Since the day we first enter the world, we face the realities of imperfection. We know that we will struggle to do well, to live in a way that best reflects Christ and that brings joy to the people we are on the journey with. But sometimes, somewhere along the way, things start to change. The arguments about the color of the sanctuary carpet move from fun and exciting, to painful and dull. The music we have always found as a pathway to worship starts to sound flat and lifeless. The traditions that form us are now stagnant and stale.
And so, like almost every Christian I know, we set out to explore and find new ground. We visit other places, meet new people, listen to new songs to see if something might resonate and bring new life. And many times, people find those things. And other times, people decide that what they had is good enough, and lean back into the faith of their beginnings.
But those of us that don’t go back, and sometimes even celebrate the leaving, we find ourselves in the desert. The journey to understanding our relationship with faith is hard. We may even take some wrong turns. We may be angry at the past and the way we have been treated, or feel forsaken by those we love. We lose sight of what we were given in the beginning because it represents pain, sorrow, and loss. We long for something bigger than ourselves and the petty squabbles that have come to define our faith.
We are seeking something more. Something that draws us to the creator. Something that helps us understand what it means to be made in the image of God. We seek something that is creative, beautiful, and good.
All journeys like this have their ups and down. We start in one place, sense a conflict in ourselves or with others, and then we seek resolution. The start is easy. Living in conflict is difficult. It is a hard place to inhabit. It might be a certain teaching that sent us on this road. Maybe it is how we see the marginalized being treated. We see that there are other ways to express something different but still good. We find that other traditions and voices may open the door to experiencing faith in a more authentic way.
After all, even Jesus knew the truth that “a prophet has no honor in their home town.” It is hard to change and grow when we are still the little kid that everyone knows, or the college student that had so much to learn, or the “newlywed” that is celebrating their 10th anniversary. When the people around us, knowingly or unknowingly, keep us from aging in their minds, it can be very difficult to deal with the changes of life. As a community, we have to able to admit that things don’t stay the same, patterns of belief change, and sometimes people outgrow the things that we have taken for granted.
Authenticity and honesty are keys in allowing these new realities to have space to breath. When we find ourselves stuck in a community of faith where we’re not allowed to be true to our real selves, sometimes the only way to address this is to leave. What would it look like if we were given the space to grow? Many of us experience that as we change, grow, learn, and have new ideas, the community can be confused, if not hostile. This hostility rarely brings the light, but leads us to navigate the world alone.
What we need are safe places to struggle with the realities of life. We need to know it’s okay to explore. We need encouragement in the midst of the journey. We need access to the wisdom and knowledge of those who have studied broadly and bring perspective into the discussion. We have to learn to live in the middle of things that don’t resolve.
Many times, in our faith communities, we are told that there must be a resolution. There must be an answer; but there isn’t. Faith has to wrestle with things that can’t be explained; with paradox, hurt, and evil. Even with the dark night of the soul. So petty issues like internal fights and disagreements that go on for years become a distraction. Things like favoritism in the leadership that keeps other voices from being heard grate at us. Allowing people to act badly, and to treat others poorly but claiming that we need to love them through it instead of addressing real issues of passive aggressive behavior, rudeness, and hurting others, eats at our soul. These may seem like small things. But for someone struggling to see how what we believe impacts and changes the world around us, when we can’t see those changes inside the community, it can be the last straw for someone that is already wrestling with larger issues of growing with faith.
We need to be honest about the fact that we all have flaws and we are all in need of growth and change. Following Christ is not about assenting to exactly the same things as everyone else on every point. It is about assenting together on the key points, and having the wisdom to know what those really are. The rest is seeking to live out God’s love and grace in our own life, and the lives of those around us. As it is attributed to John Wesley, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” A primary task of the church is to figure this out.
As we do that, we need to keep in mind who we are. We are all people loved by God. We are created in the divine image and we bear that image into the world around us. We bear that image and love in our churches, at home, at work, and at the grocery story. We do that with each other. We are also image bearers to those we love that are traveling a different path than we are. The love that we have from our creator, supersedes differences in non-essentials. As we all seek clarity, we need to give each other room to grow, and we must learn to love.