Monday, February 7, 2022

My Road to A Rule of Life - Part 1

I mentioned in this post that leading up to Lent, which begins Wednesday, March 2,  I would be sharing my personal Rule of Life with you. As I've mentioned previously, this is the workbook I used to develop my rule, along with listening to this sermon series. That being said, my posts will reflect that and I will be following the outline as it is presented in the workbook. But before I jump in, I want to give you a little background into my spiritual development thus far, and what has brought me to this point. I will say that as I began writing this I realized the depth of this story will require that I break it up into two parts, which I hope you won't mind.

I grew up in church, and by "grew up" I mean I was literally born into it. As far back as I can remember there was never a time in my childhood when my family didn't go to church. My parents were both members of The Church of Christ, and I have very sweet memories of those early years, it was a good foundation. But as I grew older, and much to my mother's frustration began to "question everything", at some point there were several things about their theology that didn't add up for me. There was also an incident that occurred during my teenage years that left me raw and disillusioned. I'm not going to elaborate further on that, because I've honestly forgiven the people who were involved, but also because even though it was hard at the time, I realize now that God used it to move me forward to the next step in the journey. 

The summer after my senior year in high school I left my childhood church and joined the Baptist church. I wish I could say it was the result of a lengthy process of deep spiritual introspection, and while I did have a lot of questions that I was seeking answers for, the truth is, I met a boy. That encounter resulted in a marriage and a near decade identifying as a Baptist. In retrospect it was a pivotal moment in my spiritual development, as it marked the first time that I separated myself from my parent's beliefs and sought God on my own and for myself, even if my original motivation was anything but godly. :) 

Sadly however, that marriage lasted just two weeks shy of ten years, leaving me with  even more questions so that with my divorce I likewise divorced myself not necessarily from God, I was never able to deny my belief in Him, but definitely from religion. I was done with anyone or anything pitching their personal brand of theology or touting their version of "The 10 Identifying Markers of a True Christian." As much I still loved and believed in God, the very word, "Christian" left a bad taste in my mouth. I wasn't sure at the time what I was looking for, I only knew that nothing I had experienced up to that point satisfied the deep longing of my soul. There had to be more.

I was 40 years old and had been in and out of church (and by that I mean I physically walked in and out, but seldom felt God's presence), when I moved with my second husband to Virginia. The years leading up to our move had been confusing for me. I wanted nothing to do with religion, but having small children, I was likewise compelled to set a good example of what a true Christian looked like, even though I wasn't really sure myself. My husband, Bill was and has always been a very godly man. He was also a retail manager for all of his career, so that for years his life was governed by his planner and checking things off his to-do list. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and it has always worked well for him, but among the things he regularly checked off of his list was church every Sunday, a "quiet time" every morning, you get the picture. As I said, I'm not being critical. He is one of the godliest men I've even known, it's just that his pathway to spiritual growth was a bit rigid for my taste. I also wasn't immune to the fact that I was in the minority, as it appeared that the vast majority of Christians were exactly like him, with their first-thing-daily "slot and a spot" approach to a relationship with God. You may even be like him, so again, I'm not being critical, only honest. It just never worked for me.

That being said, I would be remiss to leave you with the impression that I did not spend time with God. Being with God was and never has been the problem, it was conforming to what religion dictated that was supposed to look like that was the problem for me. But God, oh He was very real, very much alive, leaving me without so much the desire but the complete lack of the ability to limit Him to a mere "slot" in my life. I saw Him in every sunrise, in the playful dancing of a bumble bee. I heard him in the melody of music, and more often than not in a line from a movie or words from a book. The very air that surrounded me felt dewed with His presence. And yet, oddly enough, the one place that time after time failed to replicate what I experienced in my personal relationship with Him, was church. Church left me feeling like a child who wanted to create a masterpiece by wildly slinging my brush across the canvas, when a "real Christian", I was told, would color neatly within the lines. Eventually, feeling stifled in my longing for something deeper, something more, I left for good . . . . . or perhaps, for the time being, we will see. :)

Now before I go on, I want to wrap up this first part of my post by saying this. I am not advocating or encouraging anyone to leave church. Community IS a component of a disciple's life and as the Spirit continues to lead and guide me, I will eventually figure out that part of my journey. But then and for now, being part of a church body is not part of my spiritual walk. Ironically enough, Covid landed forefront in the world at almost the same intersection in my life, making it easy for me to remove myself entirely from the expectation of church attendance and freed me to pursue my relationship with God as I had felt called to for all of my adult life. 

What followed and in some ways was being written for decades, has been for me, the deepest, most freeing and beautiful experience of my life. It is an exchange that flows freely, and yet is much to my surprise, quite structured. Marked by hours and seasons, rooted in rituals, and made holy by habits that were formed and flow from a deep desire, rather than a need to check anything off of a list, my rule is the "abundant life" I have searched for and in a deeper sense, knew existed from my childhood. While the word “rule” may strike you as a strict or binding constraint, the Latin word we translate “rule” was originally the word for a trellis in a vineyard. In the same way a vine needs a trellis to lift it off the ground so it can bear the maximum amount of fruit, and keep free of predators and diseases, we need a rule as a kind of support structure to organize our life around “abiding in the vine,” (John 15:1–8) as Jesus imagined. When I picture that trellis, I envision myself as a wild rose bush. One that is supported, yes, but given the freedom to climb wild, to reach high and dig deep, rooted in the knowledge that this is who I was created to be!

Tomorrow I'll share a little more about my journey, and some of the other ways that the Holy Spirit guided me in reaching this place. Until then, there's a beautiful song, actually a couple of beautiful lines from two songs that I've been playing at least once a day for the past year that I feel sum up my journey so well.

The first is from the song, Defender, by Francesca Batestelli;

"You know before I do
Where my heart can seek to find Your truth
Your mercy is the shade I'm living in
And You restore my faith and hope again."

When I think of all the ways, the paths, the hurts and the disappointments. There were so many times when it felt like things were ending, when in reality, they were making room for  the "new thing" that God was doing (Isaiah 43:19), and moving me forward to the next chapter in my story. He knew, long before I even began to realize, the exact place where my heart would find that truth, that would lead to the next truth, and onward to the truth that will continue to guard and guide my life.

And finally, from the incomparable, Lauren Daigle, a line from the song, Love Like This;

"When I am a desert
You are the river that turns
To find me.
… Your voice like a whisper
Breaking the silence
You say there's a treasure
You'll look 'til You find it
You search to find me.
… What have I done to deserve love like this?"

From the beginning of time, He created me to "question". Without that childlike inquisitiveness I might have settled. My desire for "something more" was born out of "The MORE that HE IS!". It wouldn't have been enough for Him, either, for me to be content with anything less than the absolute belief that rain would one day fall on the parched desert of my soul. Always there, glimmering in the distance, a fragment of light that revealed the treasure just beyond my reach, until He found it, in me.

Indeed, what I have I done?

More to come . . .

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