Actively bringing about much needed change in our communities and hope to the broken and disheartened.
If you’ve never been to a Wegmans grocery store, you’re definitely missing out. It’s easily the most impressive grocery store you will ever enter into. Alec Baldwin agrees with me. Not that you would care what Alec Baldwin thinks more than what I think.
People who have been to a Wegmans love it because it is classy. It’s inexpensive. It’s well run. It’s everything you ever dreamed a grocery store would be – and it’s more.
I recently went to Wegmans. I often go there actually. They have a nice cafe in each store where you can sit down and eat your lunch, watch tv, and/or cry your eyes out for an hour and a half.
I’ve been doing some thinking about religion and relationships and church. I had a friend ask me recently after reading this blog what it was that I was “taking a break” from? What was I actually angry at? Or with whom was I upset with?
Is it God? the church? religion?
It was a thought provoking question because I hadn’t really given much thought about the direction of my anger – only that I was angry. I just get on here and spill my guts about the flavor of the week without much direction or purpose. So it caused me to think – what am I really angry about? What is really irking me?
I grew up as a Christian. As a young person within a Christian culture you easily adopt and adapt to church jargon, words like “faith, fellowship, relationship, grace, etc…” and it just sort of becomes your own language. You use it when talking to your family, other kids, and especially church people. It doesn’t matter if you as an individual totally comprehend everything you’re saying all of the time, it just matters if it sounds right and you’re fitting in with everyone else. So the dilemma comes with being a youth in a church culture that encourages the use of language that doesn’t mean anything to most people, but if you use them the right way you sound like you know what you’re talking about. In essence – the church breeds a bunch of people who just try to fake it til they make it.
My whole life I’ve been mixed up in being a part of the church. I’ve been put in leadership roles and gone to rally’s and played on bands and done all of it. And the whole while I thought I was a Christian. I thought so because I did Christian things. I played Christian songs. I hung out with Christians. I felt Christian guilt. I spoke Christian jargon. I prayed Christian prayers. Preached Christian messages. Did all of the right things, said the right things, meant the right things – but didn’t feel the right things on the inside. My personality type is one where I need the approval of others all the time. I want people to like me. So for the culture I grew up in – people liked you most when you were and said all of the right Christian things.
But can I tell you – it’s all empty.
I’ll tell you what’s up. For my whole life I’ve told people the catch phrase: “Being a Christian isn’t religion, it’s a relationship.” And I believed that too. Somewhere along the line though, “being in a relationship” looked a hell of a lot like “religion” even thought I wasn’t allowed to call it that. This whole “being in a relationship” aspect of my life was full of having to do things for God to make him happy. God was always angry with me because I kept sinning. I would sin, pray, promise to God I would NEVER do it again, and then do it again. Then a fresh wave of guilt and “feeling distant from God” would set over me and I would start fresh and pick out a new devotional that would help me get back on track. I would go strong for a week, miss a couple of days, feel like I failed, sin some more, and start over. It’s terribly unsatisfying to constantly feel like you are falling short of God’s expectations for you every day of your pitiful existence.
I didn’t believe that the relationship hinged on God’s unfailing love for me (even though I said I did) – I believed it all revolved around my obedience to his perfect will. If I failed then I had just another thing that he was going to show me and everyone else on judgement day that I did horribly wrong.
I told people that being in a relationship with God was life transforming – even though my life hadn’t transformed.
I told people that being in a relationship with God was free – even though I was working my ass off to maintain it.
I told people that being in a relationship with God was the best decision they could ever make. I didn’t think so.
That verse where Jesus tells people to take his yoke because it’s easy and his burden is light – I didn’t believe it. It made my life harder. Worse. More complicated. It wasn’t liberating, it was debilitating. But I followed faithfully because that’s what everyone else does. But no more.
That’s what I’m mad about. I believed that being in a relationship with God was based around me living my life by a certain set of rules and not deviating from those rules – lest I pay a severe penalty. What relationship do you have here on earth that looks like that at all? Any? Seriously – your parents? Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Nobody would be in a relationship like that. Who could survive? But we preach it from the rooftops that it’s the best thing ever. We stand by this works based righteousness with guns-a-blazin’ to defend it at all costs. We call it grace – but it’s not grace. We call it free – but it’s not free. It is horrific. Awful. I wouldn’t want anyone to be a part of it.
So what about this Wegmans deal? Well – I have said many times that I’m searching, being skeptical, analyzing – and all with the hope that someday I might find what I’m looking for, namely that God would show up and prove himself to me. That the supposed “good news” everyone talks about would actually be good, not terrible.
So I was sitting in Wegmans, reading Romans chapters 4-8 because a buddy of mine told me to. I read and I read and I had lots of questions – but at the end of the day I came to a couple of conclusions.
First, when Jesus died he rid everyone on earth from their sin nature. Everyone is a slave to righteousness now.
Second, we didn’t get to choose it – he just did it.
Third, we don’t always know what to say or what to do, but God put a Spirit in each of us and that Spirit talks to God on our behalf, especially when we don’t know what to say or how to say it. Even when we don’t know something is advocating for us, it is.
Finally, that God loves us no matter what. Nothing can separate us from his love – not angels or demons, and especially not the dumb shit I do on a daily basis.
I sat in Wegmans cafe, understanding what grace is for the first time in my 25 year old life. I cried like a little baby because I was so relieved. I don’t have to do anything. That’s the point. Jesus did it and I didn’t get a choice. The good news is that Jesus did it for everyone, everywhere. It’s good news because hey, God loves us no matter what we do or who we are or how we live – and he won’t stop just because you’re gay or a drunk or because you hate people. Sure, it’s a choice whether or not you want to embrace a new reality that you don’t have to earn God’s love anymore.
We go on thinking that our actions determine how much God loves us when really they are only a sign of how much we understand the love that he has for us. For the first time in my life, I actually wanted to know God. I wanted to live right – not because I felt I had to – I dont, but because I’ve been offered freedom from the nature that keeps me tied down to guilt and keeps me from my full potential as a human being.
So God finally showed up. And I feel pretty good about it. It only took me turning away from everything I’ve ever believed and wishing to start over. So now we’ll see what happens. Maybe I can be an advocate for change sometime down the road. I only hope that whoever is reading this knows full well that I am sincere in my words here. I don’t fully understand it, nor do I think I ever will. But I was open to God showing up and he did. Not in my time, but his. I still am mad at church, religion, church jargon, and being fake – because it’s empty and enfuriating. But I know God is real and loves me.
There is some peace out there though. Just know that. Don’t stop looking.