The Blessed and the Broken (Why I go to church)

A few weeks go, a strong, dark-skinned woman stood in front of my faith community and shared with us a piece of her story–the story that led her from Uganda to the Bay Area to this group of people in this place in time. She posed questions of grace and identity and redemption and blessing and all the while I wondered what it must be like to have that sort of faith, that strength of trust, that depth of love.

I wondered and then I did not wonder at all why I encounter so many admittedly lost and directionless people at church–the unemployed, the broken, the abandoned, the seeking; the spouse-hunting and community-developing, the child-rearing, abused and recovering.

It is because we know our own need. We see our inadequacies. That our families are not enough. Our jobs are not enough. Our freedom and food and parties and friendships. Our desires to travel and teach and touch lives. Despite even these we still have our doubts. We sense something is missing, something is wrong. Something about all of this wanting and longing and seeking and striving has worn our souls thin, and so we come.

We risk wasting hours of our lives and years of Sundays admitting to others and to ourselves that we can’t control our lives. We can’t make people love us, promote us, pursue us, remember us, or reward us. We can’t conjure meaning when our children die or our bodies fail, when our spouses leave or our careers implode.

And so we come with our external loci of control and we hope and we pray–oh, do we pray, even we who don’t know how–that God has a plan, that God will give us meaning, that God will see us.

And God does, or at least we believe God does. We hope God does. And though even that hope is a gift we are given, we start to believe that we’ve been given more. That we are a part of something significant–the restoration that is brought through the building of relationships, the sharing of love.

We may not feel the presence of God in the midst of our pain. We may not believe that God cares, that God knows, that God has been active (in whatever way it is that a spirit is active), but we hope, we seek, and in time we do know.

We zoom out, we step back and when we consider the relationships, opportunities, challenges and choices, there He is. There is something I could never have anticipated. There is an opportunity I didn’t see coming, a possibility I would never have pursued, a detour I couldn’t have imagined. There is something I didn’t plan and wouldn’t have planned, and it has challenged and changed and shaped me.

We forget. I forget. I forget how good God has been to me. I forget that the pain and grief and loss that I’ve been through over the past 10 months began as a blessing–an unexpected and unanticipated blessing that I couldn’t have dreamed up, a challenge I wouldn’t have asked for, a catalyst that shaped and formed and changed me in ways I didn’t know were possible. I did not earn this. And it is not a punishment. It is a gift.

When I consider that, when I hold it against my other experiences and those of my community, I have to believe that such things might happen again, that it is safe to leave my hands open, neither clinging to what was, nor grasping for what is yet to be, but accepting, even of the emptiness.

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