Back In the (Church) Saddle

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beth watkins- back in church saddle2By Beth Watkins | Twitter: @iambethwatkins

Earlier this year I moved back to the US after being away for six years, with my husband, a new immigrant to America, in tow. We came in exhausted, burned out and sick. And after some tumultuous, and sometimes traumatic, years overseas we found ourselves weary, broken and struggling to articulate all we’d been through.

We quickly found, in such a tender and shattered place, going to church in a stable, affluent country was difficult, painful and confusing for us. We’d end up upset and wrestling with big theological questions about blessing, pain and what following Christ looks like in our lives, in this time and place, in light of the suffering around us and in the world. I’d sit in church feeling so frustrated, so judgmental, so misunderstood.

Nothing in these churches were necessarily bad. They were fine places, filled with good people. But I was coming in traumatized and unwell. Shell-shocked still from seeing war, persecution, experiencing ongoing mystery pain and sickness and working with people carrying countless stories of shattered, broken and impossibly difficult lives. I was completely unraveled, (I remain pretty disheveled) and being in a safe and happy church just brought me an onslaught of powerful, frustrated emotions.

So, after speaking in a few supporting churches, for the first time in both of our lives we gave ourselves permission to not go to church.

We knew we’d be moving soon, and having moved 4-5 times in the last 7 years, knowing this season was also transitory, we just didn’t have the heart to invest in relationships in a place we knew we would be leaving again, especially when church was rousing so much anger and sadness in us.

We just needed some space. So, for a time, we took a break from church.

But my husband got a job, we’ve moved to a new city, and now break-time is over. It’s time to get back in the church saddle.

Our second weekend in our new city we did our research, took some deep breaths, and tried out a church for the first time in many months. Though it was a nice and perfectly fine church, for many reasons, it is not what we’re looking for.

I doubt if we will go back there, but we will keep going to church. I needed to be away from church for some of my wounds to start healing, and now I need to be back in church to be fully well.

We listened to our guts, we took a break, and it healed us in the ways we needed to be healed to keep trying church in America, because we believe in the church, even though we needed time away from it. Now, I need to not give up on meeting together with other believers.

Seven years ago, a fine church would have been enough for me.

But now I need more in a church, and I’m looking for some vague and some specific things as we continue looking.

I need a place where we talk about hard things. A place where it is ok to be hurt, broken and a little jaded. I need a church that spurs me on to living toward the kingdom of heaven as it is on earth right now, and inspires me constantly with ways to better love my neighbors, enemies and people different than me. I need a place where there are people who don’t look like me, and where those people are given the space to teach, so the rest of us can learn from them. I need a place where we don’t just talk about the state of our hearts, where we talk about shalom, justice and living counter to the Empire. I need a place where we wrestle together with a faith that undoes me again and again, and yet still beckons me to hope.

If I’m going to bother going to church, to keep trying to live out my faith in a community of other believers, it better be a place that doesn’t just invite me to look inward, but constantly beckons me to look outward, past where it is safe and comfortable.

I believe it exists the sort of place we’re hoping for, I believe we can find it. I know there are no perfect churches, but I trust we can find a place, in this diverse city we are lucky enough to live in, where believers together do the hard things Christ asks of us: loving our neighbors and our enemies, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry and participating brick by brick in this slow and steady kingdom-building, strengthening and sharpening us in community along the way.

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About Beth:

Beth WatkinsBeth Watkins spent the last 6 years working in North and Sub-Saharan Africa with street children, refugees, and other vulnerable populations. She is currently settling back in the US with her immigrant husband and writes about living toward the kingdom of God and flailing awkwardly into neighbor-love at her website where her free e-book “For the Moments I Feel Faint: Reflections on Fear & Showing Up” is available.
You can also find Beth on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Lynette Shortridge Humphrey

    Beth, this is hard ! May the Lord BLESS you with the heart knowledge of His Presence as you walk your faith journey! May the Holy Spirit comfort and heal you and your husband. May the Lord whisper His love and tenderness to you in the most unlikely personal ways only He can do. Thank you for your honesty and sharing your journey! Lynette

  • The slow, hard work of ministry in community is so worth it. I’m glad you’re invested in the effort!

  • I’m right there with you. And it encourages me that you’re not giving up on the church. I do think living overseas forever changes our expectations. I’m still working through that myself.;-)

  • Beth, I have heard this from so many friends who have lived abroad and returned home. I see it already here, the sacrifice that church is in the rest of the world, how we take it for granted in the West. So glad you are finding your way back to a community that wrestles with you. Praying you find just the right place!