My life feels busy—sometimes crazy busy. While homeschooling five kids who are in various activities, it feels like a lot of juggling to make it all work. And although I aspire to have a clean and organized home, the reality is that I am so not there. I can even feel the chaos creeping in—a few more dirty dishes in the sink, a few more books piled on the counter, a few more puzzle pieces left out. Then, if I’m not careful, it’s full on crazy-town house, where there is crusted play dough on the carpet, piles of dirty clothes, and don’t even ask about the kitchen. What happened? Why is it so chaotic? Because kids? Because I’m a bad house keeper? Because my hubby doesn’t pick up the slack?
It’s not really any of that. It’s that my surroundings begin to dictate my feelings, and I have let the chaos in. It enters through my perception of my circumstances. Because the truth really is that even if I had a perfect system and was on top of my schedule and my house was perfectly clean and my kids were actually tiny self-cleaning robots, these things would not guarantee my sanity—and I would not automatically have peace. Because there would always be something else. Because the enemy doesn’t play fair, and even if I had the best hand, he’d throw in the ace he’s hidden up his sleeve. He cheats by whispering: You aren’t good enough. You haven’t cleaned up enough. You are failing miserably, and it is your fault. And nothing could be further from the truth.
Because it’s not an equation. Because a clean house doesn’t equal success whereas a messy house equals failure. Because there are seven of us and we are all still learning how to live together. Because we all need grace Every. Single. Day. Grace says, I refuse to judge you for your sticky floor because I see your heart and know that making pancakes with your toddler says love so much more than a freshly mopped floor. Grace says, yes the space is cluttered but let’s work on this together as a team—without blaming or casting judgment on the sloppiest child (who also may be the most creative). Grace says, in the midst of the chaos—the whirling storm of judgment beating down on your soul—choose peace.
In the gospels, there is an account of Jesus calming a literal storm. Jesus was with his disciples late one night on a boat, and a “furious” storm broke out, where waves were actually crashing into the boat. The storm was so terrible that the disciples thought they were going to die. And in the middle of this awful storm, Jesus was sound asleep. He was at complete peace in the middle of complete chaos. The chaos was around but it was not within. “The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” (Mark 4:38-39)
I am reminded of Jesus on that boat when I think about my daily struggles. When I choose to reject those critical voices within, the storm calms and there is peace. Because there will be seasons that things don’t look perfect on the outside. There will be sticky counters and messy projects and piles of laundry. And so the storms will rage. But looking past the outward, going deep within—that is the place to find rest. And this is a reminder to me, to choose peace in the middle of my mess.
Have you ever picked up a book that so clearly articulated the stirrings of your heart? Well, Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass has been that book for me. In this book, Diana Butler Bass, a scholar of American culture and religion, argues that Christianity in the United States is experiencing a new spiritual awakening (p. 5). Unfortunately for some, this awakening feels more like destruction. There has been a slow emptying of the pews and churches we so tirelessly erected.
Religious vs. Spiritual
Due to the changes the church is experiencing there has been a proliferation of studies conducted by Barna Group, Pew Research, and other research forums that have studied the religious climate of the United States. These studies include: why millennials are leaving the church, the rise of the “nons” and why the “churched” and “unchurched” alike find themselves skeptical of organized religion etc.. While these studies show there has been a decline in “religiosity” among American citizens, they also reveal that those who no longer consider themselves “religious” are not without faith, spirituality or morality. Rather they are seeking God, purpose, community and meaning beyond the church walls.
Cafeteria Style Faith
Church leaders may be leery of this phenomenon for various reasons. Some may view it as encouraging a “cafeteria style” faith, while others see the harsh reality that it is bad for business. Bass states, “Beginning around 1890, denominations built massive bureaucratic structures, modeling themselves after American businesses, complete with corporate headquarters, program divisions, professional development and marketing departments, franchises (parish churches), training centers, and career tracks. Other than the fact that denominations offered religion as the product, they differed little from other corporations dominating America in the last century” (p. 72). This move to a more business model of church leaves church leaders asking the question: if “faith consumers” are finding ways to engage, express, and live their faith outside of the bureaucratic structures some churches have transformed into, how can the church survive?
Resuscitation or Resurrection
I think, Diana Bass’ assessment that maybe what we are perceiving as religious decline or “church flight” is the beginning of a new spiritual awakening, offers us as the body of Christ the opportunity to decide if we want to continue to resuscitate that which is no longer life-giving or sustaining in our faith communities or if we want to really experience a Resurrection. The only way Resurrection can occur though is if something dies. Maybe instead of trying to revive these bureaucratic structures with new programs, we let it die. We let the old structures and the present ways of “doing church” that get in the way of us “being the church”, fall to the ground. “For unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
Now, please don’t get me wrong as one who grew up in the church and is now a minister, I recognize that there are a lot of ways that local congregations have been life-giving. But, I also recognize the ways in which we have strayed from the basic principle of our faith: to love God, to love ourselves and our neighbors. As one who takes the calling to serve all of God’s creation seriously, I want to continue to find ways to be a part of and foster spaces where this basic principle is lived out in the most ordinary and extraordinary ways. I want to meet people right where they are at and love them. With all the changes that are occurring in the body of Christ and the world at large, I believe the Spirit is ushering in something new…the question is can we perceive it?