I got an email today from someone who is struggling to sort out whatâ€™s going on in the fellowship sheâ€™s been a part of for some time. Suddenly sheâ€™s finding that she doesnâ€™t want to sit through all the meetings and finding them an â€œugly weightâ€ rather than a joy. But she feels guilty if she thinks about not going. She is realizing that although she goes in hopes of encountering God, it rarely happens there and yet she still has wonderful friends there.
Itâ€™s not an easy thing when God begins to open your eyes to the manipulation of religious systems. Suddenly participating seems like a chore, and you begin to see how the classes and designations designed to provide protection are actually manipulating peopleâ€™s desires to belong and to be approved by others. Now it feels like a game and participating in it a bit â€œcreepyâ€. What does she do?
Here are some excerpts from her emails: â€œThat’s not to say that the pastor or others are horrible people â€“ far from it. I love them and respect them. It’s just that I’m not comfortable spending from 10:30 to 12:45 there when all I really want to do is leave. It’s like my heart is changing as is my way of thinking. But adding to that is this sense of ‘well what would I do on Sunday anyway?’ I almost feel like I’m distancing myself from church as an institution and don’t know if that’s right or how to handle itâ€¦.
“I’m frustrated and restless and honestly don’t know how to deal with much of what’s going on in my spiritual life lately. It’s like I can’t rest and that troubles me. I really hope you don’t mind me sort of tossing this your way. It’s just that you seem to be at a place where you actually do know rest and you’re not striving to be right or make a point.â€
Knowing her concerns reflect what so many others go through at this stage of the journey, I thought others with similar concerns would appreciate reading what I wrote back to her:
I can appreciate your story. Once you start seeing through the illusion of religion, it can be a scary road. All the things youâ€™ve found comfort in before, suddenly seem destructive.
I love what youâ€™re seeing, though I know it can be disorienting. It is the result of God answering your prayers to know him as he really is. As we get to know him, our perception of the things around us change, especially those things weâ€™ve thought are his. I have no idea where this will lead you. Going to gather with other believers because they are your friends is never a bad reason to go. To see it as your place to meet Father is problematic, since he wants to be with you all the time. And seeing how you and others get manipulated by well-intentioned policies and programs will cause some grief.
Will God give you the grace to live through it and love folks anyway? Will God give you the grace to walk away and see what else he has for you? I donâ€™t know. Only he does.
What you can do now is to stop responding to guilt. Thatâ€™s the real power of religious thinking. It manipulates us with shame and with wanting others to approve of us, so that weâ€™ll jump through its hoops. You donâ€™t have to jump through those hoops to love God and love the folks there. But when you stop doing so, it may make you a bit more dangerous for the powers that be. The system cannot love what it cannot control and that may result in problems over time.
For now, just listen to Jesus. Do what he puts on your heart. Stop giving place to guilt so it can whither and die away and be gentle with those who cannot possibly grasp what youâ€™re seeing now any more than you could a year ago. In that he will make the way clear ahead and you, too, will get to learn to live in his rest, and enjoy the incredible fellowship that the body can have together when it is less concerned about the success of the institution and more focused on who this Jesus really is…
I know thatâ€™s not very concrete, but he did not promise us concrete. He promised us life!