On being churchless

Alongside a faith in Jesus Christ and being able to play a four chord sequence on the guitar, being an enthusiastic member of a church is one of the crucial elements of being defined as a Christian. We sing songs, drink coffee, eat an awful lot of biscuits, and, if we’re really well-behaved, take notes during the sermons.

But I don’t fit the mould of a good, church-going Christian because I very rarely step foot inside one any more.

When I moved to a new city a couple of years ago I instantly threw myself into looking for a church to be a part of. It wasn’t something I even stopped to consider, because if I wasn’t part of a church didn’t that signal some sort of faith-crisis? Would I not become part of the huge number of twentysomethings who are haemorrhaging out of the church…and the faith?

I quickly committed to a church community, partly out of genuine desire to be part of church, and partly to keep up appearances. It was ok, but I stopped looking forward to going to church. The times I did drag myself there I ended up leaving feeling like I had just wasted my time and energy. At best I got a free coffee and something to do on a Sunday night that didn’t involve nursing a hangover. Most of the time, however, I left feeling drained, isolated and frustrated.

Aware that I should both look for somewhere that was the right place for me, but also not treat church as part of consumer-culture, I left and tried somewhere else. I was on a rota, in a small group and did my utmost best to make it out of bed and into the service on time. But it was the same all over again, and eventually it stopped being something I even considered on a Sunday morning.

So here I am. Christian, but church-less.

Don’t get me wrong – I agree that Church is important. It’s fantastic, and vital, to be part of a community where you encourage one another, grow in your faith and support each other through the dark times. Ideally I would be part of such a church, whether that meets in a church building with power points and heated floors, or a living room over a pot-luck dinner. Increasingly however, this isn’t the reality for so many Christians. Not everyone has good experiences with church. Not everyone can get to church on a Sunday morning. Not everyone likes the format of the traditional ‘sing songs and listen to one person speak from the front’ church service.

The biggest struggle I have right now is not my lack of church, but the judgement I feel from others. Just because I am not committed to one church exclusively doesn’t mean I am not committed to the church. It doesn’t mean that I am not growing in my faith. It doesn’t mean that I have stopped learning and seeking. It does not mean that I am devoid of community and input from other Christians. It doesn’t mean I will never again be committed to a particular church community.

It certainly does not mean that I am no longer a Christian.

I don’t want to be part of a church just because it’s expected of me. Although there are many reasons why people leave the church which need to be addressed (something I will write on in the near future), we shouldn’t automatically view it as a bad thing that someone finds themselves a nomad for a season. Nor should we try and force anyone back into the traditional western model of church just because that works for us. Let’s take more time to meet people where they are at, just as God meets us where we are at, and realise that so often ‘church’ extends far beyond a sunday morning.

This post is not meant to insult anyone or write off any method of being church, that completely defeats the point of what I am saying. I simply want to share where I am at and partake in an ongoing discussion with those who similarly struggle. Some resources I love at the moment are the nomad* podcast (http://www.nomadpodcast.co.uk/) and Rachel Held Evans’ new book: Searching for Sunday: Loving, leaving and finding the church.

Hello, old friend.

Writing is something I love, but since my blog began getting traffic I’ve almost stopped altogether. I felt so much pressure to write something that would be insightful, wise and thought-provoking, when in reality I felt my faith was totally unravelling.

I started this blog in 2011, a year filled with highs, lows and bitter disappointments which would shape the next few years to come. Back then I would’ve confidently described myself as a ‘strong, evangelical Christian’ (whatever that means), but gradually over the past 4 years I’ve seen myself evolve into a completely different woman.

The beauty and tragedy of the internet is that it documents every step of your past like never before. Months and years go by, and suddenly you find yourself with a catalogue of facebook photos, statuses and instagrams from years ago that form part of your past but rarely reflect the person you are today. Looking back can be funny, happy, sad or uncomfortable, but it has also become available to a whole bunch of so-called ‘friends’, or any old google user.

Blogging is both public and personal. I began blogging with an approach to faith which in many ways feels totally contrary to how I feel today. In a click of a button someone can see the views of a 2011 Katie and 2015 Katie, and I’m not sure I was brave enough to allow people to see where I was really at, and how much had changed. Generally speaking, I felt that those who moved away from the evangelical sub-culture way of doing things were considered to be losing their faith, not taking it seriously etc etc. In reality, I still had a faith, I was just in the midst of a journey figuring out and redefining what I truly believed – but I just wasn’t comfortable putting myself out there for fear of judgement.

I’m not alone in this. There seems to be an explosion in blogs and books of people who are finding faith after evangelicalism, who are frustrated with the church, or who are simply not shiny, happy-clappy christians. Faith has and always will be deeply personal and everyone’s experience different and it’s important to share and interact with one another with grace wherever they are at.

This post is really just to say that my blog will be primarily personal and if you enjoy my ramblings about faith that’s great, I love to discuss and share this journey with people, but I don’t want to feel the pressure to always write something well thought out with a beginning, a theologically sound middle and an end. I just want to write about what I’m thinking about and experiencing.

 

#blessed

I’m not the first, and I certainly won’t be the last, to sit in my cold flat, feeling pretty crappy, having been drenched by rain on the way home from a less-than-memorable day of lectures and errands, only to be greeted by a barrage of facebook, twitter and instagram posts showing me how great a time other people are having.

So I crack out my iphone, snap a picture of the grey skies out of my window and tell everyone how blessed I am feeling after just about staying awake through uni, forcing myself to the gym and popping into Tesco to pick up toilet roll and milk.

Or not.

Search the hashtag ‘blessed’ on instagram and you will find nearly 35 MILLION results.  We all love to show everyone the amazing time we are having, the stunning sunset we are viewing, or all of the great things happening to us in our lives. We’re in less of a rush to fill our social media accounts with pictures of our morning hair, gourmet bowl of cereal for dinner or rejection letters.

You’re all kidding yourselves if you say the image you portray on social media is one that truly reflects your life, warts and all. Like never before, we are able to carefully control what people see, or perhaps more importantly, what people don’t see, about our lives. We can be all-too aware of what isn’t perfect in our lives, but looking through our timelines it can be easy to forget that this is also a carefully edited fraction of what they allow you to see.

Christians have a bit of a reputation. Church is often a place filled with people talking about how sickeningly ‘blessed’ they are, how wonderful life is and how good God is. There’s little room for the doubting, the hurting, the unremarkable. Or at least, being honest about the doubting, the hurting, the unremarkable. Instead of being a community where people can come together whether life is good, bad or simply mundane, there is too much pressure to stick a filter on and hashtag blessed.

God is good, but life isn’t always. We need to start being more honest about this. Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean that things will always be shiny and perfect. 99% of the time they won’t be, and in those times we both need and need to be people who are able to express our pain and our doubts without the pressure to keep up a blessed Christian image.

There is far more freedom in vulnerability. It is unhealthy to suppress how we truly feel, to pretend that life isn’t the way it actually is. The church is alienating people because it doesn’t have a reputation of a place where people can come exactly as they are. It doesn’t practice what it preaches because it is far too busy trying to show people how wonderful life with God is. Where does that leave those who don’t feel great? Who are grieving or questioning? Who find it hard to get excited and feel blessed about the fact their week has been mostly spent doing nothing more interesting than having to go to work, clean the kitchen and walk the dog?

Those times we feel #blessed should be celebrated, but they should also be taken with the times that we, and those around us don’t feel so blessed. I want the church to have a reputation for being a community of people who don’t constantly try to edit their lives to portray a certain image, but a people who take the good with the bad, the pain with the joy, the mundane with the exciting.

A community of people who are honest, vulnerable, imperfect and real.

Lessons in forgiving yourself

A couple of weeks ago I was looking forward to a night out that ended with me confronting someone, balling my eyes out with complete strangers, before heading back in (sporting a very attractive ‘no seriously, mascara IS supposed to be on your chin’ look) determined to enjoy the rest of my night. By 4am I was sitting rather despondently on the sofa stuffing myself with chocolate cake.

When I woke up the next morning the overwhelming feeling was one of disappointment in myself. It wasn’t what that person had done to bother me that was bringing me down, it was the way I had acted. I had been doing so well, and with a few less vodkas down me I would likely have remained un-phased. Yet in the space of a few minutes and an alcohol-induced inability to control my emotions I felt like I had ruined it all.

I can’t deny that I didn’t mope about for the next few days. However many times I danced around listening to ‘Shake it Off’ (sorry, neighbours) I still couldn’t actually get rid of the annoyance at myself and the urge to rewind and prove that I wasn’t actually a psycho, nor bothered. Or even better, put that last tequila shot back in the bottle.

It’s not a big deal. I wasn’t the only one crying that night, we girls have a great way of bonding in the toilets over the idiots we’ve encountered that night whilst trying to reapply the make-up we’ve washed away in the deluge of a drunken emotional outburst. But it is still a sore point. Even now I wince a little when I think about it, still desperately wanting to fix the situation when I really should just let it go.

You know what? You’re really going to balls it up sometimes.

If you’re anything like me, whether it’s alcohol-induced or just feeling crappy, you’ll probably end up acting in an embarrassing way that doesn’t reflect what you really think or feel. But we’re human. We have emotions that, despite making us reach for the ben & jerrys more often then we’d like, are ultimately good and part of what makes us who we are. It is completely human to feel happy, and in love, and peaceful. It’s also completely human to feel heartbroken, or angry or confused. The most human thing of all, perhaps, is the fact that these emotions can be incredibly powerful, very often lead us to do things we later recognise don’t necessarily reflect what we think or feel, whether that be good or bad.

For a while after the ‘incident’ I was beating myself up, as I often do. Yes, it was embarrassing, yes, if I could go back I wouldn’t do it, yes, I shouldn’t have drank too much, yes, I should have walked away when I knew something was going to annoy me. But I didn’t. Next time I’ll handle the situation, and my emotions better, but for now I just need to forgive myself.

When, and it will happen, you feel like you mess up and act in a way which doesn’t reflect your true thoughts and feelings because of something you felt in the moment, forgive yourself. Lick your wounds, dance around to whatever empowering song you love (Katy Perry never fails me, personally), and let it go. Learn from it, for sure! But also accept that it is inevitable that from time to time our emotions will get the better of us. Go easy on yourself and remember that you’re a human being a human, just like everyone else.

Ten things I wish I knew at 16

Dear Katie,

Sweet sixteen? Doesn’t feel so sweet, does it. It’s hard to see beyond your bubble of school, relationships and family right now, but you have a whole life to live, so try and keep a bit of perspective.

1) Don’t waste time crying over a boy. Take it easy. Don’t let fights leave you crying into the early hours, it’s just not worth it. For all you believed about ‘purity’ and ‘intentional’ dating, you need to know that just because it doesn’t last doesn’t mean it won’t be a valuable time for you. He’ll open your mind, teach you more about yourself, leave you with some great memories and a much improved music taste. Hold onto the good and let go of all the bad. 

2) There’s more to life than good grades. There’s no point making yourself ill over it, because it’s all going to work out great. Even if it didn’t, is it worth what you are putting your body, and consequently those around you, through? Chill out and eat some damn chocolate.

3) Plans aren’t always going to go your way, and guess what? You’re going to be ok. Right now you are full of determination and dreams, and a mere few months you will be battling to hold it together when it all falls apart. You had it all worked out and now you’re doing the very last thing you wanted to do. It’s going to suck, you’re going to be bitter, disappointed and angry, but there are better things around the corner than what you could’ve planned for yourself.  Sometimes what you think you want isn’t what you want, and you’ll be thankful for the unplanned and unwanted change in direction in a few years.

4) Your mum isn’t the enemy. Nobody expects a particularly angsty adolescent to have perfect harmony with their parents all the time, but life will be a lot easier if you bury the hatchet once in a while. It’s a tough period for both of you, and you need each other more than both of you realise. So roll your eyes a little less, do the dishes without being asked once in a while, and try to keep the peace. 

5) Success does not equal love. People don’t love you because you’re the best at this, or you got the highest grade in that. You can’t earn someone’s love by what you do, and neither is your worth based in these things. Stop striving, you’re good enough. (Besides,nobody loves a keeno).

6) Keep your heart soft. These years are going to be painful, you’ll face disappointment and heartbreak time over, but becoming bitter and defensive does nobody any good. Guarding your heart doesn’t mean making it an impenetrable fortress that not even you are allow yourself into. Don’t cut yourself off from allowing yourself to love or have dreams again. All you’ll do is end up a bitter, ambition-less grump, and there’s far too much for you than sinking into that. 

7) School will be over soon, and lets face it, you’ll probably have never speak to half these people again (a ‘like’ on facebook doesn’t count as contact, for the record). People, school, work and teachers can be crappy, but it’ll all be over before you know it and you’ll quickly miss when the ultimate act of rebellion was hi-5ing around the headteacher (a particularly dangerous act, I hear), ridiculous school disco themes (I dressed as a dice once), and using your sixth year to become an absolute pro at card games (whilst watching the hangover and Scary movie 3 roughly four times a day for the entire year).

8) Drop the Jesus Freak act, the only people who really care are other Christians. A WWJD bracelet may be the ultimate Christian accessory around church friends, but you’ll quickly learn that being a Christian isn’t about what you are wearing, listening to or saying, but how you are living, loving and giving. Spend a little less time talking about how you are a christian, and a little more time being one. If you live generously, lovingly, patiently and justly you might find you don’t need all the words and accessories; it will speak for itself. 

9) Don’t be so fiercely independent all the time.  Your independence isn’t bad; you’ve built a survivor’s strength through a lot of circumstances that were really quite tough. But sometimes it’s ok to know that you can rely on other people. Be independent, and also know how to take the correcting, encouragement and help of others. You don’t have to do it yourself all the time.

10) Finally, please don’t get that block fringe. I mean it, don’t go there. You will regret. 

Love, you (older, with better hair).

x

Evolving

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been posting on here.

Since I posted ‘Disillusionment’ over a year ago I’ve been on a real journey with who I am, what I believe in, and unravelling so much of what made me who I was and what I wish to be free of. At the time I was reluctant to post something that I knew the people around me and my readers would be uncomfortable with, but looking back I’m so glad. I had some beautiful messages from readers who were so grateful for having written it, and if nothing else, that was enough.

But, for me, it was a real turning point.

It gave me an opportunity to be honest about where I was at in a culture which wants everything in clean, neat little boxes. A culture which I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with. I could begin to accept that I was no longer the girl that I had once been, and embrace the woman I was becoming.

One of the hardest things of this process of changing and growing is the stigma that so much of the church puts on those who question, doubt or no longer fit into the christian culture as neatly as they did before. Whilst I was growing out of so much of the evangelical culture I had once defined myself with, a difficult thing in and of itself, I found it hurtful when people would dismiss me as ‘rebellious’ or ‘falling away’.

Sometimes I’m still afraid of what people will think. But other people’s opinions cannot define what my faith is.

Because although I may no longer fill my iPod with the trendiest worship music, tweet some vague platitude every other hour, or fill my schedule with every christian related festival, service or activity I can find, that makes me no less a Christian. My priorities have shifted. No doubt, I look a lot less like the model christian, but I’m much more concerned with being an authentic one.

My hope is that people can know that their doubts are ok. That you aren’t losing your faith just because you don’t always agree with what you see or hear. I hope to see people exploring, questioning and seeing that things rarely fit into neat little boxes in matters of faith, and we’re all just trying to muddle along and figure it out. I want to see more grace and harmony where disagreements may lay, and to realise you can be a Christian, but cringe at so much of what ‘christians’ do, because faith isn’t about fitting into a culture.

I started this blog at a time in my life when I was just beginning to really struggle with the faith that I had grown up with. Experiences at the time had caused me to realise that not everything was as simple as I had been told it would be. Even though I sometimes wince a little as I read back on some of the things I have written previously, not necessarily still believing all of it, I still want to continue writing at this blog. I’ve changed considerably, and will still continue to, but all of this is part of who I am today, and I’m not just going to erase it.

Writing is important to me, and I want to feel free to be able to do it again without the expectation to look like a model Christian.  This blog will still be focused on writing about issues related to matters of faith as it always has been. But I wish to write as authentically and honestly as I can, even if that’s gritty sometimes. I want my blog to be an outlet for me as I figure things out, and hopefully let people know that they’re not the only ones who struggle, cringe and question.

I hope that this can still be a space that inspires, comforts and challenges you, even if it looks different than it did before.

On being less than perfect.

New year, new me.

How many of us entered 2014 with the intention of conquering most, if not all, of our short-comings this year? It’s as if the change of a digit can magically make us all a thinner, fitter, nicer, more disciplined and all round pretty perfect person. Yet by the time the first week of January has rolled by so have our diets, quiet times, work outs and patience.

And then comes the guilt.

Our good intentions have actually made us feel worse. By trying to conquer 10 less-than-great things about us, we can’t even stick to one, and the feeling of failure paralyses us from picking ourselves up and trying again.  Why bother? Just crack open another box of chocolates, would you.

If you’re anything like me then you’ll spend a lot of your Christian walk in a similar way, preoccupied with trying to reach virtually unattainable ideals of patience, prayerfulness, love, hope, generosity, servitude and hospitality.. all while perfecting your scone recipe. The Christian equivalent of the new year is undoubtedly the summer festivals. We leave New Wine, Soul Survivor, Momentum or Greenbelt having prayed, worshipped and gone to every seminar possible (or at least intended to until an afternoon nap seemed a lot more appealing after a 3am bedtime…). With full hearts, stacks of inspirational books in our bags and notebooks full of talk notes we set off back home having every intention that this time we really will change.

But back in the routine of everyday life we find ourselves in school, work or studying, far from the community of tens of thousands of people who share similar passions and world views having a purpose built space to spend time with God every day – even if that is in a muddy field somewhere in the south of England. Away from all of that it’s suddenly much, much harder to keep it up.

There’s no longer a whole day to fill doing nothing but hanging out with friends, drinking coffee and spending time with God, but essays to be written, schools to attend, bills to paid. And when all that is done we’d much rather crash out in front of Made In Chelsea or twitter than with a book which will only make us feel inadequate.

Tomorrow, we say, tomorrow I’ll get up earlier and try again.

But time goes on, and we hit the snooze button more than once, get preoccupied and before we know it we’ve arrived at church on Sunday having been lucky to open our bible once this week, let alone once a day.

It’s so easy to beat ourselves up, isn’t it? With each slip up we so often feel like we’ve failed God and ourselves, and the guilt drives a wedge between the two of you making it  so much easier to revert to our old habits than remembering we approach a God full of grace.

Starting university brought the truth of grace home for me. I’d just finished a Christian gap year and felt like I had high standards in how I should be living out my faith because of it. The reality was that my faith was on incredibly rocky ground, resulting in a battle between who I wanted to be and how things actually were. I gradually gave up on myself more and more, not seeing a change last longer than a day at the most before getting side-tracked or messing up in one way or another.

One morning I found myself at 5am, a little worse for wear, having an incredibly simple encounter with God which brought it all into perspective. Just twelve hours before I had  a little time out with God and felt great, yet here I was just a few hours having ALREADY messed it up.  When will I ever change, God?

In that moment I just felt him say ‘My grace is sufficient for you’.

My grace is sufficient for you.

No matter how many times, how many failures, how many doubts, how many times you stand back in the same spot, his grace is sufficient.

When I looked at it through the perspective of grace it changed everything: it’s not what we do but what He has done. God doesn’t treat us as we treat ourselves, beating ourselves up and giving up. Instead His grace picks us up, dusts us off and lets us try again – over and over.

Nothing, and nobody, changes overnight. We wouldn’t expect ourselves to learn an instrument without making more mistakes at the beginning than when we’ve been playing for years, and similarly we shouldn’t be surprised when we mistakes.  We are not perfect, but we ARE growing. Each time we mess it up God’s grace picks us up and lets us start again, and each time we do that we learn, we grow, we change. Little by little we are made into his likeness.

I’m not there yet. I’ll probably walk into church  with a few less-then-perfect experiences behind me more than once again this semester. But I won’t give up just because I haven’t got it all together. This time I’m not going to set myself unachievable goals, but each day remind myself his mercies are new every morning. It may look messier, but I’m much more concerned with growing day by day than perfection.

Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. — C. S. Lewis

Vulnerable

Vulnerability. The very word makes me want to run away and hide in a world of my own where no-one can touch me, and I certainly can’t reach anyone else.

And so that’s what I’ve been doing: running.

It starts small: a delayed reply to a text, a half-hearted response, a look in their eye, a louder laugh or a brighter smile around someone that isn’t me. Any little thing that might show me that I feel more than they might. Those little feelings of insecurity and rejection creep in and are the ‘ready, steady, go’ that I need to start running.

We all have our little defenses don’t we? Making sure we leave space between replying so that we don’t look ‘too keen’, or not saying how we really feel in case they don’t feel it too, tense our body language, blank the smile, act like we couldn’t care less, crack a self-deprecating joke, avoid the issue. Pull up our walls as high and as fast as we can so that nobody can see how we really feel, nobody can hurt us.

I’ve been watching as my ‘protective’ defences self destruct relationship after relationship for a while now. It’s like watching a movie where you know exactly what’s coming yet you’re totally powerless to stop it. It’s uncomfortable viewing, but after so long these responses are learned, they’re instinctive. I just can’t stop it.

Recently I found my self trying to pray about some of these relationships I desperately wanted to see a change in but all I kept getting was a line from a Magic Numbers  going round and round in my head. ‘When you gonna let somebody in? It might just hurt just a little bit’.

But then it really hit me.

All this time I’ve been wanting fulfilling relationships but I’ve been so afraid of being hurt. I’ve put every defence in place so that I don’t get hurt or embarrassed, but all I end up doing is holding people at arms length. If I wanted to see change, to have deep and beautiful relationships with people than I had to face the fact that it’s going to hurt at some point.

God was calling me to a new level of vulnerability in my relationships with others, so that I could love, really love, in the way that He calls us to.  But this meant my little defence mechanisms that I had been building on, that had become an automatic response, a reflex I had no control over, had to be overcome.

Little by little the defences have to come down. I have to start letting people in.

Even if through gritted teeth I resist the urge to make a joke or take control, I need to stop trying to protect myself – its not my job. It’s his. Because at the end of the day this is what it comes down to isn’t it? Do I trust you enough to let you protect my heart? Do I trust that even during the times I will be hurt by people you are able to pick up the broken pieces of my heart and heal me? Do I trust your way of loving even if it looks risky, even when it puts myself out there?

‘To love at all is to be vulnerable’ C.S Lewis says in a quote I have one of the biggest love-hate relationships with. I want to love, I just don’t want vulnerability. But the two go hand in hand, to truly love and be loved at some point or another I have to take the risk, put myself on the line. Vulnerability breeds vulnerability. It’s beautiful, even when it’s scary.

It’s inevitable that when we are vulnerable open ourselves up to some form of rejection, which will sometimes hurt. We can’t let fear hold us back from deep and rich relationships.  We may be a little wounded in the process, but often the fear of being hurt is a lot worse than actually being hurt.

Of course we need to exercise a bit of wisdom when it comes to being vulnerable with others. I’m not suggesting you should tell the next person you see the details of your innermost feelings, and there are definitely ways of being vulnerable that don’t (and shouldn’t) require you to give everything away. Some things are special, private. It’s ok to keep them, they’re not for the whole world.

But let some people in.

Take the risk, be the first, try it. Get it wrong, get hurt, pick yourself up. Dismantle your defences brick by brick. 

And you know what? There may not be rejection at the end of it. There may be the beginnings of a deep and beautiful relationships with others, or maybe you’ve given someone the opportunity to open up and know it’s ok to be themselves.

That makes it all worth it.

Disillusionment

So here you find yourself: jaded.

It’s not something you see coming. There are moments when you stop, just for a moment, and catch yourself. Maybe someone suggests to pray and you sit there, eyes open, what’s the point? Or find yourself cynically reading a timeline full of glib tweets about closed doors or good plans or having faith. Perhaps yet another person gives a prophecy about the very thing close to your heart that looks so dead and has caused you so much pain, and you just cant hear it again.

Gradually the unrelenting pain and disappointment of unmet expectations, unanswered prayers and unfulfilled dreams pulls you further and further back until you find yourself alone on the outskirts of a christian community you once would’ve centered yourself in, looking cynically on at the people you once were.

How did it get quite so messy?

The first time it’s ok. Initially it may hurt so much you feel like you can’t breathe, but it’s the first time. You can smooth over the questions and pain with our well-meaning explanations: ‘it wasn’t meant to be’, ‘maybe you just heard God wrong’, ‘God’s timing is perfect’. It’s a matter of ‘getting through’, and you find your hope again in the promises that everything can be done for a believer, God loves you, God has better plans. So you pray, you dream, you hope for the ‘next time’ and are able to lift your hands once again, however bleak the situation looks.

But then it happens again and you find yourself in the same position as before – hurting, confused, questioning. Except this time it’s a little harder to brush over, the crash is a little harder. You don’t take in people’s encouragements, prophecies and verses with quite the same child-like faith – it’s all tinged with a little bit of cynicism, the pain of the last time you believed it. The questions don’t sit so patiently anymore.

Maybe there are moments of encouragement in the midst of this cycle. Perhaps it looks like little prayers are answered and maybe the word will be fulfilled. But these become the exception rather than the rule, and as time goes on you realise these moments where God seems to intervene only seem to raise more questions and cause more pain than they solve.

You’ve been in the church long enough and you know your stuff: pain is part and package of the deal. I know you’re not one for being under the impression that life is an easy ride, that every dream will come to pass, every prayer would be answered. People rarely are. But disappointment after disappointment after disappointment makes the heart sick. It’s exhausting. The questions are too big to face. Your faith can’t take another no.

You can’t take another no.

So you begin to shut down. The very thread you are hanging on by is all you have left and you need to protect it as long as possible. If God and his plans are good, then the problem must lie your end with all of this, surely. And so the solution is to not shut off from God altogether, but completely disengage yourself from any desire, hope, prayer, longing or dream that could possibly break your already shattered heart again. If God wants to do something he can, but it is too hard to emotionally engage yourself with it by praying and trusting, even acknowledging its existence altogether.

With this survival strategy in place, perhaps right now all you can manage is to turn up to church and find a hidden spot at the back, a place where you can look on without fully engaging. A place where perhaps you won’t feel like such a massive hypocrite for turning up at all. A place where no one will notice if you slightly wince as the rest sing enthusiastically ‘our God is healer, awesome in power..’. Really?

But you’re there. You’ve still come. Even in your jaded, broken, disbelieving state there is something still in you that made it through the church doors. There’s something in you that’s still hanging on, even if you have absolutely no idea how it is happening. He sees this. He sees that you are still there after everything that has happened, after every disappointment, despite the questions feeling like an exhausting, constant battle, regardless of the fact you don’t even think you want to be a christian any more.

The christian world often shys away from the uncomfortableness and mess of disillusionment. However God does not. God was there and looked on with total compassion as Hannah wept bitterly over her infertility in the temple, God was there when Sarah, jaded and bitter, laughed at yet another reminder of the promise he made her which had still yet to be fulfilled, God was there when the psalmists cried out, when Lamentations was written, when Zechariah doubted the word the angel brought.

God was there when Jesus, his very own son cried out ‘My God my God why have you forsaken me?’.

There are times in our faith when nothing is going to make sense, when we feel betrayed and ‘led up the garden path’ by the very one who promises to do good to us. Times of utter disillusionment in our faith is normal, to be expected even. And it will pass, we all know this. But the important thing is not to crumble under the pressure of our christian culture. To know that it’s ok for things to look messy sometimes. That perhaps you were able to sing that song, but this next one has a truth about God in that is just too painful to sing right now. To know that our God sees our hearts and knows when it’s taken all of the faith we have left to even open the bible today, let alone believe what’s written on its pages. To know that whatever state you’re in God can handle it.

And so you may arrive at a place where your questions still hang in the air and life still does not seem to be heading in the direction we were promised. But we learn in this place not to be afraid of questions, crying out in complete honesty or fighting a resigning numbness. And perhaps we will learn not to rush the season which in hindsight may show us that the God who seems so distant, cruel or confusing right now, was shaping us for a purpose we never could have imagined.

Be.

I’m in the midst of recovering from some serious jet lag after an incredible two and a half weeks in New Zealand. As much as I could post on here about how much we loved and learned through visiting the conference and church, to be honest, I was just as  blessed by a chance to escape and have some space. I needed it as much as I needed the experiences I had through ministry out there. Maybe even more so.

When I left the UK I was feeling completely drained in every way: emotionally, physically and spiritually, desperately in need of an escape from all that was going on. Between the ministry we were doing we travelled around the north island a bit and it was so good. It was such a relief to have space to not have to think or figure anything out, but just take a step back and let myself process all that has happened in the past few months. I expected this to mean I had to read my bible every opportunity, or pray and fast every other day into how I felt, but in reality I was encouraged to just be. Sometimes this looked like reading my bible, but it also often looked like doing things I really enjoy that don’t look so ‘holy’: reading a book, taking a walk along a gorgeous beach, silently just taking in the amazing scenery or good music. God was in those moments too, and they refreshed me so much.

I’m normally pretty strong when life gets tough. I’ve had so many hard times where I’ve really learned to pull my strength from God, have faith and worship even when hope feels like a very distant ideal. But sometimes we feel so completely devoid of everything, so exhausted by life and it’s circumstances that even having faith is far too big an ask.

You know what I’m learning? That’s ok. Right now I just don’t feel like I have that in me. I simply don’t have the energy to do anything but just beI’m not a bad christian because of this; I’m just human.

I’ve always wrestled with the verse in Psalm 46 which says ‘Be still and know that I am God’. Every time I read it or someone gave it to me  as encouragement, I have to admit my heart sank a little bit. The emphasis for me was the ‘know’. I thought it meant I had to use all my energy on believing and knowing all the things the bible said about God that applied to my situation. But recently I’ve been seeing this verse in a new light as the emphasis moves from doing to being.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be. Just be.

There are seasons where that’s all we can do, and that’s all we’re called to do. When life drains us of the energy to do anything we have a God that is big enough to take it, and loving enough to let us simply be in his rest. I think sometimes we forget that although we are Christian, we are also human, and sometimes in our humanity we get low and tired and at the end of ourselves. In these times we don’t have to force ourselves to be faith filled, or joyful, or strong, or anything other than just who we are and how we feel right now.

The reality is we will probably find that strength will naturally rise from this place. Perhaps not immediately, but we will begin to see a shift in our perspective even if not our circumstances. Too many of us keep going until we burn out, and find ourselves crashed out at Jesus’ feet, unable to do anything at all. This isn’t good for anyone, but especially as leaders as it effects all of those around us – we need to be careful to stop and be before we stop and crash. Everyone struggles, we wouldn’t grow without it, but we need to stop putting the pressure on ourselves to be or feel anything we’re not or have a strength and faith that is simply not there right now.

So I guess for now I am learning to just be. I’m not going to wallow in self-pity, or at the other extreme jump about singing about how amazing life is. I’m just going to take each day as it comes and let myself just be in the knowledge of who He is.