I went back to church today.
Actually, I went back to church a few months ago after a lengthy absence and much navel-gazing. I had intended to write about it afterwards, but ended up getting distracted by all the crap in my life. It turned out to be fairly uneventful despite the importance I’d attached to my Big Decision To Go Back, and I had a bit of a chuckle at my own expense for that. This particular congregation goes through a fair amount of turnover, so most of the people didn’t know me. A few stragglers did, and greeted me with genuine friendliness. I was otherwise largely ignored, though the senior pastor was delighted to see me again. That was about it.
Last night, while I was obsessively editing and re-editing and overthinking my most recent entry, I realized that I needed to be in church again. I’ve spent so much time wallowing in the miry clay of my depression and its byproducts (unemployment, weight gain, isolation, etc.), I couldn’t even come up with any Bible quotes to include in my post. This may not seem like a big deal, but I’m very committed to the “Christian” part of the “Black Sheep Christian” theme. That little spark of self-awareness was enough of a jolt to make me go “Okay, time for another visit.”
And once again, it was fairly uneventful. I showed up late, but nobody gave me any side-eye or disapproving sniffs. I grabbed a seat near one of the few people who I still recognized, and only missed the first couple of minutes of the pastor’s message. Here’s more or less what it was about (and how I applied what he was saying to myself):
God Owns It All
As 1 Timothy 6:7 reminds us:
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. (KJV)
We are stewards of this world and everything in it, and nothing really belongs to us — we (humans) all have this tendency to think, “That’s mine, this is mine.” We tend to get focused on our STUFF, and base our worth around it. The pastor didn’t mention the old “keeping up with the Joneses” chestnut, but it was clearly implied.
I like to think I’m not as materialistic as many others, but I do have to admit that I’m highly attached to some of my possessions. It comes, in my case, from having grown up in relative poverty: I slept in a crib in my parents’ room until I was four, and slept on an institutional cot (with a foam smaller-than-twin-size mattress on a spring) until I was an adult and got my first apartment. Picture the kind of grim, narrow little berth you’d see lined up in long, cold rows in a Dickensian orphanage, and you’ve got my childhood bed.
My current set of bedroom furniture, that I acquired brand-new from Havertys thankyouverymuch over a decade ago, is my FIRST EVER matching bedroom set. This was a big deal to me, not because I cared what anyone else thought (I didn’t), but because I believed I was finally a stable-enough grownup that I could afford something shiny and new. Years of scrimping, saving, denying myself, trash-picking and yard-saling, and being married to a completely irresponsible moron who destroyed my credit and sent me back to square one financially had finally been put behind me, and I could say “yes” to something fancy. This is the kind of stuff I get attached to, and why. However, it’s still just STUFF, and ultimately it’s not really mine because God was the one who gave it to me.
What Does God Require Of Us?
Moses in his pontificating had this to say (Deuteronomy 10:12-14):
And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the LORD’S thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is. (KJV)
We’re reminded yet again that it’s all God’s — everything above and below. All of the STUFF is HIS stuff — given to us by him, to use for his glory.
This is not really intuitive for us puny humans. It’s our nature to want recognition and acceptance for the things that we do and the stuff that we have. We want to be acknowledged by other people. We want cred. Status. Points. RESPECK. We want to believe that “If I do these good deeds, they will see me as deserving of Heaven.” A lot of the good we do is more performative than altruistic; we want to be NOTICED giving out fat checks and rescuing homeless kittens.
Look At MEEEEEEEEE
When I look back at those early days of my Christian walk, and my desperate, frantic attempts to fit in with the Good Little Christians, I have to suck it up and admit it: I, too, was performing to some extent. I firmly believe that I was completely sincere in my desire to serve God. But I also had this need for them to acknowledge me, to notice my efforts, and to accept me. I wanted them to say, “C is one of us. She’s a Real Christian.”
The problem with that kind of self-promoting thought process is that it’s promoting MEEEEEEEEE, and not him. Trying to present my own good deeds as proof of my Godliness is like bringing counterfeit money to the bank: It has absolutely zero value in terms of buying a seat at God’s table.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (KJV)
Ephesians 2:8 is one of those verses that I remember in theory and yet always forget in practice. The fact that salvation is a gift — that there’s nothing I could have done to deserve it, earn it, be worthy of it, or lose it — still boggles my mind. It’s so utterly gobsmacking that even those of us who got it and accepted it still lose sight of it.
Actually Don’t Look At Me
My STUFF still matters to me. It’s hard to relinquish, even when I know it’s not really mine and has no real value. Like most humans, I cling to things. Case in point: My beloved matching bedroom set has spent almost three of the last ten years collecting dust in different storage units while I tried to stay afloat in the churning Sargasso Sea of my life. Does this make sense? Probably not, to a person whose normal isn’t broken. But I’m deeply attached to it nevertheless, because of what it represents. (By the way, before you ask me why I didn’t sell my furniture when I was floundering, I tried. Repeatedly. I just wasn’t willing to give it all away for fifty bucks on Craigslist.)
After hearing today’s message, I’m wondering if this is something I can change now that I’m more aware of it. Not just my vice-like death grip on the Havertys thankyouverymuch bedroom set, which is now more than ten years old and Craigslist is likely my only option for it anyway. I’m thinking more about my attitude.
“The World,” as preachers like to say, doesn’t approve when we’re using our stuff to promote God. It’s okay that the world won’t be pleased. What I need to remember is that I’m never going to please all the Good Little Christians, either. They’re most likely never going to accept me no matter what I do, and I should stop grasping for their acceptance. More importantly, I should stop needing it. As currency with God, it has zero value.