On the way to church last Sunday, I saw that a friend of mine had checked in on Facebook at a Buddhist temple near her home. She had not shared a status remark, only choosing an icon that indicated she was “feeling peaceful”.
This person was not raised Buddhist. In fact, she was raised in a Christian culture but had left religion some time ago. I wondered… was she looking for God again and just happened to end up in that temple? Or did she intentionally go there seeking the peace about which she posted? I looked forward to our visit next month so we could talk about it over a meal.
But I couldn’t get it out of my mind as I pulled in to the parking lot of my own beloved place of worship.
I arrived a little late. The music had already started as I settled in to my seat and soon, the pastor began to speak. He’s an excellent teacher and normally, I don’t want to miss a word, a nuance, a pearl.
But I was distracted as I thought again about my friend who was sitting in that Buddhist temple at precisely that same moment. I wanted to understand how our experiences might be similar or how they might be different. I started asking myself why do I go to church on Sunday mornings? Was I there, like my friend, to feel peaceful? or was there something else?
(As an aside, while peace is often found at church, sometimes it just isn’t because well, there are people there. If feeling peaceful is the main reason I go, perhaps I could spare myself the effort and just go chill on the bluff over the ocean near my house by myself. Now THAT would be peaceful. A friend of mine once joked “church would be so great if it weren’t for all those people”. While we might laugh at that, if we were totally honest, we might agree. People at church sometimes just bug! Sometimes they might even snub us. And those in leadership might even fail us. We can get hurt and jaded and as a result, we might stop going. I’ve sure had my share of experiences along these lines and understand the initial emotions. But I digress.)
SO… why DO I go to church?
I know I don’t go because I think I have to or because it suddenly makes me more spiritual or because I believe it is the only place where God is found. I don’t go because I think I’m better than you; in fact, I go to church because I’m a mess, because I can sometimes lose my way and forget who I am.
I go to listen to a guy I trust share from the Bible about Christ’s character and His plan and how I get to participate in it despite how flawed I am.
I go because I need community. My grandfather used to say “if you want to become a better tennis player, than play with someone who is better than you.” I need to regularly sharpen and deepen my faith by regularly rubbing up against others who live in the way I claim to believe because frankly, sometimes my blade just gets dull.
I go to church to expose myself to even more opportunities to serve. To serve when it doesn’t fit into the schedule or when it’s unglamorous or when it’s awkward or when it costs something is service like none other. I can get pretty insular which can sometimes lead to depression and when I give or serve, I swear, it snaps me right out of it. I can serve in many places in my city and I can send a check to an NGO I trust, but to serve where you will see those people again and again… well, it’s like a shot of Vitamin B.
I go to be reminded that I’m a daughter of royalty and don’t need to be afraid of terrorism or any other earthly insecurity.
But mostly, I go to church because I’m grateful. I can’t explain to you, but even after all these years, the idea that God would still want to hang out with broken and flawed me still surprises me. So I go.
I go to join my spiritual family in showing appreciation for, honor and reverence and homage to Jesus… the One I love, trust, and to Whom I owe my life.
And oh yeah… we SING!
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
“Justice that love gives is a surrender…” –Mahatma Ghandhi
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; but I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”* -Jesus
In the first few weeks of my new life a young woman asked me to mentor her through a similar struggle as I’d experienced, saying she “wanted what I had”. She told me the courage she saw in me motivated her. She said my commitment to doing what it takes to have a changed life inspired her and the steps I was taking to have an authentic experience with my Higher Power made her want to know more about Who He was. I felt insecure about helping her since it was all so new to me but upon the advice of my own spiritual mentor, I decided to give it a try and gingerly accepted her invitation.Revised and reprinted from August 2012
I shared that if she wanted what I had, she would need to do what I did. For weeks and often for hours on end I met with her one-on-one, patiently listening to her pain and offering the same tools I’d been given. I took her to meetings, dried her eyes, prayed with her, slowly taught her about surrender, and just generally poured into her life.
After a short while, she turned her back on all of it. Further, she gave the middle finger to the investment I was making in her and all the progress she’d made and never looked back. I was floored. What had I done wrong? Had my enthusiasm for her to have a better life had the opposite effect on her? What in the heck happened??
When I shared my dismay with my mentor, she said something I didn’t expect. She said it had nothing to do with me, but more so that people don’t want it (change for the better). Although they might say they do, the reality is most people don’t want to do what it takes to get it. What? How could that be? How could anyone NOT want to sleep soundly knowing they’d been truthful in everything? How could anyone NOT want the peace that begins to flow into relationships as one by one we make things right with those we have hurt? How could anyone NOT want to stop looking into life’s rear view mirror as each new mile traveled now is honest? How could anyone NOT want the freedom that comes with being naked before God and feel no shame? How could anyone NOT want to stop arm wrestling with what they knew to be good and right and true? I had drunk the KoolAid, saw how amazingly improved my life could be, and just assumed everyone wanted it too.
Over time I began to understand what she meant as I watched many seemingly satisfied with “close enough”. I watched the need to be right destroy relationships on all levels. I watched drinking get out of control in the life of influencers, inflated egos hide behind the guise of ministry, churches split over power struggles, single Christians get impatient as they’d live out romance as if they didn’t know how treasured they were. I watched anger go unchecked, and the perceived “right to happiness” blow marriages apart. I knew how that went… I had done a lot of the same thing; professing faith in God but then making choices that flew in the face of “righteousness” if I thought it’d suit me. It’s one thing to say “I believe”, but to really live it out? Ouch.
So… what is it with us? Why aren’t we willing to do what it takes to experience every ounce of richness that’s available to us on every level? Why do we allow low-living to steal from us what God has to offer?
I think it’s because it’s hard. We don’t think so at first, but honest self-review and total surrender to God takes courage. It often takes a lot to swallow our pride and recognize we are not the center of the galaxy. It’s hard to listen to raw counsel and then truly apply it to our life in ways that show others we’re different. It takes courage to shut up, share the credit, be tolerant with others, tell the truth, stop whining, return the money, admit we’re wrong, serve with no recognition, say we’re sorry, and in general, be willing to really make things right. It costs us a lot and sometimes, though we’d hate to admit it even to ourselves, we just don’t want to.
Here’s the thing. I believe Jesus went through all the drama of coming to this earth as He did was because He loves us so much, He wants us to have it all. Think about it: He lived as a man, was criticized and tortured and ultimately killed by religious leaders who were ticked that He’d pulled focus from their rules. He then rose up from the dead (He was also still God) and a month or so later returned to heaven where He shared that He’s preparing our eternal home for our arrival. The point was that He went through all that in order to give us a shot at a life that is marked by great plenty, no matter how much or how little we have.
So what stops us from jumping in the deep end… from biting into the juiciest part of the apple… from living and being all God made us to be? What would it take for us to do the right thing for the right reason, and trust God with the outcome?
To read more of the story, visit Sylvia’s blog I Drank The KoolAid.
* John 10:10 NASB
This morning, while returning from fetching the mail, I stopped on the walkway and sat on the front lawn with my dog.
Cleo and I looked at a sculpture that’s been in my front yard for the last couple of years for a good long while. My creative husband Wolf made it using various media, even casting his own hands and using my feet for the figure. I was there when it was installed and even had the plaque made at its base, yet often I just don’t see it. But today, it really caught my attention. I actually stopped and sat on the grass for a little while, contemplating what it was all about.
Brother Lawrence was a 17th Century monk whose job in French Carmelite monastery was to repair sandals and engage in the tedium of running the kitchen. He began to notice how easy it was for him to get lost in the tedium of his tasks that he would reach the end of the day and realize he had been too busy to think about God all day. This bothered him, and so he began to “practice the presence of God” in big and small things. As he would peel potatoes, he would thank God for making a vegetable that grows in the hard ground of winter. As he would clean the plates of the other brothers, he would thank God that they had just eaten a meal that filled their bellies. He practiced looking for and thanking God in the minutia of life so much so that after awhile, he couldn’t think of a time throughout the day when he HADN’T thought of God.
Wolf was so struck with this perspective shift that this dear, inspirational lowly man became the inspiration for the sculpture.
Who of us couldn’t use this kind of reminder? When we’re bored, unsatisfied, discontent… I wonder what would happen if we practiced ascribing everything we have and all that we experience to God, acknowledging our thanks out loud to Him? When stuck in traffic, we could thank God for having wheels to get us from here to there. When bored at our desk at work, we could thank Him that we will be rewarded with a paycheck that compensates us more than the majority of the earth enjoys. When transferring yet another load of laundry to the dryer, we can thank Him for shelter, food, and clothing.
If we can practice thanking Him here, who knows what we’ll be capable of when the big stuff hits?
Read more on the life of Brother Lawrence here.
I’m pretty sure I would have and you know what? I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. I probably would have secretly seen it with a girlfriend or worse, let the Man of the Month persuade me to see it with him. But in either instance, I would’ve felt dirty but sure would’ve been there on the front row of church the next morning all cleaned up in my Cathy Christian persona. Such a fraud, wanting it both ways.
Since then, I’ve learned about second chances as grace released me from the ick of my hypocritical self, and it has driven me to live not a perfect life, but an honest one. But back then, I struggled with self-worth so low that it would cause me to do things a healthy person would never consider. Where it showed itself the strongest was with men.
Buddha said “What we think, we become”. Science tells us that what we believe starts with what we think. I would’ve seen Fifty Shades of Grey and it would maybe have aroused me, it certainly would’ve confused me, and for sure driven further into the belief that what was good for ME was not on the menu. I saw the similarly controversial 9 1/2 Weeks in 1986 and walked out halfway through, but it was too late; even by then, damage had been done in my psyche and for years after, every time I connected with a man, I was haunted by the images I saw.
Although I never got caught up in real life situations as horrifying as this movie describes, I often entered into secret relationships and compromising situations with the same kind of disrespectful man, one who withheld love or was just a blatant narcissist. I routinely exposed myself to his selfish message and after awhile, was convinced I was unworthy. This is interesting because I have a loving father who, though very strong, always made sure I knew he loved me and wanted the best for me. But there were other male figures in my early life from whom twisted ideas about love were planted in my mind. Experience tells me that the shame from those ugly experiences drove me to hide the truth as I believed the lie that I was somehow responsible and ultimately didn’t deserve respect.
As I got older and made decisions of my own accord, I would often go in and out of wishing someone would talk turkey to me about my duplicitous tendencies but I wonder: if they had, would I have listened? Would I have heard the interventions of the caring soul who might’ve told me that exposing myself to these kinds of influences would wreak havoc on my emotional soul later in my life? I actually think I would have and in hindsight, wish someone would’ve taken the risk to get in my face.
But that was then. In recent years I have focused on trying to help other young women, hoping to help protect them from the pain I endured and from making the same mistakes I did. I’ve wanted to share how broken things can be put back together again with God’s help. For five years, I had the privilege of being the “spiritual mom” for a passel of gorgeous and bright young women in their early 30s, some of whom struggled with difficult childhoods resulting in low self worth. I took that role very seriously as weekly I tried to provide a safe place to explore things from a spiritual perspective that they didn’t feel they could ever talk about with parents or God forbid, in church circles. So when 50 Shades of Grey came out in book form in 2012, I felt compelled to steer them away from reading it. I wanted them to understand that God saw them as perfect and that He wanted the best for them, as any loving parent would. I wanted them to see how their actions now as single women could deeply influence their future married life. I explained how feelings are formed from what we think, and how our thoughts are influenced by what we allow in to our minds but at the same time though, wanted to be careful not to be “that” Christian who protested so much that they would want to read it just to prove me wrong. Sadly, a couple of them did and I cannot help but believe there is a part of them that regrets it.
Anyway, I just learned today, the Monday after the movie was first released, this movie has already done over $81 million in box office sales… in just two days and they expect it to hit $100 million this week. Millions of people have paid good money to see it… young people have gone to see it on a first date, groups of girlfriends have hosted FSOG parties where whips and handcuffs were given as party gifts, and some married folks have felt pressured by their spouses to go. What? And more importantly, why?
I’m no prude, but I know I’m not alone in my protest from both atheist and religious folks.
Popular erotic romance author and Huffington Post regular Jenny Trout blogs “I cannot, for the life of me, understand how it would be enjoyable to fantasize about a man who takes control in all aspects of your life.” Jill Savage, Hearts at Home president and best selling author and friend describes some of the dangers with “The problem with that is a slightly skewed perspective away from the way God wants me to live can easily become a slippery slope.” And Dannah Gresh, bestselling Christian author of Lies Young Women Believe and Pulling Back the Shades, wrote this just a couple of days ago in anticipation of the film’s release: “The romance you’re hungry for requires a strong man, but not one with whips and chains. So pass up Christian Grey and find a man who is so strong that he’d have the guts to lay his life down for you.”
Cornell and UCLA psychiatrist and sex expert Miriam Grossman, MD wrote a compelling piece this week which said “The bottom line: the ideas of Fifty Shades of Grey are dangerous, and can lead to confusion and poor decisions about love. There are vast differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, but the movie blurs those differences, so you begin to wonder: what’s healthy in a relationship? What’s sick? There are so many shades of grey…I’m not sure. Listen, it’s your safety and future we’re talking about here. There’s no room for doubt: an intimate relationship that includes violence, consensual or not, is completely unacceptable. This is black and white. There are no shades of grey here. Not even one.”
It does start in our mind. It is science. It all starts in the brain. It is black-and-white… and indeed, there are no shades of gray. For me a great deal of healing has come since those days as a young woman as I recognize God sees me as a beautiful, perfect daughter. Although I am deeply loved today by a gloriously unselfish, respectable and respecting man, there are still some marks that remain but I am no longer haunted by the past. But oh, what I could have protected myself from if only I had stayed on this side of the line when I drew it between where I stood and looming evil!
So, if you’re thinking about going, I hope this has caused you to pause if only for a moment. And hear this: no matter what the trailers say, no matter what the misguided author attests, and no matter how much your giddy friends might say otherwise as they try to entice you to a girls night out to see it, 50 Shades of Grey is no love story. It is a cheap thrill… nay, unadulterated porn. Nothing more. And you know what? No amount of perfume sprayed on a pile of poop will make it stop stinking. A rose by any other name is still a rose.
I, for one, don’t want those images polluting my mind. Ever. When I am with my darling husband who loves me deeply, I only want to see us; our love, our way- the way God gave it to us… not some stranger’s twisted fantasy. So call me a prude, but I think I’ll just stay home tonight, blissfully ignorant, and bask in the only pure Love Story* I’ve ever known.
* “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”
Years ago over coffee, a friend slapped me in the face.
Well, maybe not physically but let’s just say my attention was grabbed.
I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about but it’s very likely the conversation had been dominated by some grandiose rendition of the latest drama in my life and I guess she had finally had enough. With a heavy sigh she quietly murmured “You know, it isn’t always about you” and stood up to leave.
No one had ever spoken to me like that before.
After we parted, and with her words still hanging in the air, my indignation was quickly eclipsed by embarrassment as I wondered who else might think the same thing?
A review of my roster of friends revealed that the majority of my social connections were actually pretty superficial. With few exceptions, I had surrounded myself with people I could either control or from whom I could get something. There were very few equals in my circle and certainly, no true heart friend. I needed an overhaul.
But where to start?
Someone once said that in order to have a good friend you must first be a good friend. I soon realized I really didn’t know how, so starting on that painful day, I got busy.
I began spending time with non-churchy folks who loved God and had the mindset of a servant. They helped me understand that I needed to adopt the perspective that although I am special and “made in the image of God”, I am no better than anyone else. In fact, I needed to just be a “worker among workers”.
I began to create some space between myself and people who didn’t share my core values. I focused on the people who demonstrated a capacity for the kind of friendship I always longed for.
I zeroed in on those who love and believe in me without reservation, recognizing that anyone functions at their highest and best when they have their own private cheerleading squad.
I also started to closely watch people with strong friendships and tried to emulate what they did. Although it wasn’t easy to implement actions that didn’t come naturally to me, over time and with a lot of practice, behaviors that were once foreign became automatic and the impact on the quality of my relationships was immeasurable.
That was over twenty-five years ago. And although the learning will never be finished, I have picked up a few truths along the way:
Anything that counts for something typically comes at a price. But who wouldn’t pay dearly for something with such a great ROI?
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a sister.