Back When I Knew Everything


I met Ron when I was 19. We worked together in a gym referred to as the “orange bubble” because of the giant orange covering over the outdoor tennis courts, if you would like to get a home gym then just contact Few people in town could recall the actual name of the gym, but everyone knew the orange bubble. It was my first job in the fitness industry and I forever worried about making mistakes. Ron—about 15 years my senior—was soft-spoken and kind, and never once gave an exasperated sigh after my umpteenth question. He wore his bright orange hair in gelled-up spikes and was a big believer in natural bodybuilding. He felt like a friend, and I was grateful for him.

When Ron told me he was a Christian, I was thrilled. We had so much more to talk about, and I quickly discovered how knowledgeable he was. He would outline his interpretation of certain passages according to a bunch of theologians I had never heard of. I would nod my head confidently like I understood, a technique I still use today in theological discussions.

Then Ron told me someone unexpected.

He didn’t go to church.

He wasn’t between churches or a sporadic attendee. He did not go at all. By choice.

My narrow mind was blown.

I used all the cherry picked verses and reason my adolescent mind could muster, but it was no use. He insisted the whole church thing wasn’t for him. That he could follow God just as well on his own as he could in a church. That he knew just as much about the Bible if not more by going it alone. I vehemently disagreed. He simply smiled—the kind of patronizing smile that said, “Just you wait.” It maddened me. But I stood my ground like any sheltered, righteous 19-year-old would. I questioned whether Ron should even call himself a Christian if he didn’t attend church. I mean, wasn’t that one of the rules?

Though that time in my life was almost 20 years ago, I’ve thought about Ron a lot over the last decade. Considering I’m now around the age he was when we met, maybe it’s not that surprising.

I thought about Ron when I had postpartum depression. I stepped away from church for several years. There was zero energy in the tank for me to pretend I was okay around shiny people, even for an hour a week. So I spent Sunday mornings driving past packed church parking lots to quiet country roads, sipping tea and listening to my babies chatter. Sometimes I would listen to worship music. Sometimes I reveled in the silence and the sun streaming optimistically through clouds. It was the best part of my week.

I thought about Ron when I heard of yet another pastor being accused of sexual assault. When the church leaders tried to downplay the manipulation and abuse of power. When they sided with the oppressor, instead of standing with the women who bravely came forward.

I thought about him when we skipped church last week to go for a family bike ride. I needed to be outside in the trees, in the open fields. The biting November wind refreshed me in a way a stuffy sanctuary wouldn’t.

And I thought about Ron when my social media exploded with the news that an influential male leader had decreed women as inadequate to lead in the church. I read too many comments before closing my laptop, feeling completely wrung out and tired of it all.

I wonder what kinds of discussions Ron and I would have now, had we kept in touch—now with more life under my belt, a lot less legalism and a decade of unlearning. I wish I could have given him more grace and understanding back then. I wish I would have dug a bit deeper, instead of clinging to the black and white ideology that kept me safe and good.

I would tell him I get it. That a quiet house or a drive through the evergreens makes me feel closer to God than a soaring cathedral. That the politics of spirituality and the news wear me down. That I sometimes look around on Sunday mornings and wonder “What’s the point?”

It’s hard to find people who are in a similar place. I know they’re out there, but it’s more complicated than uncovering a local knitting circle. I throw breadcrumbs into conversation in the pursuit of finding others like me, those who love Jesus but are a bit worn down, who are untangling the faith of their youth, and who are skeptical but hopeful.

Now that I’m looking for friends to come alongside as I navigate more of a wilderness faith, I wish I could have been that for Ron twenty years ago. I’m in an easier place as I currently attend a wonderful, life-giving church. But I’m still wading through a slog of conflicting feelings. I’m trying to let go of the guilt, to open myself up the reality that connecting with God can look a million different ways, and it certainly doesn’t mean I need to be in the same pew every Sunday. If that’s what it looks like for you, I’m sincerely happy for you.

But there needs to be room for more—for more grace, for family bike rides, for the ministry of trees and naps. There needs to be room for those who have been deeply wounded by the church and are making a new thing that works for them. There needs to room for postpartum depression and anger and burnout and seasons away. There needs to be room for Ron.

Mostly, I believe there needs to be room for us to learn from each other, regardless of where we are on the path. Regardless of where Sunday morning finds us.

None of us have arrived.

We might as well walk together until we do.