The weather has warmed, the pandemic restrictions are easing, and basking in the light of my fully vaccinated status, I am again venturing out into the world. It occurred to me at one point during the past year that I felt a little like a caterpillar that had gone into a chrysalis. It was cramped and dark, and I was just hanging by this fine little thread. Changes within as the world raged around me. A forced metamorphosis.
As isolated as I felt at times, I knew I was not the only one tucking in, looking inward, letting some things fall away while other things took root. Who would I be when this was over? Would I burst forth with colorful wings, or will I get knocked off my fragile perch and trampled? Or, worse yet, do I turn out to be an ugly moth?
(Side note: moths are gross. I’m sure they are really important to the ecosystem and all, but in this metaphor, I don’t want to be a moth. The fact there was no one to attend to my upper lip hair during much of quarantine made the moth scenario highly likely.)
Pandemic or no pandemic, change is the one constant. Which really is a kicker for those of us who resist it.
Change was already afoot in our home before the pandemic began. Our kids are tweens and teens now, so nothing stays the same for long. Moods, hairstyles, friends, preferences, interests, fashion trends, plans—all of it is subject to change at a moment’s notice. Some things changed for the better, and some brought pain. And others have brought mixed emotions.
Case in point: An unexpected side effect of the pandemic for our family was that we stopped going to church. I mean, everyone stopped going to church for a little while. But we STOPPED going to church. We tuned into our church’s virtual services for a little while, but that fell off after a few months. I have teenagers who would rather sleep in on a Sunday morning and a husband who is entertaining lots of existential questions.
After a few weeks of yelling at everyone to come sit on the couch for “virtual” church (which is a really good look just before worship), and then watching them out of the corner of my eye as they stared apathetically at the TV, it just seemed a little useless. So I stopped pushing. And the kids slept in. The husband (who is a full-time student right now) did homework.
And I have since alternated between feeling giddy with freedom and brimming with shame.
I have spent my whole life in church in one way or another. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school. When I was a teenager, I eschewed my Catholic upbringing and started attending an evangelical Christian church, which seemed rebellious at the time (I was really bad to the bone as an adolescent!). My education, social life, worldview, and moral development were all either built on or heavily influenced by my Christian faith.
I still feel young, but I’m old enough to remember when stores and malls were closed on Sundays and what a scandal it was among the church-goers when businesses chose to shrug off the restrictions placed on them, capitalism once again coming out on top over religion. Good Christians would get their shopping done on Saturdays and go to church on Sundays. Never mind that we would happily patronize Swiss Chalet or Red Lobster for lunch after Sunday service. (It was fellowship! We were breaking bread!)
I guess many people have a story of their spiritual evolution that maps something like this: Grow up in a religious institution. Internalize the teachings and live them out, truly believing the things you were taught. Notice a loose thread. Pull. Watch as things start to unravel. Or . . . don’t pull, and see that loose thread out of the corner of your eye for years and years until one day, you can’t stop yourself. You simply must pull it.
This beautiful garment I called my faith was one I loved and lived in for decades. I weaved it carefully and thoughtfully. I thought I would pass it down to my children, and they in turn would then pass it down to their children.
But instead, I pulled the thread.
These were the babies I rocked as I sang “Jesus Loves Me” to their droopy eyelids. I have prayed for them and prayed over them. As the years have gone on, the questions about faith have gotten harder, more complicated. Their questions, and mine. And the way I think about God has shifted. There is less certainty and more shades of gray. And for the most part, I have been OK with that. I have discovered a God who is bigger, more inclusive, less judgemental, and less transactional. A God who is as present with me in the daily grind as in the church pew. A God who is more confusing but somehow more comforting. A God who is harder to explain to my kids than with the scripts I learned in Sunday school.
What I want for them is a faith bigger than the one that was handed to me. I want that for myself, too. But how do I teach them when I am still opening to it, still shedding this old skin that no longer fits? Some days I live in fear that, without the influence of the Church, they will grow up with no moral compass and no awareness of the Divine. I will have failed to impart to them these teachings that I was taught will “save their souls.” Other days, I think of what a burden it is to tell my beloved children that they were born broken, sinful, and in need of blood atonement when all I see when I look at them is beauty and perfection. To tell them that their souls even need saving.
I love God. I love my church. I love the Church. But lately, it just feels like we humans got it all wrong. We created this institution that doesn’t fit.
Some of it is on point, but at the end of the day, we are just like the Israelites carrying this ark around in the desert, thinking we have ownership over God’s presence. We continuously fail to see that God isn’t “in” the ark or the Tent of Meeting. He is not in the temple or the church. His Word is not only in the Bible. He just put himself in those places for a while so we could wrap our little heads around it because our minds can’t wrap around the fact that God IS the Word. God IS the desert. God just IS.
I don’t think God is done speaking. I can’t believe that a God as big as the one we profess to believe in would stop speaking divine wisdom after the last word in the book of Revelation. I can’t believe that the last time we would see God Incarnate would be at the birth of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. I can’t believe that the Wisdom of this huge universe that God created could be contained in 66 canonized, imperfectly translated books of the Bible.
How could a God so creative and alive and surprising just be done peeling back the layers of mystery? You think you understand, and then another layer gets pulled back and you see it in a new way. A brilliant plot twist. And you look back at the beginning and you see how the story was leading you there all along.
I am left not knowing what to do next. My family slumbers happily on Sunday mornings while I run, garden, work out, or read on the couch in my pajamas, both savoring my freedom and feeling the intensity of my loss. What if the fine little thread I find myself hanging from isn’t the last thing connecting me to God, but a bridge connecting me to something so much bigger? The caterpillar doesn’t know she will become a butterfly, nor does she know of all the things she will see once she has wings. She doesn’t know how incomplete her view of the world is on the ground, until after she flies up, up, and away.