I’m a work in progress, there’s no doubt about that.
Some days I’m all zen handling conflict mediation, but sometimes I wig out on my kids when they pull the same nonsense three days in a row. Some weeks I’m in the groove, and then there are times when 9:00pm rolls around and I wonder how I still have six things left on my HIS (Hella-Important-S@#!) list that have to be bumped. Sometimes everything just seems to click…but other times I’m a red hot mess.
Welcome to the human race, right?
Church is one of those areas where I feel like I’m still finding my footing, which is pretty ironic considering I’m about to begin chairing a committee. (If you attend church with me, don’t freak. I’m a little bit nervous, yes, but I can do this.) It’s just that it’s taken me a while to settle into my church home. This has been a long faith journey so far, and I know I still have more growing to do.
I was raised a Catholic and regularly attended mass for most of my life (minus a bit of a dry spell in college). BrightSide and I belonged to the local Catholic church for a number of years after we moved to North Carolina, until we joined the Methodist church that we attend now. (Yes, I said “the” local Catholic church – it’s not like there’s a plethora of Catholic churches to choose from around here.)
Anyway, we met this group of wonderful people who immediately welcomed us into their worship. BrightSide loves this place, has from the first moment he set foot in it, because it reminds him so much of the church in his hometown. I love the people – how kind they were to our family, how they made us feel right at home – but despite all of that, for the longest time I didn’t feel like I was fully engaged in the worship.
We’d show up as a family every week for Sunday’s service. There’d be incredible music (the choir is wildly talented), a good sermon with a clear message, and space to pray. With kind people in the pews around us, you’d think this would have been everything I needed. But even though I’d often leave the service having learned something new, I realized I didn’t feel…moved.
(I know that sounds a little peevish, like I was expecting visions of angels or lightning bolts from above. It’s not that I assumed this particular church would deliver miracles. I just wasn’t having those “connected to something bigger, God speaking to my heart” sort of moments. And that left me feeling like I was missing something.)
I look back now and know this had nothing to do with the church and everything to do with where I was in my life. In a lot of ways I had checked out, and when you’re not fully engaged with your own life it’s pretty hard to feel in tune with things. Especially when it comes to the spiritual.
I’d been dealing with some difficult family issues for a while. So while I wasn’t shaking an angry fist at God, I do think the strain I was under put up walls. Walls that weren’t easily torn down by a weekly visit to church on Sunday.
When I say I’d checked out, it’s more like I finally realized how much I’d checked out on me. I love my husband, my kids, my dogs, my life…but there was a part of me that kept wondering where I had gone. I was a wife, a mother, a caregiver, a volunteer, and a million other things that keep a family going, but I couldn’t find much evidence of who I was as an individual. That fact slowly ate away at me for a very long time.
I would meet these incredibly spiritual people at church – the kind of people who practically glow with faith – and felt like a fraud. I was going through the motions, getting our family to church, making sure we made it for Sunday School. I volunteered in the kids’ class and joined church committees, thinking “if I get more involved, feel more invested in the church, THEN I’ll experience that relationship with God I see all around me.” But all that did was make me more busy, not more spiritually connected.
It wasn’t until I stopped running that things changed. I started looking for myself again, and when I saw glimpses of that person who’d been gone so long I found ways to bring her back. I carved out time for me, time to pursue my interests and hobbies, guilt-free (or at least with as little guilt as possible).
Once I started nurturing who I was as an individual, that’s when I was able to start opening myself back up to feeling something in church. Instead of exerting all kinds of energy to hold up those walls and keep life in line, I just let go. I sat quietly and listened, looking for things that moved me and finding ways to connect spiritually in those moments.
This hasn’t been an easy process. Those Catholic traditions run deep, leaving a yen for an “if this, then that” approach. This whole concept of developing a strong personal faith that’s not rooted in religious ritual is hard work, but that work yields amazing results. The last few years have brought about real change in my life – not easy change, granted, but absolutely priceless.
I can only wonder where I’ll be in another twenty years.