Where I Need to Be

9:00 AM

The Athenian Marketplace (i.e. Fellowship Hall)
I'm sacramentally Baptist, intellectually Catholic, doctrinally Reformed, and now I've started praying parts of an Orthodox prayer rule. Needless to say, I'm struggling with what church to join, what tradition to call mine, and what sort of label I'm comfortable slapping onto myself.

What I want more than anything right now is for my theology to match up with my spirituality, my spirituality to match up with my church life, and my church life to match up with my theology. Over the years, I accidentally invented my own little system of belief that coincides with no church ever splintered in the two millennia of Christian history. I'm not comfortable with "going it alone" -- partially because there is no way I can be right about everything I believe and mostly because I want a walking buddy. (Fortunately, God blessed me with a boyfriend similar to me theologically and spiritually, and understanding, patient friends, family, and mentors. I'm not entirely alone.)

Sometimes going to church feels like a kick in the face. I've cried (more than once) at a Catholic mass because of how frustratingly exclusive it was. I've got pretty miffed at Baptist churches for subtle jabs against Lutherans and people who dance and drink alcohol. And I've been to more tolerant churches who just don't give me any meaty truth to wrestle with.

It's also hard transitioning out of various Christian tribes as I question, explore, and pray. My shorts and criticism of creationism scare fundamentalists. I no longer am comfortable with some of the borderline legalism and snottiness found in many hardcore Reformed/Presbyterian circles. There are so many awkward moments when friends bring up beliefs I once solemnly defended, and I just end up frowning and nodding, unsure whether to drop my bomb of disbelief.

You get the point -- this is a big, emotional, spiritual deal for me.

So every day I get on my knees and pray this prayer (by Thomas Merton, obviously):

"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."

One night, I was faceplanted in my bed because I was tired and discouraged with this church thing. My professor had told me that the questions I was asking would take years, maybe a lifetime, to answer. I felt the weight of all those years of unanswered questions as I mumbled this prayer.

Then God made it clear to me: Look at where you are.

I was on my knees facedown in prayer before the presence of God. I was on my knees facedown in humility. I was in prayer out of love. I was experiencing the quiet, unseen presence of God. And isn't that exactly the place I wanted to be?

Church, Christian friends, and doctrine are crucial things in my life, but they're crucial because they're supposed to partner with me to help me love God. They were there to direct me on my knees facedown in prayer before the presence of God. And here I was, already there, already arrived -- on my knees facedown in prayer before the presence of God.

Well, that was easy.

I'm not going to give up searching for a church tradition that strengthens my faith -- but I'm also not going to worry about it quite as much as I did. As long as I'm walking with God, I'm where I need to be.

Have you felt like a spiritual outsider? What has God taught you during that time? 

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6 impressions

  1. Oh my goodness Baily! I am in the same boat you are! I'm constantly torn between beliefs of churches and find myself distressed with the thought of leaving some behind only to join another that I don't fully partner to.

    FAR too much I see people forcing a label on others just for their own benefit of wrapping their brains around my spiritual life. I believe Jesus/Yeshua was and is the Messiah and I follow His word okay? Haha! :)

    Your words dear; they are ever true and they have uplifted me today. :)

    the elder sister and writer

    1. It's SO encouraging to hear I am not the only woman who struggles with this! Thanks for sharing, Cassie!

  2. Bailey, I applaud you for sharing your search. The truth is, most people don't bother to question their faith because they are afraid or too distracted with meaningless things. Spirituality is an integral part of our being and we do well to search for the answers that will satisfy our minds. I understand your restlessness and deep desire to know the truth. God knows this too, He gave you a discerning thoughtful mind and a strong desire to know Him. I cannot believe that He will ignore your prayers. If you search for truth whole-heartedly, you will find it. Not only will it make sense but you will be satisfied as well.

    There are many different places you can search (churches, people, books, etc.), and nearly all religions -even atheism- contain some amounts of truth. The Koran has a lot of very good teachings as do the writings of the early church fathers. However, if your search is to know truth, and God Himself (for He is the way, the truth, and the life), I would unhesitatingly give you the Bible as the best guide to truth. This Book is not only full of the words of God, but also inspired words of people who knew God. It doesn't gloss over the nature of man, but points us to the One one Who can save us from our sins.
    I know you are a Christian in your beliefs, so I don't need to convince you that the Bible is a good book to read if you want to know God. : )
    Wha I do want to present to you is that if you are looking for a hook to hang doubt on, you will always find one, even in the Bible. God doesn't give us proof that the Bible is true, but He gives us unwavering evidence. At some point we will all have to take a leap of faith, whether we believe in God or not, because we are not capable of fully understanding all there is to know. I hope that made sense how I said that.
    I guess what I am trying to say is, from my humble little heart, that I'm proud of you for using your head and I hope that you continue to question the norm for the rest of your life. What I would suggest is that you will find the most truth in the Word of God, and that if you ask the Spirit Who inspired the writers of the book to help you, you'll save a lot of time trying to find the right answers to your questions.
    Again, I don't want to hate on anyone who doesn't agree with me; I'm just speaking from my own experience. And I'm a young woman like you who loves to explore and question and probe for answers.
    Keep going, whatever you do, Bailey! Never give up your search for truth.

    Love and prayers,


  3. Coming from over here in Reformed Baptist world, I know what you mean about snottiness and borderline legalism. I've seen traces of it, but I'm thankful that my pastors are trying hard to teach us to be Christians, not merely "Reformed". That is my hope and prayer: that we will be obeying, serving, and loving God, not our intellects.

  4. I have been in this place for the last...four year? Almost five now, I think. So many times I've been standing on the precipice of Catholicism or Orthodoxy, bending my knees to jump when something blocks my way.

    Its so odd to come to a place where you CAN believe -- even WANT to believe -- all the creeds and doctrines of one of those great "big-C" Churches, and then to feel as if God (or circumstances otherwise beyond your control) have blocked your way.

    As odd as it sounds, I've become comfortable now, knowing I have the ability within me to either believe -- or not believe -- in papal infallibility, or Mary's sinlessness, or baby baptism. Its helped me remember that I rest in the faith and grace of God, who doesn't save by doctrine but by His love.

    Its so funny, because all this would have sounded unbearably "wishy-washy" to me in the beginning and middle of my journey. In the end, I felt like God was telling me that my wish for a cut-and-dry theology alongside a complete and define Church was kind of like when Israel began crying out for a King (1 Samuel 8:6-9). I don't think is the case for all who convert to a big-C Church, but for me I felt it was true. I wanted something physical to lean on, someone or someplace I could look to when I was weak that wasn't invisible or feeling distant, but instead immediate, tangible, and accessible.

    I still struggle with this. Its a daily thing.

    1. You've been a big encouragement to me, ee, as I figure these things out. Thanks for being transparent about your faith walk. I can't believe that I actually relate to wanting to join a big-C Church --- it's so funny where God leads us! The analogy of Israel wanting a king is so appropriate. It's hard to determine what's a good spiritual desire and what's human weakness kicking against the goads of living out faith the hard way.


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