We’re exploring the question, “How do we walk out our faith in the midst of pain, suffering, disappointment, and loneliness,” with a book club discussion on Thursdays about Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Today’s post from Deidra Riggs is inspired by Chapters 11-13. Her comment on my previous post started the book club idea and I consider her one my dearest on-line friends turned real-life. The realization that we’re both married to an H is what sparked our first blogging interaction and I haven’t missed one of her posts since.
“Who stands like that outside of church anymore, save dancers and children?” Barbara Brown Taylor
I don’t know if I hesitated, or if I just said it. “I can’t promise you I’ll be going to church.” No one flinched. At least, I don’t think they did. To be on the safe side, I added, “But I’d never say that to anyone outside of this room.” There may have been a sigh of relief. I can’t be sure.
We’ve only got three Sundays left, and then my husband and I are leaving church. For his sabbatical. Oh, we’ll be back. And when I made my announcement about the possibility of ditching church for our three months away, it was among a small group of friends who “get” me. They know this whole pastor’s wife thing doesn’t come easily to me.
Years ago, a young woman asked me what it’s like. Her eyes were bright and the way she looked at me, I knew I couldn’t actually tell her about the hard parts. I don’t know what I said, in the end. But I remember she told me, “All I really want is to marry a minister.” I wanted to tell her to reconsider, but it was obvious to me there’d be no way that message would — or could — get through.
I’m not trying to say it isn’t wonderful to marry a minister. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t come easily to me. The best advice I’ve ever received about how to be married to a minister came from my husband who, at the time, was my fiance and a seminarian. I didn’t know much at the time, but I knew enough about other people’s expectations to ask him, “If we do this thing. If we get married and you become a minister, what, exactly, will you be expecting of me?”
I braced myself for a list that included teaching Sunday School, playing the piano, wearing a hat. I don’t know if such a list would have been a deal-breaker, but I knew a list of expectations like that would have been — would still be — a stretch for me.
“Just keep growing in your relationship with Jesus,” he said.
“Hunh,” I thought to myself. In so many ways, it was such a small request. A tiny expectation. Just one thing. And no different from being married to someone who isn’t a minister, I imagine.
It’s what I’ve been trying to do. In fits and starts. When I’m being honest (and I want to be), I can admit to you that I don’t try all the time. But it is the one and only thing on my list, and I don’t berate myself for not remembering to bring “a dish to pass” every time we have dinner together after church. I’m sure there are many who consider me a slacker. And I am. When we’re honest, we see we all are, aren’t we?
It’s difficult to tell it well, I’ll be the first one to admit. Because the worst of my hurts (the ones that left me trying to figure out how to breathe again) happened in church and that is not the same as saying they happened in the Body of Christ. And the worst of my hurts are how I know that I know that I know that Jesus is Lord, that God loves me in spite of me, and that the Spirit of God is my constant companion, forever leading me to the throne of grace.
Paul says he learned to be all things to all people, so that he might win some, and I have to wonder how he learned that. It would be nice to think that one day he woke up and just got it. But, I don’t hear that happening very much. Not that it can’t, or that it doesn’t. But, it seems to me God likes to teach us things through experience. So, I wonder what experiences Paul had that led him to the spot on the map that said “Be all things to all people. Win some.” What path brought him to where “X” marked that spot beneath his feet; at the bottom of his soul? And how did he hang on to Jesus for himself, when he was being all things to everyone?
How did Paul remember to stand outside with his hands in the air, even when he wasn’t standing on that “X”? I want to see if I can still remember how to do it. On sabbatical, I want to see if I can still be like the dancers and the children, with my hands lifted in the air.
~On what “X” are you standing? How did you find it?
~In Chapter 13, Barbara says it was at the altar rail, when the congregants came forward to receive the bread and wine, that she came as close as ever to seeing who the congregants really were. When, in church, are you who you really are?
Deidra is a freelance writer, speaker, and small event planner. She is the managing editor of TheHighCalling.org, an online network that encourages everyday conversations about work, life, and God. Deidra is a contributor to incourage.me, social media consultant to the American Baptist Churches of NE, and owner of JumpingTandem, where she writes about adventures with a risky God. Follow Deidra on Twitter and Facebook, or at deidrariggs.com.