Church Home

Church Home: The church you attend regularly. The one you belong to.

I chose Jesus in junior high for a lot of reasons, but at the top of the list was the fact that two girls in youth group chose me.

I was a little awkward, a little lonely, a little unsure of who I was. I hadn’t quite figured out how to pluck my eyebrows or do my hair yet. And they sat down next to me and took me in.

I chose that amped-up, on-fire kind of faith because I loved God, yes…but maybe moreso because they loved me.

During those years, youth group became a place where I fit. I couldn’t kick a soccer ball or throw a basketball. I didn’t make the spring musical; I sat ninth chair violin in orchestra. But church gave me an identity. A sense of belonging. It gave me cross-country trips in a double-decker bus. It gave me Sunday night youth group and Tuesday night Beach Nights and Christian ska concerts where I danced like mad.

And I’m grateful for that time and the way it formed me.

But also, I am becoming more and more aware of how enmeshed faith and that feeling of belonging are in my mind. I’m aware of the role that played in our long, soul-sucking church hunt (which I wrote about a while ago in a three-part mini-series here and here and here).

I’d walk into those buildings week after week, and I wasn’t looking for God so much as I was looking for My People. The ones who would see me, lonely and awkward, stilted in my Depression. The ones who would sit down next to me and take me in.

One of the longest, most painful parts of my journey has been the prying apart of expectations and reality. It’s been separating individual, broken churches from The Church, that wide, deep, uncontainable thing. It’s been realizing that no church can heal me…that it’s only ever Jesus. That when the Church People are barbed or absent or toxic, he is still enough.

*

Six Sundays ago, we got up and drove to a different church.

We’ve attended the same one ever since we moved into our house nearly four years ago. We kind of crashed there. We’d just been through a particularly difficult season, and we needed something, needed it now, and we ended up somehow at this big, lively community church in the northern suburbs of Minnesota.

It was not the kind of church that I wanted, but it was what I needed. During our first small group there, we sat around and told our stories – the true, messy versions – and I saw for the first time that we are all a little broken.

The loneliness started to ebb, and it wasn’t because I found a perfect group of friends, a community, but rather because I began to see the small, intricate ways that we are all connected.

I learned to stop seeing them as one nebulous whole – the Church People. I began to see faces. Learn names. There were things that continued to hook my cynical places, but also, I become more and more aware of the beautiful things that were happening. Their methods of outreach rubbed me the wrong way, but God, did they know how to love the poor.

 It took us a long time to decide to leave. But we did.

And it wasn’t because God wasn’t there. It wasn’t because they’re not our people. I am aware now more than ever that God is at work even when I can’t see him. I am aware that they are all my people in some way or another.

We left because it was time to leave. Because God had done things in us in that place, and we both felt the gentle pull forward to something different.

*

We walked into a new church that Sunday morning, and in many ways, it was like any other church. There was the foyer and the coffee and all the greeters. Small talk and introductions and so much smiling.

But I could feel my heart expanding, and it was almost inexplicable to me, the suddenness of it. The pastor spoke, and he wasn’t saying anything all that new to me, but, Lord, I could hear it. For so long, I’ve sat guarded in church chairs, arms crossed, daring them to impress me, but all at once, I found myself unguarded. The tiny worship band bid me to praise the Lord, and I did.

And I think that we’re using the wrong language. It’s not church shopping or church hunting. You’re not looking for the right church, as if there could be one. As if there’s a magical place where everyone will love you immediately…where they will know exactly how to take you in. Where you’ll feel complete.

It may not be even about looking for a place where “God is working,” because, really, God is always working. He’s always among us – Immanuel – his ways so much bigger than our ways. His plans so much more complex than ours. Who can see what is really happening among so many miles of surface?

Maybe, in the end, it’s about looking for yourself. Not in some narcissistic way, but in that deep, true sense that we’re all created different and beautiful.

Maybe it’s about finding a place where your specific beautiful heart can hear Good News and take it all the way in.  A place where they talk about God in a language you understand. Maybe it’s about finding place where you can serve with your whole, broken heart and be healed in all that giving.

I don’t know, really. All I know is that we landed in this tiny church one Sunday morning, and I felt entirely myself.

And after all, isn’t that what we mean when we say home – that place where you flourish into your truest self? Where you come down the stairs in your sweats and your ratty bedhead, and still, you’re exactly perfectly enough?

  • http://www.leighkramer.com HopefulLeigh

    Yet again you’ve tapped into something I’ve been wrestling with. How on earth do you do that, Addie? I’m still separating out those old church wounds and trying not to let them hinder me from embracing my new church. Though technically I’ve been there almost a year now, so it’s not new new. But I’m still figuring out community there, still shying away from really entering in and embracing the people. All I know is the first Sunday there, I felt the same way: whole, myself, healing. It’s the right place for me but now I need to do the work of showing up. Completely.

    • Addie Zierman

      Community is such a LONG. PROCESS. I hate that about it. I love how you said it here: “It’s the right place for me but now I need to do the work of showing up. Completely.” That. Exactly.

  • Kevin

    Addie,
    I am so glad that those many years ago a couple girls were inclusive to you. We didn’t get it right a lot of time, but I feel like back then God was doing something significant. I am grateful to have been a part of a community that accepted people no matter where they were at, or what group of people they connected to. You’ve made a difference and you are making a difference and you will I pray everyday you breathe!

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes, Kevin, it was exactly what I needed. So thankful for a place where I could belong in those tumultuous years. Now just trying to find a way to keep at it with church even in those times when I don’t immediately feel that instant glow of belonging. Thank you for all you did to cultivate that environment for all of us.

  • http://www.seeprestonblog.com Preston

    Goodness, I do love you. Yes, yes, yes.

    “And it wasn’t because God wasn’t there. It wasn’t because they’re not our people”

    Perfect.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Preston.

  • http://redemptionsbeauty.com Shelly Miller

    Addie, I’m new here and I’ve kept a tab open all day to your story here, reminding myself among the daily mundane to come back and tell you how much I appreciate the way you put legs on the way I feel about church and didn’t even know it until I read you. Enjoyed this, saw my reflection in your words. Lovely.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Shelly. So glad that this was meaningful to you. Thanks for such kind, kind words.

  • http://annieathome.com Annie Barnett

    Oh, this wrestling has been here too. And I think this is true, that there’s has to be an un-clenching of ideals of the best and right kind of church so we can see the wild, beautiful mosaic of The Church for what it is, as best we can. So much grace to you in this journey, friend.

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes, the “unclenching of ideals…” so perfectly said. And so hard to do. Thankful for the ways God has pried my hands open so that I could receive the beautiful gift of this new place. Thanks Annie.

  • http://estheremery.com Esther Emery

    Hmm. I love the way you write. I am an outsider through and through and struggle with this all the time. I dream of being perfectly enough, in any place, but I think no place can give that to you, unless you bring it with you. The paradox is that sharing that kind of quiet of the soul is exactly what church is for… I try to value the pockets of belonging, when I fall into them.

  • http://hisnlovingembrace.wordpress.com Mia

    Dear Addie
    I understand the heart of your post in more ways you can think. I think it is a case of a church family where our Pappa God reveals His heart to you!!
    It is a place where you experience the unity in the Holy Spirit….a place where you know, just KNOW, that God is in their midst.
    I truly enjoyed your post and want to thank you for being so authentic!
    Much love to you
    Mia

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  • http://ecclesiaextraneus.wordpress.com Matt

    I can identify with this – we made the decision a few months ago to leave a church, not because it was a bad church or they had beliefs we couldn’t deal with, but because they weren’t really our people as you say. We were always invited, but never felt like a part. There were differences in many ways, but that always happens. There just wasn’t that connection. When you don’r fit in, there are subtle differences that you can tell between your relationship with others and their relationships with those they do connect with. I don’t think that is a bad thing, it is just part of the process of finding your place.

    What made it hard, though, was that the people from this church really just didn’t get it. They thought that we fit there. They felt like we were one of them. No matter how we explained to them in practical ways that the connection was just not happening, they were probably just upset that we were leaving them. Now we never hear from any of them. They claimed we were their people, like-minded in every way, etc. But once we left we ran into a stretch of time where we ran out of time to initiate with them. And that was probably part of the problem – all of the connection came from our efforts. They rarely initiated with us. And when we ran out of time to initiate with them, our relationship with them dried up. We expected that – it always happens that way – but sometimes you just have to stop and wonder why. If we were such a perfect fit as they said we were, if we were their people – wouldn’t that still carry on after we left? Not that you have to see someone every week – but it seems like we spend more time with people that we knew from churches in other cities decades ago than people just a few minutes away from our last church. It is just strange in many ways to leave a church. If you move away, go be a missionary, etc – then it goes better. But when you just feel that gentle leading of the Spirit to change? It just gets weird.

    • Addie Zierman

      I can understand that. I think that the bottom line of relationships is that they always take work. Certain relationships are only for a time, and others last longer…but never just because they LAST on their own somehow. Always because someone has taken the time to invest in them.

      We’re trying to be diligent about staying close to some of the couples we got to know well at our old church, but I expect other relationships will fall away a little bit. And it doesn’t mean that they were bad relationships or that they weren’t “our people.” It’s just about time and what we have to give. It’s about seasons and the movement of life. Part of this move and part of my own spiritual growth has been learning to let go of the guilt about that and to just do my best to love in the ways I can.

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  • http://www.kathyescobar.com kathyescobar

    this was so pretty. church is the wildest, weirdest thing. so humbling, so hard. i loved this part especially: “Maybe it’s about finding a place where your specific beautiful heart can hear Good News and take it all the way in. A place where they talk about God in a language you understand. Maybe it’s about finding place where you can serve with your whole, broken heart and be healed in all that giving.” peace and hope.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Kathy. That means a lot…particularly coming from one of my all-time favorite pastor bloggers.

  • Donna

    When I was 23, I left the cult I had been brought up in. By doing that, I realised, I had become part of ‘them’ instead of ‘us’. That was a very lonely feeling.
    My church journey since then has been interesting :) but I have now come to the point where I believe that God’s people are in pretty much every congregation of every denomination. Traditional, mega-church, liturgy, passionate free worship… the style doesn’t matter. The heart substance of the congregation and the presence of God – that’s what makes a church feel like home to me.

    • Addie Zierman

      “I believe that God’s people are in pretty much every congregation of every denomination.” Yes. May we have the eyes to see them.

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  • http://dianatrautwein.com Diana Trautwein

    Don’t quite know how I missed this one the first time around, but I did. Followed your link from this week’s last piece on cynicism – which I loved, loved LOVED. And this one, too. I am so grateful for your exquisite writing and your willingness to speak truth in love. Thank you, thank you.

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