I thought others of you would be interested in this little exchange I had the other day. The only reason I’m posting it is because I get this question often as it’s a very real part of our journey and the shift in thinking that happens when we move beyond religion to live in the Father’s affection.
Mark: I have a quick question for you. How do you respond, when people that you used to attend church with ask what’s going on in your life? I don’t want to begin arguments and I don’t want to come across in a negative way, but how do I share this new understanding with those who don’t yet have it. Its so odd because Church in America is always touted as being a place filled with love and acceptance, but the moment that you walk away from that organization you are labeled, ridiculed, and often belittled by the very people that claim to have unconditional love for you. When I try to share that I left church to draw closer to God, I find that the response is condescending, accusatory, or skeptical. Yet, at the same time many still in the church will say that church is not required for salvation, but, the sad truth is that being part of an organized religious group is required in their minds. For many in America, Christianity is more about membership within a congregation than about adoption into the Kingdom of Heaven. If you can lend me any advice I would greatly appreciate it.
Me: Don’t you remember being there too, looking suspiciously at people who had withdrawn from a congregation you thought was essential to your own spiritual growth? That’s what gives me patience with others who are still there. They can’t see what they don’t see, and my trying to convince them isn’t helpful. I simply engage such people with friendship, finding out how they are doing and, where appropriate, the things I see Jesus doing in my life that I hope will encourage them. I don’t get into the “going to church” thing or why I’m not there anymore. I’m just interested to see if the friendship is bigger than whether or not I’m part of the same club with them and at the end I want them to know they are loved whether or not they are in a place to love me back. Don’t worry so much about what they are thinking, and you’ll be able to see how Jesus wants to love them through you.
Mr. M: What a great answer! Thank you for helping me to remember.
Escaping the conformity confines of religion doesn’t make us immune from its tentacles. Because that system is built on our approval needs it leaves in a conversation more aware of what others think of us than we are what it would mean to love them and perhaps by grace open a door to a wider space for them to know God. Any time our personal wellbeing rests on what someone else is thinking, feeling, or saying, then we have no option but to try to figure out a way to change them or make them stop. In doing so we become like them and if we keep living there we will get lost in relationships because we will have to control them and when we seek to control we are not loving.