The State of My Situation Address

Who knew that detox had anniversaries?

There is an exact calendar date that my husband and I can point to as the day our world turned upside down and that church as we knew it was over. At the time, we didn’t know we had entered the process of detox.

It will be 5 years on February 28 of this year. Only half as long as Robbymac, and I am quite certain that I have not learned half of what he knows about all of this. In fact, if you are looking for answers, you might be better off reading his post instead.

What do I know? We did not end up where I expected to end up.

For a long time, I was driven by idealism, a need to right and correct the things that were wrong, to be involved in something more true and pure. I hated stories of people who entered into detox and eventually circled around to going back. I could not accept that there is not a better outcome to be found.

Then I became more realistic, less militant.

I thought that perhaps we would be able to adapt and assimilate into normal church again, that we would be able to return to church with a healthier outlook. Be positive, behave ourselves, be normal attenders.

But, it’s not working. As much as I want it to, it just doesn’t make sense.

Time has healed the wounds of abuse. The raw feelings are now only a memory. I am not too wounded to go back. I am not angry, bitter or afraid about church, pastors, or members. I like church people. I like most pastors.

Maybe you can help me with this.

In my local community, there are probably 30-40 congregations of various denominations. I could go to any of them, make friends, fulfill the membership requirements, get involved in their programs, and attend services. I know what to do. In fact, I am pretty good at the drill.

I am able to do these things. I just can’t figure out why I would. Maybe to give definition and legitimacy to my membership in the body of Christ.

To be clear, I believe in the value of community. This week, I attended 5 different gatherings of believers that involved food, fellowship, encouragement, and prayer, but I did not actually attend a church service this week (or yet this year).

I desire real community and corporate mission, but (the big butt) I have a really hard time seeing those values expressed in the activities of the churches that I could join. In fact, and this may be the problem, I have a really hard time understanding anything about the church through the lens of an institutional organization.

Maybe I am still guilty of having unrealistic expectations.

When I think of pastoring and eldering, I look at people who live their lives that way 7 days a week in their relationships.

When I think of teaching and prayer, I see it in the context of people who are invested in relationship with one another, a mutual flow within those relationships.

When I think of fellowship and encouragement, I see the intentional activities of those who choose to share life and time together.

On the other hand, I also see the long-term benefit of those who share membership in church organizations over a period of many years. I am not against institutional church. There are lots of really good people involved in it, and they accomplish some wonderful things.

I had an underlying belief that when God got done cleaning my clock, when detox was over, this would all make sense, and I would be normal, like the rest of you.

I don’t know.

At the end of 5 years, I know less than I did at the beginning of those 5 years.

(Disclaimer: This is not a statement about what anyone else is or should be doing. It is simply my reflections at this point in my journey.)

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21 thoughts on “The State of My Situation Address

  1. Your writing today has really gone home for me.

    I am still a member of a church, along with the rest of my family. While we still seek to be engaged with our church we are also exploring what seems like an amazing other world of fellowship among believers, the house church movement, which seems exactly suited to where we have independently come in our own thinking through Bible study, prayer and much contemplation.

    I at first wanted to correct all the things about our church that could help our church be more like a house church, just treat the building we have like our house. But then that wasn’t working. It wasn’t just inertia, the denomination was incompatible with the kinds of changes that would be necessary.

    Then, I thought, perhaps we could form a sort of below-the-radar fellowship with other like-minded believers within the church, something like a house church, and we would meet on Sundays for the Apostolic meeting. But, and I know this sounds pretty amorphous, it seemed to me as though the Lord would not bless my efforts in that direction. I was convinced the Lord was not in this idea.

    Then, I thought, perhaps I would talk with my few close friends about the new things I was learning (all the time we have become increasingly disenfranchised, as a family, from the insitutional church) and just see what would be right with the Holy Spirit.

    So far, it has seemed right to the Spirit, and right to us, to remain engaged in our current church, love the people, and be helpful to them in doing what they seek to do within the institutional church framework.

    Nobody in our church knows the conflict we are going through inwardly, though our senior pastor does know a little bit. I keep hoping the Lord will send someone like Noah into our neighborhood and ask around to see if anybody would like to get in the ark. Because I’m pretty sure we would say yes if we were given the chance. But none of us are Noah, so we are not to build the ark ourselves.

    It’s a very strange state of mind/heart/spirit to live in, right now

  2. I think knowing less is healthy… when I was 20 I thought I knew everything there was to know about God and the life of faith, now that I am not far off 50 I realise that I know very little. Faith (to me) is a journey into the mystery of God… the more we discover about him, the less we know, we never get to the end of him.

    Church membership is great when it works for us, there were many years when it didn’t work for me either, and it was ten years before I drifted back into membership of a church congregation (and amazingly I am just coming to the end of my training for ordained ministry) … don’t beat yourself up… just keep going on this journey with God… and you will be amazed where he will take you.

  3. Grace, you may not know very much and you’re not all that normal but I sure have been blessed by your blog over the last year. Being normal and having knowledge is way over rated. What counts is knowing the heart of our Father, and I think you’re closer than most. Maybe he’s calling you do something different than just joining a congregation.

  4. Grace, I didn’t read the comments .. purposely.. just wanted to share my own experience so it may repeat something. Two years ago we were roughly where you describe yourself. I remember a specific conversation with a pastor friend who gets it and was not interested in trying to change or recruit me – yah, a true brother. I told him, “I can’t find a good reason to “join” anything. And I don’t want to shop for “church.” How does one “shop” for true community anyway? its an expression of life and shared covenant..” More or less those words. So I wondered.. how would this phase end or move on for us?

    What happened is interesting. I heard of a group downtown that was working with the poor. It was more or less an extension ministry of a larger suburban church. I had coffee with the guy who was appointed to oversee it. He was a lot younger than me.. but he was real.. reflective not sure where it was going.. excited. And.. he was a little isolated among peers. We had coffee again. It seemed I was able to understand and encourage Laurance. My wife and I started hanging out with this group on sundays. It was messy and chaotic. Laurence articulated that where they wanted to go was not a ministry to.. but a community among.. the poor. Resonance. After six months we knew this was our home. It is sometimes more a mission than a community.. but the rhythm of life is there. It has nearly overtaken our lives… it sometimes requires a death. Yah.. its Jesus stuff.

  5. Grace, I can so relate to what you wrote here. I’ve been out of the IC for 11 years now and I think I’ve gone through just about every phase and stage imaginable, definitely including the one you wrote about here.

    I think God has each of us on a different timetable so there’s no telling how long any one person will at each phase be as they walk through what you’re going through. So what I’m about to say may only apply to me and not to you or anyone else!

    It took me a full decade of being out of the IC before I was finally willing to take a big risk and try an experiment of very intentional gathering as a group with some fellow sojourners who had also been out of the IC for about the same length of time. I just was not ready before then. The timing turned out to be perfect. We’re only six months into our Thrive group, but it’s been life-changing in so many ways.

    Anyway, I don’t think anyone is “normal,” even after a full detox :-); I know I sure am not, and I doubt you ever will be “normal,” whatever that word is supposed to mean.

    All I can offer is this: Enjoy the journey, no matter what stage of it you are in! I’m so grateful you share your journey here with us. It’s really a joy to watch you walk the path you are on.

  6. Grace, I completely relate. I can’t “go back” not because of unworked-through issues – but just because it no longer makes sense.

    When we start to see the functions of the body (giftedness and roles) through a lens that is more about the way we are naturally wired, and so the way we relate to others in life every day (rather than a function within an organization)… organic rather than systemic… it’s hard to understand the pre-packaged deal that we used to be a part of.

    It’s kind of like the difference between mass-produced “art” available at chain outlets in malls, and actual art produced by an artist’s hands (rather than machines and assembly lines) available in galleries and coffee shops. Or the difference between pop art and folk art. You know what I mean?

  7. Ironically, it is one-year anniversary for me and, as I like to refer to it, my “shunning.” I feel a paradoxical pull between wanting to be involved in a “church” again yet seeing too many problems with the institution of the “church.” I keep going back to Jesus’ words that anytime two or more are gathered, he is there.

    I tell you that it is comforting for me to know that it still OK for me to be hurting at the one-year point. Although not as raw, still very painful. I know that I will continue to heal, but like a broken plate glued back together, I will always carry the scars from my wounding. For myself, I focus on the “what” not the “where” of my calling. I know that God lives in the entire world, so even though I am not able currently to live out my calling in the Church itself, I can be a disciple where ever I am.

    Thank you for your honest and courageous postings.

  8. ah gracie, i’m still right there/here with you. we’ve taken different turns in the same circuitous maze over the last 4 years, yet here we still are bumping into each other. I don’t want to give up on hope, yet I feel myself being pulled there daily. maybe that’s where the answers lie- on the other side of hope. never having any answers is a lot more tiring than thinking I knew at least some of them.

  9. Grace,

    You can be abi-normal with me, girlfriend! 8) Hehehe…..

    I am approaching my 4th anniversary of the turning point … and I agree that there is no going back. Perhaps like Cortez, we have burned our ships after arrival upon these liminal shores — and are well motivated to go forward into communitas.

    The old saying goes “the more you know, the more you know you DON’T know.” So, looks like you’re right on target.

    Our only struggle is with our young sons … but Sunday School and Youth Group were not going the right direction either (no real surprise there).

    I’m just waiting and watching for Aslan … and I’m going where he’s going!

  10. Thank you for the very honest and real post. I am sure many will groan for doing this yet again, but as I read I couldn’t help but think of St. Francis of Assisi. Like us, he lived in a time and place where Christianity was largely the defining worldview. Yet, also like us, it was losing meaning, succumbing to the influence of materialism and political agendas. Francis stepped away from that life to embrace a radical obedience to Christ.

    However- and this is where we have so much to learn from him- he did not reject the church, nor even openly rebuke her obvious failings. All the while that he lived a very different life than most of his contemporaries (even the religious), he loved the Church despite her failings. When asked why he didn’t rebuke them more fiercely, he said that he would be a living rebuke, letting the light of obedience and love expose sin. As a result, Francis was one of the most reforming figures in Church history.

    All this to say, I really believe that you represent, in many ways, a light of hope for many. I have a sense that the year(s) ahead will become concentrate on finding those things- those pearls of faith- that you will pursue and embrace with passion. And through that, people will be drawn together and find true community and mission. It may be dark now, but I really believe that there is light coming very soon.

    Ok, that ended up sounding way more dramatic than intended. Just what was on my heart.

    Peace,
    Jamie

  11. Grace,

    Danny beat me too it, but the most positive sentence in your statement is, “At the end of 5 years, I know less than I did at the beginning of those 5 years. ”

    I’m now seventy, been preaching and teaching for fifty of those years, and have spent the last five years cleansing myself from the awful cobwebs of so many years of Christianism.

    The one thing which has been confirmed over and over again is the security and certainty of a true believers position in Christ., apart from Churchianity.

    It is five years since my wife and I have been to a “church service”, but we have been privileged to BE the Church in company with those who “just happened” to turn up.

    Be careful you are not looking back to the security of “Egypt”, (I know. I’m out of context).

    I trust that our great God will show you the right decisions to make.

  12. Grace, If you ever figure it all out I will certainly think to myself, “Shoot, I only have a 3 1/2 years till I need to have it all together.” :)

  13. Joanne,
    It would be so much easier if we could point to one “right” way and say this is it. Instead of following someone else’s path, we have to discern where and how God is leading us.

    Danny,
    I like the perspective of a mystery to be explored, especially the idea that we will always be journeying into the mystery of God.

    david,
    I guess we might as well get used to it.

    david,
    Thank you. Your last sentence meant a lot to me. I’m still a little bit afraid to consider that as a valid possibility.

    len,
    Thanks for sharing your story. It has been interesting watching this develop for you. I don’t know what that might look like in my community. However, I believe that I am at the point personally where I want to intentionally pursue mission and let community become whatever it will be. To be honest, I have such a great network of Christian friends, that I don’t feel any lack in the area of relationships with other believers.

    tracy,
    I believe that there will be some type of intentional gathering in my future, but for now I don’t have a clue what it will be. I’ve enjoyed seeing how the Thrive Group has been a good fit for you.

    sarah,
    Yes, I know what you mean, and I’m almost ready to stop feeling guilty about it. ;)

    catherine,
    At one and two years, the pain was still pretty intense for me too. In fact, at that point I couldn’t really imagine a time when it wouldn’t feel that way. It does change who we are. Fortunately, during the healing process, we don’t have to figure it all out. We just need to let God heal us and, as you said, know that regardless of our circumstances, we are still a part of His family.

    cindy,
    Ah yes, the blissfulness of thinking we knew where we were going. It was so nice, even if it wasn’t real.

    Coincidentally, last a week I had a dream about driving in fog so dense that there was zero visibility. What do you suppose that meant?

    peggy,
    Well motivated or have no other options?
    I am worried about my kids, and I would love for God to lead us toward something that would engage their hearts.

    jamie,
    Thank you for sharing that. Overly dramatic or not, in your words I hear God’s spirit encouraging me on, and I truly needed that encouragement right now.

    aussiejohn,
    Thanks for your encouragement. I do struggle with the expectations of what this “should” look like.

    barb,
    Yep, we’re on the fast track to who-knows-where. :)

  14. Hey Grace,

    Thanks for the shout-out, although I’m still discovering new insights into the whole detox process years later. Either I’m still learning, or perhaps I’m a slow learner. :)

    I called it the “10th anniversary” because I wanted to celebrate the “coming back to life” — if I want to refer to the beginning of the whole process, well… then this would be the 12th anniversary. But I’d rather celebrate the life side of the detox. :)

  15. Grace wrote;

    This week, I attended 5 different gatherings of believers that involved food, fellowship, encouragement, and prayer, <u?but I did not actually attend a church service this week (or yet this year).

    Now you’re telling the truth ;o) in that you haven’t “gone to church”. However, I would say that this week you have been an active part of the visible expression of the church/the body of Christ/the household of God 5 times. Now your livin’ !

    Tom

  16. Grace, Thanks for those thoughts. I share or ‘groan’ many of them too. It is obvious that your topic resonates with many others as well.

    Speaking of fog….
    Last Sat. I was in the big city near us, then I drove back in the fog–we had fog for days last week. The car seemed to know the way, cuz we had traveled it so many times before. Even though I couldn’t see so well, I could ‘feel’ the road ‘more’ under me. There were just enough landmarks/signs to keep me from panicking! I needed to be fully engaged and concentrating every moment so that I didn’t do a ‘blank’ and then panic and then really wonder where I was. I tried to remain calm and just keep rolling.

    I thought, that was kinda like our Christian lives sometimes.

    We went to a prayer meeting with another guy from our fellowship later that evening and I shared that feeling while driving in the fog. My husband pulled out this writing on a piece of paper that he had in his Bible–which he had penned himself one day:

    “A life of viewing shadows and reflections and things through fog.”

    We smiled and agreed, ‘Yah, that’s for sure!’ It sure was appropriate for today’s driving. It may describe how we may feel about God’s leading sometimes–yet we know he is there. There can be a ‘leaning into’ the prompts of the Holy Spirit and there can be communion with The Almighty and ultimately, surprises around the next corner. These surprises often come in the form of people–and how we can share our journeys together.

  17. Interesting that you had that dream and Barb O. shared that experience of driving in the fog. Just the other day, we were driving home our regular route from work in thick fog (luckily, it’s a straight, flat road and we know it well). I could only see two feet in front of me, but felt comfortable keeping a steady speed. I said to to my husband, “This is a lot like our life right now! This is what faith looks like.” :) He just laughed.

  18. robbymac,
    I think that for healing, two years is probably minimal before the “coming back to life” begins. I would like to think that I am done with detox, but it seems to have left me not quite normal.

    tom,
    You are right. I learned plenty during the five years, just not the things that I wanted to know. ;)
    Because I enjoy good relationships and fellowship with the body of Christ around me, I am not very “hungry” to attend a service.

    barb,
    Good to see you. Thanks for the email. As to the fog, God knows I would love to see and plan further ahead. :)

    sarah,
    I smiled when I read your comment last night as I was editing today’s post on…faith!

  19. Grace
    I think there is nothing unusual in your experience.Mine is the same and somedays I wonder if I know God at all when all the believers around seem stuck in their certainties and their purpose driven lives.Which reminds me why do preachers pray a sermon at Presidential Inaugurations?Rick let me down.Anyway I don’t think we ever get back to whatever normal is as we are like ex drug addicts.Wewill be more compassionate but never religious normal ever again – poor in spirit is the term I think.

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