|Creative Commons - Tom Haymes|
Is it odd I never left? Almost everyone with a bad church story steps away for a while. But I never did, because part of what propelled me to leave was the gut feeling this is not it. I know God's love, I've tasted it before, and it's not here.
So I kept showing up. At first I was at a mega-church, crying every week and staring at the screen while everyone around me swayed to the music. Mega-churches are gentle places, meant to draw a crowd. When your head and heart are as messed up as mine was, a crowd is reassuring. I could just ... sit there. Sit, hear words of love, and slowly nurture the furtive hope within. It was exactly what I needed at the time.
After we moved, we chose a different course. I'd read about the liturgical way of life and my husband loved the simplicity of the worship, so we landed in an Anglican church. Our footing was uncertain, but we kept moving forward, compelled by that gut feeling that prodded us to search for the God we once knew.
Again, I kept going. Week in and week out I chased kids out of the snack room in the back, nursed a fussy baby to sleep, walked my toddler to the potty, changed her discreetly when she didn't make it. I am usually there, but I've rarely been fully present. Mostly I parent on Sunday mornings (as I do everywhere I go), but even on my kids' most frenzied days, I've never wondered, why do I bother? The rhythm of the service soothes me. No matter how many times I have to put down my prayer book to deal with a wandering boy, I am drawn to the experience. It is a good place to wait for God to show up.
The God of my youth was wild with an unpredictable love. He was encompassing, hopeful, deeply personal, and in my early 20's He talked to me all the time. But I hadn't heard from Him in years. Little by little I'd let life experience and other people tell me the God of my youth was silly. The real god was distant and scary. He was wild all right, but did he really love me? Instead of hopeful, he was temperamental and angry. I couldn't hear that god. I couldn't trust him with my children, couldn't lean into him when nothing made sense. For years I prayed to the ceiling and heard radio silence.
Over the past year, the Anglican experience has dispelled the rumor of a scary god. Each week my priest says, "If God looks like Jesus, I can believe in Him," and then he describes Jesus to us. Every week I have listened, tried to remember, hoped it was still true. I have been searching for the God of my youth.
That brings us to the Maundy Thursday service. As we read the liturgy that night, I imagined the night before the Crucifixion - Jesus giving us the Eucharist, washing his friends' feet, grieving and praying. In the words of the liturgy I saw a desperate man. Overwhelmed by anxiety, yet determined and unwavering. I saw a man who felt frustration, sadness, anxiety, even fear - who remained focused, who did not give up. He didn't give up, because He was searching for me, too.
He was not the God of my youth, wild and carefree. Instead, that night I met a different face of God - a God who understood the fears of life. Who'd waited with dread for death, who'd been disappointed by those he loved, who'd prayed for another way even though He knew in his gut there wasn't one. I saw a God who suffers alongside us, who does not hold frailty against us, who recognizes the faith it takes, most days, to keep showing up. On Maundy Thursday, I saw again the face of a God I can trust.