Thursday, October 25, 2012

when a change in attitude looks a lot like apathy.

{photo by Kmecu}

Last fall, I was in the middle of a heartbreaking season of church-hurt. Each Sunday, I would wake up with a stomachache, literal and metaphorical. I was broken and lost and annoyed and very ready to give up on the church I've called home for most of my life. 

Then my grandmother fell, and her quick journey toward the next life left me at odds with my own here. 

What had hurt so much in those last months of 2011 (and 2010!) just didn't matter to me anymore. My focus changed, and forgiveness -- though, it should be noted, not necessarily forgetfulness -- became the priority. I forgave, and my heart healed, and I chose to move forward, remaining at a congregation that yes, had caused a lot of hurt, but that had also provided immense comfort for my family at a time when we needed it the most.

I chose to spend the early months of 2012 focusing on my spiritual growth, on rebuilding my relationship with Christ, on letting go of the bitterness I'd begun to let take hold of my heart. I chose -- am still choosing -- to make the kingdom, not the church, my priority.  

I think that shift in attitude looked a lot like apathy to a lot of people. 

Don't get me wrong: The things that hurt and make my heart cry at injustice? Those things still bother me. Very much. 

Yet my grandmother's death reminded me in this life I have a few choices. And choosing to be hurt and bitter can be crippling.

The church hurts a lot of people. I know that. I understand that. 

A friend who's currently figuring out her own stances of faith appeared shocked when I told her I went to a church where I'm not allowed to stand up in prayer, where I can't read aloud from the same Scriptures my husband can, where my role as a teacher is limited to teaching children (which bothers me even though children know more about faith than grown-ups do).

She couldn't understand how my conscience could let me continue to worship there. I wanted her to understand: Those things bother me. They are hard for me. I do not understand them, and believe it or not, I am sometimes a little bit alone in that lack of understanding. 

I could be angry about it. I could move on and go elsewhere. Maybe one day, I will.

For now, though, I choose to stay. 

I stay because my faith is in a loving, imaginative, creative God who loves me as His strong and powerful daughter.

I stay because my faith is in a Savior who went out of His way to talk to women other people wouldn't, who treated women not as less, but as equal.

I stay because my grandmother, my mother, and my aunts teach me every day that I am capable of making a difference right where I am. 

Those hurts from a year ago? They came from feeling silenced. 

I don't feel silenced anymore. 

Instead, my life is richer, fuller. My faith -- my purpose -- is no longer solely found in church ministry or in church work.

My grandmother's death taught me that sometimes, it's more important to look outward than inward. 

I am grateful for that season of hurt, because it taught me what I get hurt about. I learned an important lesson about myself, about what gets me riled up and anxious for change. 

And now that the season has passed, I can channel that anger into causes that are bigger than my congregation's doors. (Although, it should be noted, I do hope change darkens the door of my congregation one day, whether I am there to see it or not.) 

A couple of weeks ago, PBS ran the special Half the Sky. If you haven't watched it, watch it, and if you haven't read it, read it. (I'm reading it now.) 

Half the Sky opened my eyes to the heartbreaking injustices women and girls all around the world are experiencing; it also inspired me to be part of the charge that makes it possible for them to hope, that empowers them to change. 

Mostly, though, it reminded me that the world is a whole lot bigger than I think it is. 

Yes, I think it's a little bit unjust I can't read the Scripture I love aloud in a room full of women and men. 

But I think it's more unjust that a little girl can be taken from her home and into sex slavery overnight. 

And now, anytime my panties get in a twist over something I feel like the church has done to me, I think about what we aren't doing for the girls around the world. 

"No country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind." If that's true -- and I believe that it is -- the same is true for the kingdom, for the church. 

My attitude changed earlier this year. I forgave, and I let go, and I stopped fighting for the things I had thought were worth fighting for. 

I don't think that makes me apathetic. 

I don't think staying at a church full of loving people who may not see eye-to-eye on the things I care about is a lack of intelligence or a sign of weakness. 

Does that mean I'll stay there forever? Probably not. 

For now though, I'm choosing to make a difference right where I am. I'm choosing to focus on loving Jesus, hoping that loving His people will continue to follow suit. 

I'm choosing faith, and I'm choosing to focus on the very big world that sometimes has gotten lost in my very me-focused life.

Really, it's all just so much bigger than I've made it.  


jenna said...

I understand you completely here.

Alissa said...

Yes, yes yes. I get you.
Have you heard of Rachel Held Evans? I think you'd very much like reading her stuff.

Cheryl said...

I'm sorry, I get what you're saying, but...
How can a church that, by its very beliefs and actions, says that women are "less than", ever really minster to hurting and abused women around the world? If a church cannot accept that women are fully created in the image of God, as are men, and fully redeemed by his grace, able to fully participate in the work the church is doing, how can that church participate in the freeing of opressed women in the rest of the (non-american) world? I don't get it. Injustice is injustice. It may be tolerable on this continent, but the same attitudes make life intolerable for women and girls in the rest of the world. Call it what it is.

By the way, lots of love to you, Annie. You are brave and strong.

Brittany said...

I've been sitting with my very own faith transition/crisis of faith/lonliness in church/anger/sadness thing for about a year. I've decided to keep going while I sort things out, and I'm starting to be fine with the realization that things may never be totally clear. But this, these words that you wrote, they are helping. I am not alone. Thank you so much.