I didn’t have that job we wouldn’t have been able to pay for groceries. So let “Christians” judge me for leaving early because God blessed me with a job so I can buy groceries and I don’t have to be there for most of the church service but I do need to leave 5-10 minutes early for it. Doesn’t that just sound ridiculous to you?!? And I’ve been that depressed person who just doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, let alone go to church and deal with people, judging or otherwise, because mentally I couldn’t handle it. Instead I would stay home, I would read my Bible everyday, and follow along with online Bible studies and man, I felt like I grew and started to really know God most during that time. And surprise, it had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with church. Now I go to church and can truly appreciate it for fellowship with other believers and hearing a message prepared by my pastor, but if I had gone before I was open to that mentally, it would have fallen on deaf ears. I’m not saying that’s how it works for everyone, I know some people do so much better around people, and being able to talk things through, but I don’t and I know I’m not the only one out there like this. Thank You God for Christian writers who develop devotionals that can reach us introverts and depressed people right in our homes. I never did have a visitor from church or anyone check in on how I was doing way back then, I was just left alone… probably judged.

And even taking it back again to my morning yesterday. Yes, I could have rushed my kids more. I could have cut breakfast short. I could have sped all the way to church. But I grew up like that. I grew up being rushed to be on time to church, to wear the right thing for church, to always be perfect for church. And honestly, as a child, all it did was make me resent church. And being so young I couldn’t see God separately from church so I resented him too. It made me feel like I always had to do the right thing, say the right thing, achieve this award or that accolade, as a sort of performance for the church members, to be seen as a good Christian girl, to follow all of the rules, and to not be judged. I never once felt like I was doing it for God. And I don’t want my kids feeling that way. So if I have to let them mosey around and pick a flower or run some of their energy out so they’ll sit reasonably still during church, then so be it. If I want to enjoy our breakfast together, and linger in the joy of kids and donuts, and not cut the moment short so we can rush off to a building with church on the front of it, then so be it. I don’t want my kids to ever feel so pressured to be somewhere on time that they feel we don’t have a moment to stop and pray or stop and talk about the real God and what he’s doing with them. That most likely won’t be while they are 2 and 5 but trust me, it’ll happen when they’re teenagers and if I’ve already set up church as my priority and not their walk with God, they won’t feel invited to talk to me anytime they feel the need. Trust me, I’ve lived it.

At times I wouldn’t even go to church, as I mentioned before, because I knew I would be judged, not by God, but by the people. People mess everything up ya know. But I’ve finally gotten to the point that I can say we’re all sinners, we all mess up, and its our jobs as Christians to forgive and to love. Just love people. Don’t worry if they are late, or if they are walking around during service, or if they have to leave early. Just love them. You don’t know their struggles and their pain or where they are coming from, only God does. And only He can truly speak to their hearts. And remember that God’s church is not a building. It is not a time schedule. It is not a list of activities people need to check off. God’s church is the body of people meeting together, worshiping Him, encouraging each other, cheering each other on in their own race with the Lord, picking each other up when Satan takes a low blow, and praying for each other. Don’t discourage people from being a part of the body of Christ by passing judgement, claiming it’s just conviction, and never really taking time to find out the why behind their actions. Maybe you could offer help, maybe you could make a point to pray for them, maybe you could just show them love when they do show up or when they do leave so they feel welcome because I guarantee it’s much harder walking in late to a room or a sanctuary knowing you’re being judged, than it is to just stay home.