on safety nets and waiting

waitingThe waiting times
I’ve heard
are lessons
to learn – so far
I’ve learned:

uncertainty is hard.
It wears at the
netting that holds us
Above that infinite
chasm of ultimate
un-knowing.

I scribbled down the poem above in my journal a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to reflect on the ruthless anxiety that has spread out and seeped in over the past, seemingly endless few weeks. We were waiting to learn about job opportunities, grades, financial provisions, and family health concerns. We were waiting to see how much we’d have to change to accommodate all the changes we couldn’t control. And just as the pieces started falling into some sort of order, my car broke down – and we’re waiting for rides and parts and final bills.

Waiting is inconceivably difficult. You have no central control. You make decisions and ease transition by doing an awkward, breathless, side-stepping dance around the resolution itself.

I went through a period of waiting before where I practiced repeating:

Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.*

I don’t remember what I was waiting for. I only remember the verse. It’s a brilliant phrase for us, the waiting ones, because it gives us back a sliver of control: You have to actively respond to a command. You get to take a deep, heroic breath, hold your fist out in an intimidating pose toward the empty air in front of you and press on. You are legitimized in your struggle by the implication that waiting does take strength and willpower. Your internal voice that incessantly nags, “What are you whining about?” gets a hand held over its mouth and, for the second you’re reflecting, you feel strong again. You feel ok.

So you repeat it like an incantation. You redirect your waiting. You wait for the Lord to show up, God-willing, and work toward believing that the rest of it will show up, too.

*Psalm 27:14

image source: Waiting by Dr. Hugo Heyrman

open arms

church

I stopped going to church for nearly a year for a variety of reasons. I didn’t feel that my academic knowledge was appreciated, I was limited by my gender, I wasn’t at all comfortable with opening up about real struggle, I didn’t fit in. I think Daniel and I feared that we would never really feel at home in any church despite wanting to fellowship with other Christians, despite having chosen our majors because of our faith, despite it being a daily topic of conversation and reflection.

When we got to Charlottesville, we went to a few churches and sat in on a few small groups and just didn’t feel it. I grew up in various evangelical churches, so I know the whole rhetoric about not leeching off the church, about how “feeling” it isn’t enough. But, honestly, after struggling so much to fit into a church in college, I think that mentality covers up a real problem. People in the church, very often, are exclusive in their friendships, judgmental, and afraid to engage issues they deem too controversial. Even for two, born-and-raised Christians, the church began to feel foreign.

But we put in the effort to stick it out somewhere. We started going to an Episcopal Church, a denomination neither one of us grew up in. Known for its progressive/liberal (you choose the connotation) policies, we didn’t really consider it until we sort of fell into it. We found a group of young people who are willing to deal with controversy, doubt, and all the complexities of Christian thought head-on. We found thoughtful, compassionate, loving people who welcomed us in. We found community.

I realized last weekend, as a large group of us sat around the table at a local restaurant sipping drinks and talking about theologians, Russian television, feeling accepted, and avoiding cynicism, that I feel unencumbered – accepted – at last. Really, I laugh without inhibition, I listen, I reply, I learn something new, I think about things in a different light. I feel weightless and unimposing. I become a part of the moment instead of an acutely self-aware bystander. I realize that I’m finally fitting in. I’m at home. I don’t have to fight anymore.

The church needs to stop crossing its collective arms and start opening them to embrace all who enter in. I really believe that there is a place for doubt and skepticism in the church, that it’s a part of everyone’s spiritual journey. Without transition and struggle and stagnancy, there is no incentive to push forward and keep developing as a follower of Christ. I’ve found a group of people who know that, who walk with me in that, who lead me forward to hope and faith again.

I encourage you to seek out a community of followers who love without inhibition.