By Sarah Nyhan
I had an amazing thought today: I have time to food prep this weekend for my work week next week. Do you know why this is an amazing thought? I never had time before. I mean, I had time, I just didn’t realize it.
This might seem like a little thing to those who are used to freedom. But this is huge for me. When I was thinking about this today, I realized that I spent so much time before doing religious activities that the activities of living were put to the side except maybe the most necessary.
At the peak, I was attending a church where I could go to:
-a prayer breakfast once a month on Monday morning hosted by the pastor’s wife
-a Bible study for women on Monday night
-a mandatory “Family Night” Bible study for a “ministry” I first volunteered at and then worked for
-a church service on Wednesday nights
-another Bible study on Thursday mornings for women
-a church service on Friday nights
-a prayer meeting on Saturday mornings
-a class every other Saturday morning at the church
-a prayer group once a month on a Saturday night
-three available church services on Sunday mornings. I’d usually attend one and “serve” during another. This was encouraged from the pulpit.
-a class on Sunday nights at the church
-once a year retreats for the women
-once a year luncheon for the women
-once a year off-site baptism
-holiday and other special gatherings
-and then to the extreme, when I volunteered/worked at the “ministry”, I was supposed to lead a Bible study every morning except Sunday
Not to meantion my own private time of study I was supposed to be doing. And the innumberable social gatherings that usually incorporated times of Bible study and prayer.
Do you see now?
For the most part, I enjoyed spending a lot of time with that church family. The great majority of whom do not initiate contact with me anymore after I “walked away”. But there was a measure of pressure from the pulpit and the community at large to spend a lot of time at the church or doing church things. Some might even call it an excessive amount of time.
The insidiousness of this was that it was somewhat implied that the time you spent doing these things was time you were spending for Jesus. And while that may be true for specific individuals, I don’t think there was enough encouragement to go out and actually live in the real world. I rather experienced a lot of pressure to pull people into spending more time in and with the church doing church things.
And where that might be fine for some people, I felt condemnation from some people as if going “out into the world” to pursue non-church related things indicated I wasn’t really that serious about Jesus. Or if I wanted to spend time away from the church and church people doing God-forbid, fun social activities or even doing nothing, not even talking about God, then I was kinda not “living for the kingdom” if I at least didn’t have the agenda of trying to convert these people I’d be spending time with. As if simply enjoying the company of another is not enough. Is not love.
Eventually I broke. I was near suicidal. I was sooo tired. There was always someone else asking me to sign up for one more thing. I was into the business of saving souls and I should be taking every opportunity to do so. For the most part well-intentioned, I have no doubt. But my issue to this day is that even though it was preached over and over again to “just be with Jesus”, it seemed that there was non-stop pressure in regards to that not being enough. Real Christians were supposed to “work for Jesus”.
Oh my gosh, I express to you how tired I was. Even now, as I’ve spent the last five years detoxing from all that activity, I still struggle on a daily basis to be ok with “it is finished”. Paul Young refers to it as an addiction to basically “doing something great for God”. What a new perspective to let God do the great things and me just learn how to live loved?!
It’s felt so different that I’ve struggled with guilt as I learn to do simple things like watch a movie that isn’t about God. Or go to a restaurant simply because I enjoy the food. Only this month did Is spend an hour or so making some art just because I wanted to – without an agenda.
Sometimes I would sit in that church and feel like I couldn’t breathe. It was like every last cell of survival, of fight or flight, was SCREAMING at me to get out of there. Instead of listening to my gut, I’d spend a significant part of the time during the service rationalizing in my mind why I was there.
I remember one time I had a brazen act of rebellion a few years ago after I had already started “walking away”. I was driving to that church and either when I arrived or shortly before I arrived, I just kept driving! I decided Jesus wouldn’t be mad at me if I went on a drive and enjoyed the nice weather and His Creation with Holy Spirit. I just drove and listened to music and enjoyed the scenery. Christian worship music, by the way; I wasn’t yet free inside my mind enough to even consider that God might appreciate Hall & Oates, some rap music, a Led Zeppelin riff, or my favorite EDM jams. On a Sunday morning at that?! The audacity of me.
It really was a huge deal for me. I remember how proud I was of myself that I finally got the courage to do that. That I finally realized a drive in the country was as much worship as sitting in a church service singing hymns and being preached at for two hours.
Even only a few months ago, I gave myself permission to not go to church so I could go down to the water and enjoy the sun on a Sunday. Again, another huge victory in my mind.
Not hosting a Bible study at my house or attending one, not having any agenda to convert people, not going to a church service at least once a week (preferably on Sunday) – all these things would have been cause for concern for my salvation years ago. Maybe not actually spoken, but surely suspected.
I had a friend tell me a few months ago that I have changed. She told me that I used to stop and have everyone pray all the time. She told me that I used to quote Bible verses all the time. She said that I don’t do that anymore.
She even said that when I did all of that before, it used to really turn her off. But she said now she sees that it was the right thing to do. And basically that I am wrong for not doing those things anymore. She said that having me in her home now is like letting someone do cocaine at her dining room table!! I kid you not.
My response to her was that I “pray” all the time now. But it’s private 99% of the time. I don’t feel the need to “bless the food” officially out loud. I don’t feel the need to stop everyone and force them to pray with me. I actually prefer to wait for consent. So that it’s two coming together versus one being dragged.
I don’t feel the need to quote the Bible all the time anymore. If you haven’t noticed, God is still my favorite subject to talk about. But I now try again to wait for the consent of the other person before I go there in conversation. And I save the rest of the words dying to get out of me for this blog. 🙂 I told my friend that I prefer for my actions to speak louder than my words as I travel through my day to day life now. This is revolutionary from where we came from. But total freedom for me now as I realize I am only participating in Holy Spirit revealing God to everyone all the time. God’s got this. Really. I can just be a nice, decent human being with a personality and interests (GASP!) and God is right there in the middle of it all. Weaving people together when they need each other. Sometimes with words, many times not. A smile, a helping hand without making the person a project, even letting someone cut in front of you in traffic sometimes – all of these things are love. All of these things matter. All of these things feel more worthwhile than most of the “ministry” I did before.
There is a time and place for study. I’ve been blessed with like-minded individuals who meet to basically share our adventures in Christ. This feels so refreshing. Pretty much how I’m deciding it is supposed to be. More a sharing than a show. Where everyone is important. Not just those “in ministry”.
My friend who said I wasn’t praying and quoting Bible scriptures enough – we have only talked once in the past five months because I initiated. This grieves me terribly. I wish I could lift the veil and chains off all those I love. Believe me, I’ve tried. That’s what I would have busied myself with in the old way.
After being rejected over and over and over again, I’ve come to the place where it has to be God or nothing. Like with anything else that seems to matter so much. It’s revolutionary for me to trust my loved ones with Him. To let go. To go live my life. To spend time on a Sunday doing meal prep. To even have the time on a Sunday to do meal prep.
I write this for those that understand. I get it. The hard part is sometimes not being able to share how huge these shifts in the mind are with people who understand. So I do this for me and I do this for you.
As someone I love, value, and respect very much often reminds me: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” There’s a Bible verse for you. 🙂 Galations 5:1