Lately it seems as though I have been struggling with the role of church in my life. It seems like a struggle I've had since college. I grew up in a Christ-centered home and all through my childhood and adolescents I knew what was expected of me as far as going to church on Sundays, going to Sunday school, being involved in various "ministries", etc. Then as I reached early adulthood and was on my own I kind of quit going and rationalized it as that I was only going to be there for a max of 4 years and why get involved only to leave? I was still active in my home church when i came home to visit and I figured that was enough.
Looking back at that time, I know now that it was a mistake to be so flippant about church-going and finding that community of believers. I remember distinct feelings, though, of feeling left out and alone and not fitting in because everyone around me seemed so fake...at church on Sunday but drunk and in someone else's bed the night before. I became cynical and disappointed.
When Jason and I married and started our lives together, we were also very invovled in our small community church. It was a nice fit for us at the time because that church was made of imperfect people who admitted to their faults and weren't afraid of being transparent. The problem was, we had kids, and the church stopped growing so there were not programs in place for young families and we began to feel like going to church was just another job, that we were working every Sunday. It was like feeling too big in clothes you have outgrown, stretching and pulling and uncomfortable and about to rip.
So, we went back to the "Big Baptist Church" of our youth looking for a solution to our problems. The problem is that no church is perfect so we had to decide what we were willing to sacrifice in order to enrich our lives and the lives of our children. What could we overlook, and could we really not let is bother us?
The answer to that is complicated.
One of the things that I love about labschool (the infant-preschool program we are involved in with our girls) is that it is a community, a family. I trust these people with my most valuable possessions, my girls and their safety and well-being. These are people that would do anything for me and my family and in return, i would do the same for them. The interesting thing about these people is that they are of different denominations, different religions, some even with no religion and yet we are a true family, working together towards a common goal helping and supporting each other. They are real, we share our failures as well as our accomplishments, our grief and our overwhelming joy. There is no pretense or qualifications to be a part of this community, it just is.
When I walk into labschool I am not worried that I may be wearing the wrong thing or carrying the wrong bag. I don't feel the stares and hear the whispers. I feel acceptance and belonging. These people have genuine smiles on their faces and really want to know how you're doing that day. There is give and take and love.
Jason and I have had many discussions about these issues. His solution would be to have a group of like-minded believers meeting together on the beach (of course) actually really talking and not worring about speaking "christinese."
Piper has been going to AWANA on Wednesday nights. It is like alittle Bible club for kids and they learn scripture and play games and earn play money for doing certain things. There is parent involvement as well, every week we work in her handbook learning the Bible verse and doing some kind of activity and reading the story. Well, this past week the story really bothered me because it talked about "...God is truthful." The scripture is not what I had the problem with, but the interpretation of that scripture seemed way off base to me. It went on to illustrate that God always keeps his promises (true) and that we make promises as well (true) but when we don't keep our promises we are disobeying (yes, that is the word they use for 3 year olds) God and that is called sin and makes us bad people (oh my, the total opposite of the truth). I'm reading this (for lack of a better word) crap to Piper and trying to explain it while she's asking me about if she will go to jail and I'm stuck. Just the night before we had a labschool meeting on the topic of "praise" and how we need to separate the deed from the doer. For instance, say Piper climbed up the playground thing and slid down the slide and I said "Good girl", well, does that mean that if she climbed up the playground thing and didn't slide down that she is "bad"? Of course not, and so telling kids that when they disobey God's word that they are bad? Well, I don't see any truth in that statement but it is the mentality of the church.
So, what is the solution? I don't know. All I can do is what I think is right for my children and our family. My fear is the mixed messages that we receive, that we aren't good enough to belong, that material things could make us good enough, that we are not ok for the way we choose to parent our children and what we teach them is not "christian" enough. The thing I want most for my girls is that they become independent thinkers and problem solvers. If they are eqipped with those things then they can figure out the truth from the quasi-truth and that will be enough.
It's painful, growing up.