What If: I’m Over COVID?

I’m wondering how many of us find ourselves at the quarantine wall? I have followed the rules. I have lived in my house (and subsequently my own head) since mid-March. This is a danger zone. As a dear friend said to me today, “We were not created to live like this.”

With that worn out spirit, I went to Wal-Mart today. I feel like this is the opposite of stay at home. I wore my mask. I followed the taped markers. I judged all the people that did not have their facial coverings properly secured. I did it. I went on a mission. I needed something specific that did not require a cart or aisle strolling, but I could not do it online. So I went. It was somewhere near the women’s undergarment section when a profound awakening happened. Girdles are inspiring, I know.

Everything has changed.

Everything. Has. Changed.

My view of the world has changed. My desire to shop has changed. My ability to put life in a predictable box has changed. My willingness to live with regrets is gone. My fear of the unknown has been faced. My heart and soul and brain have been so force-fed with stillness that I have turned over rocks that I didn’t think still lived in my deepest recesses. All of this at a time when I have not had access to my routine, people, safe spaces or tools. There is only so much that my reading and podcast listening can fill. There are unattended areas of mess that I don’t know what to do with on a good day, much less 60 days without structure or the ability to escape the four walls of my house. Dear, Sweet Baby Jesus, I’m so tired. So today, I admit that the wall has been hit. It has been hit with exhaustion and fury. It has been hit with frustration and some shame and even more guilt.

And while all of these things have been hard, I need to let you in on the secret. I have never, ever, never-ever felt so alive. To be alive is to feel. To be alive is to know that you are being more true to the person you have been created to be than ever before in your life. To be alive is to know that with each breath, you are taking in the wealth of emotions that this life gives and at the same time, refusing to let the pain win. I am reminded today, that for some, the best life – the most full life – comes after an organ transplant or a chemo treatment. When the disease is removed and healing can begin. The chains-off life comes when the old ways of setting up shop are destroyed and in its place a bigger, more beautiful way of living is embraced.

I am over COVID. I am over the stay-at-home season. I am over not seeing my people. I am even over not hugging. But, I’m not over what this time has given me. There are things in my life that I could have kept tidied up and neatly boxed for many more decades. My routine and busyness has been a cushion of avoidance on many fronts. Instead, this two months has pointed a magnifying glass of better living like a lighthouse into my future. I know that it is not going to be simple or easy, but watch out world, Lacy is coming out of the house and I am ready to live.

What If: I Choose Courage Over Comfort?

There are a handful of people that I go to when the pain is too great. They live on a special bookshelf and have a place of honor at my house. Only the wise truth tellers are found on these 3 shelves. I have mentioned a few of them to you already, but there is one voice that can cut through the heavy with bombs of emotional genius. If you don’t know her, stop what you are doing and order her books. Now. My people, it’s time for you to join the Brene Brown fan club.

“I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time. Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Brene Brown Rising Strong

Oh, Brene. Why you gotta throw these truth bombs into my path? Here I am, minding my own business of wreckage and you roll up with the knock out truth punch. I want the comfort. I want to be admired and loved and honored. I want to say just enough where people think that I know the things, but not enough that I push myself to feel the discomfort of change. I don’t want to have my ass kicked. Unless, of course, I say that it is time for you to kick my ass and I know you are not really capable of hurting me because you don’t have enough weapons to do damage. Yep. That’s my very best thinking, people.

I am obsessed with Dateline, 48 Hours and all Oxygen and A&E Crime Documentaries. I love watching the investigation. I am fascinated with the way that people think they can commit a crime and cover it up. I can relate to this way of life. I am a master of the well thought-out and supremely organized cover up. No, I have not taken to the streets of hard crime, but I have done equal damage to my own soul with my expert ability to portray the version of Lacy that I want you to see. You like church Lacy? Check. Interested in the sarcasm and foul mouthed story teller, I got you. What about the soul diver? The one who could hit you with 2,020 questions to get at your truth but avoid her own at all costs? Well, hello, my little friend.

The more I unpack, the more that I feel. The more that I feel, the more that I see the damage of being comfortable. Comfort is the lie that tells you that you will be fine. Comfort is that facade that wants you to believe that you are safer in the box. Comfort is the doubt that tells you that you won’t be able to enter the fullness of truth and experience joy at the same time.

But, courage. Freaking courage. Courage is the moment that you admit in your soul that this does not work anymore. Courage is allowing yourself to think ‘what if?’ Courage is knowing that I can’t control the outcome – of responses, perceptions, relationships – and still being willing to walk through the doorways of the unknown. For me, these things are only possible by trusting myself. Knowing that I can tell my truth and still be loved. Trusting that by using my courage muscle, I am creating a bigger circle that not only includes my whole self, but welcomes others that have bought the lie that they are somehow excluded. Courage and vulnerability are the salve on the wounds of inauthentic living. It’s time for me to get to work.

What If: I Always Feel Afraid?

I promised myself at the beginning of this 50 day journey that if I reached a day that I could not write, I would give myself grace. I typically schedule my daily post to publish at 10am. It is currently 9:12am and I have exactly 2 1/2 sentences on the page. Why? Because I am living in the midst of a fear storm. If you are a person who does not fall prey to a soul flattening kind of fear, well, in the most loving way I can say this, fuck you.

What does fear look like for me? It is an all encompassing. It starts with a thought that deviates from the norm. Oh, “normal” is a lovely place. It has a warm, status quo where by the shallow water of life’s undercurrent has no waves. It lulls you to believe that you are safe. It rocks you with tiny, gentle swaying that allows you to believe that a simple, almost stillness is the perceived goal. For some, this may be the final destination. Remaining in the shallow is life giving for them. The wonder of the deep is not interesting. For most that hold this worldview, the deep is unnecessary. Why would you even look for more when you are safe? But I hate the kiddie pool. I’m one of those people that knows that the warmth of safety is actually the pee that heats the water. I hate that warmth. It is actually everything I hate. All of it. I would rather jump into the scary deep, the water with all the undertow, with the Great Whites or off the 10M platform than sit safely in the shallow.

Why? The number of times that I have had this question posed to me in life is beyond my ability to count. Why would you disturb the safe? Why would you need to change this? Why are you “messing with” a good thing? Because I cannot do anything but the guttiest of the gut level today, I only know my truth. I do these things because safe is not living for me. Risk is where the reward is found. Questioning is where the best version of me is unearthed. Jumping in, even on the days when I don’t know if I can swim or float or even tread water is the only thing that gives me life. It is the single greatest fear inducing reality of my life.

In case you can’t tell, the ‘What If’s’ are wrecking me. Most days this is a great thing. Most days, I am brave and untamed and stalking the peripheries of life with a confidence and passion. But, some days. Days when I think I may have ventured into the deepest deep, I find that I’m making camp with all of the fears. There was no way I could write this journey without a few days like today. I will always have fear. Fear is the pulse of a person that is alive. Fear is the reminder that we are not in charge. Fear is the only reason that I am forced to take a deep breath and jump. I need the fear. I hate the fear. But the choice is to die inside, so LET’S GO!

(If you made it to the end of this post and there is something inside of you that feels the need to “check on me,” don’t worry. I don’t write for attention. I don’t write as a smoke signal for help. I write to remind myself (and others that are on the same page) that I am alive. My deep diving is exactly what I was created to do, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.)

What If: I Invested As Much Time in Myself as I Do Other People?

Today is Mother’s Day. I have a love/hate relationship with this day. Because it always falls on a Sunday, two things have been true about the celebration. First, it has traditionally been a “work” day for me. The second is a bit more complicated. I hate the way that we celebrate this day, especially in the Church world. This is a day that invokes so many emotions. It is not a Hallmark-able fuzzy celebration. It’s true confession time: being a mother is not a natural thing for me. I found it especially hard and perpetually draining in the younger years. I was not created to be a lovey, book reading, storytelling, cooking, homemaking mommy. I was, however, born with the reproductive system that allowed life to come from my body. I also have a powerful shame game and fully convinced myself that by choosing not to have children, I would be setting up resentment and regret. So, here I am. Happy Mother’s Day to me!

It seemed only fitting that this would be the day to tackle a question that seems to plague so many women and mothers. Even as someone who does not thrive in all things nurturing, I have perfected the art of diminishing my personal needs, time and interests. I can run to the bedside of a hurting loved one or rush to a friend in crisis, all while my own ass is hanging on by a thread. My therapists through the years would call these boundary issues. I would call it the crisis of the female conscience. I had the example lived before me that as a woman, it was my job to care for all the people. By birthright, I was created to meet the physical, spiritual, emotional, relational and anything-else-that-you-can-think-of needs for all of the people in my view. And I should do it with excitement and joy, as a good woman should. I mean, you have read Proverbs 31, right?

There are times that basic caregiving (you know, like the infant stage) just take all the life. I don’t care who you are, certain seasons are just life suckers. This is normal. What we are talking about here is the sustained, long worn path of self denial in the face of other-care. As a women in my 20’s and 30’s, I fought the MAJOR shame gremlins that liked to steal all my joy. If I planned a date out or a fun activity with a friend and a child or parent or friend needed me, I would naturally and without much thought, move to the space of their service. Duty and responsibility always led. These are not virtuous traits. These are the lies that my ego feeds me. The ones where I am convinced that no one can do things the way that I can. The ones where I believe that people really cannot handle their own lives without me.

As I have moved into my 40’s, I have sharpened my caregiving skills in my own direction. I have begun to define what differentiates my needs from the people around me. Drinking a cup of coffee by myself is lovely, but an entire morning of sitting on the beach writing is soul filling. Starting my day with a devotional is an endearing goal, but putting on my walking shoes and walking 4 miles will turn my day (and the previous day) around. When my soul is weary, my family is much better off for me to go on a long drive than for me to begrudgingly throw together dinner. Nothing good can come from that kind of need meeting – except a big heaping pile of resentment.

For me, the inability to identify the feelings, ask for what I need and do something about it, have been the recently recognized challenges. I have spent years preparing the way for others to identify their own needs and receive the space and care that they need. I have lived 45 years on this earth. It matters not how many times I have been told to put my oxygen mask on first, I still find myself strapping that thing on other people’s faces and neglecting my own. My body, spirit and gut show the scars of this way of life. So here, on this Mother’s Day 2020, I am headed into the next 45 years with a new call. If there is one thing that the global pandemic has taught me, it is that when I take the time to breathe, write, garden, breathe, walk, be still, breathe and breathe some more, I am a better friend, mom and person. Here is to a day of guiltless, shame-free crawfish eating, poolside sitting day of remembering that I am worth intentional acts of self-care.

What If: Changing My View of Church Impacts My Kids?

I grew up never missing church. Being sick was a reason to be absent, but even travel may include a stop at a local congregation and a bulletin from the church of visitation to take home as an excuse note. Sundays were serious business and there were few exceptions. I honored that same standard in raising my children. While we don’t visit other churches on travel excursions, being in the building on Sunday has been a high value mark throughout my life.

Fifteen years ago, I began an empowering journey of reconstructing what I believed about Church organizations, denominational systems and many aspects of serving and leading the Church. But even in the midst of a huge personal and cultural shift, the value that we as a family placed on the corporate worship gathering was high. It was only as our children began competing in sports that we had a discussion of “skipping” church. Just reflecting on this term choice is telling. What I discovered as I unpacked this language was that in my hardwired system, nothing was more important than the tightly held sanctity of the 10am Sunday hour.

It was only because of the fact that our youngest called me on the carpet about this choice that I began to listen. In a heated discussion about the number of times we were going to miss church for swim meets in a three month period, I argued that some meets were “not as important” as others and that we should choose. In a very unfiltered moment, my 13 year-old twirled around on me and shouted, “Do you want me to hate Jesus for taking away swimming?” I knew the correct response. I knew what my parents and many others would have said to me. But in that moment, the Spirit forced my mouth shut (I don’t do these things on my own) and I did not come back on her with frustration or punishment. But her words weighed on my mind. To this day.

The last year has provided opportunities for me to look at this issue from many directions. There is a huge part of my heart that longs for the same kind of joy and excitement that I found going to church as a small child. I loved Sunday mornings. I don’t recall a fight about going to church growing up. Ever. Perhaps I blocked it out, but it was just what we did – it was like breathing. In different seasons, (you know, like college) there was certainly not the same excitement. But easily and quickly, the Sunday morning experience was shaped in my adulthood. As a full-time church worker, Sundays were the fullest of days. It was only as we moved into different seasons of church planting that my schedule and Sunday demands morphed. But it was Ally’s pushback last year that stopped me. Could I really damage her willingness to interact and engage with the Divine with my attempts to get her to church? Can I get oh, hell yeah?

While unpacking her feelings about Sunday worship, I required myself to hear her. This is her story: she knows Spirit. She has clear and regular encounters with her Creator. Unlike what I have always practiced and preached, she does not have these encounters with God in a certain room, with a certain speaker or for certain songs. For her, she knows connection when her head is immersed in water. She understands prayer and intention from the moments that she and God are the only ones behind the blocks as she prepares to race. She has developed a deep since of trust in her body and internal voice as she has navigated success and failure, pain and injury, love and disappointment. More than any sermon or corporate prayer time, my daughter has a deep spiritual connection to her entire rhythm of life. It was only when I quit fighting to put my liquid fueled offspring into a landlocked creation of the Divine encounter that I freed her to find her own path. Just tonight, she came into my room and I read her the previous two paragraphs. I asked her if I captured this correctly. Her smile said it all. “You got it, Mom.”

My kids are impacted. They are also some of my best teachers. My kids have opened my eyes to see the better and more true ways of experiencing God. As with most of my goals in parenting, I feel like my aim in all things Church is to get out of the way and trust that just as God shapes and molds me, God is teaching and opening my kids to the same revelation. More important than me telling them what to do or how to do it, I hope that I can teach them how to reason and listen and trust their Knowing to find answers for themselves.

What If: The Responsibility for My Spiritual Connection Was On Me?

To begin this post, I need to give a bit of groundwork. The heart of this question came from a conversation that I shared with a friend months ago. We were discussing the framework by which we are finding spiritual connection and the heartbeat of the conversation shifted to our personal responsibility for that journey. The more we talked, the more clearly I began to see the reality of the American Church.

I have accepted the consumer mentality of church attendance for years. I have fought it with all of my church leading ability, but for the past 30 years the pattern of participation in the life of the church has significantly morphed to a ‘what can you do for me?’ mindset. In seasons of personal frustration, I have fought against this current. But years ago, I gave up fighting. I have pressed into personal internal work and trusted that those that were ready for this track would join me, appealing program or not. I have thought less about target audiences and attention seeking models and more about if this is what I need, maybe someone else will see it as valuable. This is great for many, and off-putting for so many others. It is a shift. No longer am I catering to what is convenient. Instead I am focused on calling others to own their own journey.

This does a few things. First, it makes it look like you don’t “care” about people. This is anti-pastoral. Secondly, it can come off as elitist or closed off. I can assure you that is not my intent. Instead, I think asking people to own their own journey is actually quite open. More open, in fact, than anything that I have been a part of in the discipleship journeys or Bible studies of the past. Finally, this shift puts the responsibility on the participant. And guess what? People don’t like responsibility. It is heavy. It demands work. Especially in the spiritual journey. It requires looking for yourself at the things that you cannot embrace or own. When you are no longer spoon fed “truth” or a particular belief system, and instead are forced to decide if you care or value these things at all, the hard choices begin to appear. You have to own it. For yourself. And hot damn, that seems real and true in ways that are anything but consumeristic.

I want to talk to my friends that are sitting on this fence. The ones that know that they don’t fit in the system but just can’t imagine what it looks like to think about owning (really owning) their faith. The ones that do the things because you are supposed to. The ones that answer the questions the way that others want you to because it is just easier than disturbing the calm of status quo. To tell someone that you are changing the way that things have always been done or believed or participated in or accepted is terrifying. Especially when it comes to owning your faith. So much of our system of organization in the Church has pre-determined eternal outcomes and perceived truth. But, I need to let you in on a secret. THAT IS A LIE.

If you own your faith in a way that calls you to walk away,

If you find that you don’t believe what you once did,

If you listen, really listen, and find that your soul tells a different story today,

You will be ok. I am ok. I am here to be a witness, you will live on the other side.

And what if, the story on this side is a more beautiful, free, freeing, melodic, harmonizing, trusting truth than you could have ever dreamed? That’s what owning your spiritual journey looks like. When you find that the handcuffs are removed and you are finally free to reach for the most loving and generous parts of your own soul, you realize that is the very space that Creation and Healing is the most alive.

The single greatest thing that has kept me from this part of my own journey is that I have bought the shame based lies that I was not capable of being trusted. I had deeply embedded belief grooves that held my heart hostage that my “sinful” nature was not able to be barometer of goo. Instead, I needed to rely on the smarter, more studied, more spiritual people to do this heavy lifting for me. My job was simply to digest their truth and to participate in the prescribed path of connection. By doing the correct activities and following the path, I would find soul contentment. Well, guess what? That didn’t happen.

But when I allowed myself to do some guilt free breathing. When I took a long deep, open, full-lung breath of what felt warm and welcome and ME, something happened. I didn’t feel like I was breathing a tank of artificial air. There was no life support needed. Because, I had the capacity to do this all along. My Creator wired me to listen and hear and discern. The very stillness of Sprit that I have possessed from birth was absolutely sufficient. It was my inability to trust myself, my unwillingness to flex the muscles of exploration for fear of non-conformity that paralyzed me all along. I have a new tool kit these days. In includes intention setting, meditation, prayer, listening, study, reading, trusting others to speak Divine inspiration to me and most importantly reflecting on what the Teacher is telling me through listening to my own spirit. This beautiful reconstruction journey is wonderfully mysterious and wildly freeing.

What If: I Can’t Ever Go Back to Church?

I have seen very few of my people over the last two months. Prior to the mid-March Stay at Home order, I would have told you that I am an introvert and really did not need to be around people. For the most part, this season has solidified this feeling. I have confirmed, however, that there is a distinct difference between people and MY people. I need my people. Like water and oxygen, I need my people. After almost 60 days of distance, I saw two of my closest in a socially distanced, no-contact, outside meet up last weekend. We drove in separate cars, met at a time that there wouldn’t be a crowd, collected our own coffee and sat (maybe not all 6′) feet apart while we talked. For hours. It was absolutely glorious. It was so wonderful that I actually had to force myself not to hug them – which, for the record, I’m not sure that I have ever hugged either one – but I did not because you know I’m not a hugger. But, for real, I need my people.

I met both of these friends in the circle of my religious life. I can honestly say that our paths may have not crossed otherwise. On the surface, we have very little in common. But there is a level of honestly that we have established that is safe. We speak to each other with all the passions of f’s and sh’s. We hold tightly to the belief that there is safe space. Even when I don’t think we intend to, we walk into conversations and suddenly find ourselves neck deep in what most consider controversial territory. It’s glorious, but not very churchy. Not very churchy, at all.

As we sat together this weekend, I confessed that I don’t know what to do with my current feelings of apathy about missing weekly gathering times. This led to a fascinating conversation about where we each were pressing into and working to find community. Our paths are very different, but we all come from the since-childhood Church world. Each with our own baggage and view of the value, we come to the table at different places of interest. It is at this point that I need to confess to you, dear reader, that this what if? question is mine. It’s one that I have been wrestling with since the pandemic began. I have never, not one time in my life, not been to church for 10 weeks. I took 4 weeks of maternity leave with child #1. I made it all the way to 6 with kiddo #2. Even when we were between churches, I visited (sometimes multiple) churches every week. And yet, here I find myself.

There is a huge part of my life, schedule and calendar that has been tied to the rhythm of all things church. We choose not to travel for certain holidays, so as not to miss special events. We prioritize the “extra” days because I have always believed that the practices of church activities were vital to my spiritual health. But something happened inside of me during Holy Week 2020. I didn’t not participate because I was not at church. I didn’t forget or even minimize the journey because I was not in charge of things. In all honesty, the opposite happened. I came alive.

I chronicled some of this in my Holy Week posts, especially my Saturday post. I allowed myself to do the things that I needed to do. I was not bogged down with telling the story so others could hear and understand, rather I told the story to my own soul. I gave myself space for quiet. I offered myself grace. It was so honoring.

My girl, Jen Hatmaker, threw down some truth on Facebook on Monday:

“Mostly, quarantine hasn’t created brokenness but exposed it. It has removed all the distractions and shiny parts that have kept us from the truth, from admitting what is real, and from the work.”

@jenhatmaker on Facebook

Thank, Jen. Thanks for calling out my crap right here on the carpet in front of the world and all of the truth tellers. That’s what this season has been. Most days have consisted of a long morning walk, gardening (yep, in my WEED FREE backyard), long writing sessions on the porch and some great conversations. I have talked on the phone WAAAAY more than I ever would. I have called friends that I rarely talk to because I needed MY people. I have trusted my truth and pain to new and old friends. I have searched for the truest of the true because I have been exposed. All of the cover of busyness and schedules were removed and I was forced to get down to business.

I have more to say about what’s next, post-quarantine, but for this question I need to honor myself. So today, I am going to speak to myself like I was speaking to one of my best friends. If they came to me and said, What If? I would say: Rest. Heal. Share. Search. Hope. Dig. Honor. Read all the things that you have been avoiding because of the what if’s. Listen to the voices that speak to you. Turn on music that stirs you to tears. Walk on the seawall at dawn when your soul is tired. Stay up too late and look at the fire. All of these things are Church for you, Lacy. And if, when the time comes, you are finding love and life in other ways, give yourself grace. God is not keeping attendance records.

What If: I Love God But Cannot Find a Reason to Walk in the Doors of the Church?

The honestly of this question is haunting. Again, the poles of love and hate are desperately disconnected in my response to seeing it on my screen. I want to hug this person and slap the Church all in the same beat of my heart. My posture in interacting with questions like these is especially tender because I can hear the pain behind this searching.

I received two questions that on the surface seem to be the same thing, but I can hear the slight difference. I am going to answer them back to back. This one comes from the voice of the outsider. One who’s experience of religion is defined by watching others. Not only have they not been immersed in the culture, but they have intentionally avoided wading into what they see as dangerous and unnecessary waters. Tomorrow, I will tackle the other, but today, I want to speak to the ones that have never wanted to know what it looks like to explore spirituality in community.

I need to say something to my friends that are open to Spirit and have never been saddled by the confines of religious expressions: I am sooooo thankful for you. That is probably one of the most insufficiently expressed statements I have ever made. Thankful is wildly inadequate. But you need to know why you are not only needed in my life, but vitally necessary to those of us that have not known searching without the walls of pre-programmed thought. You are needed oxygen. You are the calm in the midst of the storms of doubt. You are the gift of freedom that I didn’t know I was missing in my spiritual life. To talk to those who come at the practices of soul tending with the freedom to shamelessly explore is a beautiful gift to those of us that have been told how and when to think and study.

Years ago, I went to California on a spiritual quest of sorts. During my days away, I stayed at a retreat center that was filled with students and teachers of many disciplines. I was in awe of the freedom to encounter God in art, yoga, food, conversation, prayer and silence. I was challenged to think outside of my ideas of “retreating” and connection. It was one of the first times that I had allowed myself to label something so seemingly un-Christian as spiritual. It has taken me a lifetime to open myself up to the possibility that perhaps we (the only religious tribe I have ever belonged to) don’t have all of the answers. This is blasphemous to my previous channels of thought. This reality has emerged from my intentional welcome of those that are excited to learn about the Divine without the trappings of religion.

It is important for me to say these things so that you understand that my answer to this question is based in my love for, friendship with and deep concern for those that have allowed me to see their spiritually curious spaces. Without this gift of invitation, I could not say what I’m about to say. What if I love God but cannot find a reason to walk in the doors of the Church? Then don’t. Please don’t. With all of the love that I have in my heart for your curious and questioning self, hear me out. If you don’t think that the Church will bring life to your soul, it is not for you. If you don’t think that your best version of spiritual community is waiting for you in the Church, keep looking. If you have not experienced a welcome and openness that feels like a breath of fresh air, the Church is not the place for you.

For many, religious or not, the expectation is that answers and truth are found in churches. For some, that is the case. There are people worldwide that have sought and found thriving spiritual community in the Church. But this question says so much. The wording is not lost on me. This seeker has an established love of the Creator. There is connection to a Higher Power that is thriving and hopeful. That is more than I can say for many people that find themselves lost in their soul, yet sitting on the pews of churches today.

As I tend to do, let me see if there is a different question that might be more beneficial in this scenario. What if: thriving spiritual community can be found outside the walls of the church? It can. It does. It will. But I want to say one thing very clearly. Spiritual community is necessary. Walking alongside people that push you to see new growth and long for connection is one of life’s greatest blessings. Having others that know your story and heart is not only soul feeding, it is what draws you to know more fully all that you are created to be. I would not be who I am without those that have stood beside me, especially in times of spiritual homelessness. Rather than feeling regretful or guilty about not wanting to go to church, what if instead, the focus turned to intentional community. Perhaps it is a friend that you commit to read with? Maybe it is group that you know values the same hope that you seek? May we be willing to see how community and connection are being offered all around us and in those moments, may we recognize that THOSE are the doors that we need to walk through.

What If: The “Rules” of Church are Outdated?

This question is a loaded bomb. I love it and I hate it all at the same time. Like so many other things in the world of the Christian Church, there are many layers to the “rules” that people associate with the Church. For the sake of giggles and conversation, I did an interesting experiment: Google. Literally, I searched for the rules of the Christian Church. I wanted to vomit. Instantaneously. All of these things were listed in articles and writings on the rules:

  • Never allow someone to embarrass your morality, your essence, your innocence.
  • A man has the right to lead his woman in life.
  • Look casual and modest but attractive enough.
  • To come to church you should wear clean and appropriate clothing, as required by the holiness of the place. Women should exercise Christian modesty and decency.
  • To derive spiritual profit from going to church, it is very important to put yourself into a prayerful mood on the way to church.
  • Read your Bible daily.
  • Be a wholesome Christian. Our lives and appearance should commend the Gospel and make it attractive to others.

What I want to do at this point is give you a sarcastic commentary on all of the above. It is actually taking all of my restraint not to be a complete jerk, cause you know I could. Let’s try and talk about this without the attitude. Of course, people that think in terms of rules and black and white-ly defined circles will always fall on the more extreme ends of this conversation. But, can we just be really honest? These rules exist because these people exist. Even in some very openminded, thinking and searching spaces, you will find these rules. People with this approach to faith can be found in most Christian circles today. The core of these rules are valuable to many modern Christians and that single fact is the reason that so many of us look at the Church today with, on our best days, irreverence and on our worst days, disdain.

The saddest part of this entire conversation is that the rules, the tools by which the Church would like to help define people of faith, are the very things that push people away from the possibility of connection. In my years of stumbling around the heart of the Church, I have found the ability (or maybe I should say stubbornness) to ignore most of the rhetoric. I have worked hard to define for myself ways to hear the words to the rules and reshape them to fit the heart of the God that I understand. Let me give you an example.

Most of us that were brought up in the last 30 years of Church culture have been taught to believe that the tangled web of purity and chastity are some of the most tightly held rules of the Church.

“Purity culture” is the term often used for the evangelical movement that attempts to promote a biblical view of purity (1 Thess. 4:3-8) by discouraging dating and promoting virginity before marriage, often through the use of tools such as purity pledges, symbols such as purity rings, and events such as purity balls.”

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/faqs-know-purity-culture/

Not only did I come of age at the beginning of the purity culture, with so many confusing and convoluted messages, but I was a youth pastor in the height of the movement. To say that every area of my faith was impacted by the rules of sexual behavior is an absolute understatement. I wore the ring. I grieved the mistakes. I tried to define “good” and “boundaries” to gain approval from a rule imposing God. I drank the Kool-aid. What happened over the last 30 years of my life is an excavation project of the soul. As I began to look at the bizarre (and ridiculous) tools by which we tried to teach love and fulfillment, I have come to understand that we failed. In every way.

But, here is the interesting thing about purity culture. It did not come into existence in a vacuum. Like every other “rule” of the church, it was a reaction to something that no one knew how to put in a box. In the 90’s, the children of the 60’s came of age. For many of our parents, finding a way to prevent unplanned pregnancies and protect us from the AIDS epidemic somehow morphed into a bizarre attempt to develop rules to ground a “biblical” understanding of sexuality. Do you remember our conversation about the mess that we make of the church? Yep. Exhibit A.

So, are the rules outdated? I’m not sure that’s the right question. I think the better question is What If: The Church Didn’t Have Rules? I think human rules are some of the greatest mistakes of the modern church. What if rather than making rules and trying to tell people how and what to do, we used that energy to listen – to people and more importantly to the Spirit? Behind the rules are always attempts to avoid pain, misguided as they may be. I wonder what would change if instead of telling others how to do things or how to be, we instead placed before them the desired end goal? Instead of giving me rules and shame to define sexuality, what would have happened if a trusted adult had instead said, “Lacy, I want you to be whole. I want every part of you, even your physical body to be deeply connected to the heartbeat of God. What feels whole to you?”

I’m guessing I would have spent much less on therapy. Just saying.

What If: Our Experience of Church as Children is Actually a Barrier to God?

I can remember sitting in a staff meeting in my early years of vocational ministry when the discussion of the “best time” to connect young-married’s (yep, the whole group is one category) to the church became the topic of the day. The clear call, by all good research and intel was that after the birth of their first child, couples often seek to return to the church to raise their children. Thus, you see entire ministries built from the roots of Baptism and baby dedication classes. Small groups on parenting are launched to receive these wandering young people, who are finding their way back from the wild days of college and early independence. Books have been written, studies have been commissioned and many dollars have spent launching these efforts.

But what about the kids that come along with these wayward young hooligans? Many of them are thrust into nurseries and pre-schools with those that they will one day come to know as their youth group compadres. In the early days of their lives, as their parents long for an hour of free babysitting and a cup of coffee, kids are entrusted to the church world, for better and for worse.

My early years of church life were magical. The wonder of the step stool behind the big pulpit, the flowing choir robes and the secret communion closet were enough to intrigue me and keep me, not only engaged, but fascinated by God and Jesus and the many things that my parents did in the name of church. For me, church meant time with my best friends, the good possibility of a Happy Meal or a Shipley’s donut and an almost certain late bedtime. These things were glorious and holy.

But something shifted the first time that I realized that the man in the black robe was fallible and that church people lied. I remember being asked to sit on a church committee in my early teens and I watched an argument over the church budget. I can still recall the first time that I was listening to a stewardship (aka give your money) sermon and I felt icky. There was something that didn’t sit right in my gut, but because I trusted the person who lead the campaign that year – he was my Sunday school teacher, after all – I thought that I needed to just be more faithful.

There is a strange thing that happens when the grooves of ‘belief’ and ‘right’ and ‘sure’ and ‘godly’ are etched in our childhood impressions of church. Often they are connected to people. Be it the pastor that you loved or the VBS song that you can still sing from memory, we deeply tie our understanding of faith and God with these memories. For many of us, that creates a warm and nurturing first contact with the Divine. But as we age and we see more, we can find ourselves in a deep well of conflict as we discover that things are not always as they appear. The one who taught you about God is not god-like. The idol that you created to defend your faith was just that. The non-negotiable teaching that could never be questioned because it “just was” is suddenly not. And then what?

Some in the church world call this deconstruction – a season of breaking down the things that you have believed so that you can open yourself to the things that you now know to be true. But the more concerning aspect of this entire conversation is not deconstruction or reconstruction. It is not even the marketing that goes into reshaping parents into loving the church again so that they will bring their kids to the programs. For me it is the group of young adults that will not ever darken the doors of a religious institution again because of the experiences, and in some cases, trauma of their childhood in the church. The ones that were manipiatued and spiritually abused. The ones that cannot ask questions. The ones that when they reached an age that they couldn’t make sense of their doubts, were pushed away as heretics and cynics and unworthy.

There is one group of friends that I cannot speak for, but I need to speak to. To my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters: I love you. Jesus loves you. You are whole and holy. Of all of the childhood messages that have destroyed and shamed and held an entire people group hostage, the words that you heard and felt in the pews and the youth groups of your childhood are by far some of the most painful. For every time that you heard that you are not enough, that you are unworthy or that you are uninvited, I want to say I’m sorry. For my part in leading the church to that place and refusing to walk with you and out of spaces that could not love you – all of you – I want you to know that I recognize that I have been part of some of the most damaging childhood messages that you could have ever received. I know that an apology is insufficient, but I’m hoping that my love and friendship is enough to remind you that there is not one entity or person on this earth that has the ability to define your worth. Not me, and sure as hell not the voices of hate in the Church today.

May this be a chance for all of us to call all of the messages that we have be given as children into question. Looking at something with an honest and harsh light does not negate it. Rather, I am more convinced that ever, that a good old household purging only helps you recognize what really matters, and what you want to box up and move with you into your next house.