I’ve been on a journey to find Jesus my entire life. My travels have taken me to many strange and
wonderful buildings. I looked for Him in the Church of the Big Holy, but I slipped trying to climb the hierarchy. Once I got inside there was too much echo, too much empty space. And I always needed a sweater.
Next I went to the Screaming Church of the Yelling down the road. But again, I stumbled - this time over my sin, which was blocking the door, first preventing me from going in, and then preventing me from leaving again. At the Small Sad Church, I stubbed my toe when I burst into a verse of
before I knew they didn’t use music in service. (They said to do what the Spirit moved me to do and the Spirit said, “Sing!” You’d think the Spirit would know the rules, after all.)
I wandered to the fringes, exploring religions and philosophies that called God “Universe,” that measured my faith by the size of my accomplishments or the number of illnesses I experienced. I took a course in miracles, explored the science of my mind, and had someone tell me a secret. Eventually I traveled to other lands, learning about many exotic isms. I studied Yoga. Then I circled back around to the Church of the Big Holy thinking I must have missed something but someone tripped me and said that I should try the Church of the Not-Quite-As-Holy. But that was like exchanging vanilla bean ice cream for vanilla and I didn’t see the point. By then I had fallen so many times I was bruised and broken. Limping.
Being at those churches didn't feel much different than being at home, but instead of people I knew, the place was filled with strangers. And it’s really uncomfortable to have strangers walking around in your house. Like going into the kitchen and finding some random guy rifling through the fridge, wanting to know if you have any brown mustard.
That’s probably the way Jesus felt when I wandered in for Sunday service - like some random woman looting the fridge, trying to satisfy her appetite for belonging, trying to learn which peg needed to go in what hole to make my life fall into place. The mental list of what, exactly, I was looking for in a church included: doctrine I could live with; a community of people I felt comfortable around; songs I knew; and a constitution that fit my personal worldview and sense of morality. I wanted to get what I needed - the information to solve the problems in my life I thought could be solved, the comfort to endure the ones I did not, the Heaven points redeemable to escape suffering in the afterlife, and someplace to go on Christmas and Easter.
I told myself I was looking for Jesus, but as it turns out, I was looking for myself, for the Church of Me.
In a moment of extravagant grace, I realized that it was Me that had gotten me into all the messes in my life. It was Me who had made the bad choices that led to seemingly unsolvable problems, it was Me who feared suffering in the afterlife, it was Me who thought that church was a building to go to on Christmas and Easter.
Church, as it turns out, is not for me.
So I began again. And this time I had one criteria. The one that Jesus Himself provided: Love. When I put my focus on loving others, it suddenly didn’t matter if I could accept every single teaching; it was enough to accept that I didn’t have to know or understand everything. Love filled in the gaps and solved the mystery. It no longer mattered if the other people in church were like me - in fact, I began to see that the more different they were, the greater my opportunity to practice love. And it didn’t matter if I didn’t know any of the songs. I started to sing new ones, discovering fresh ways to express my sorrow, my joy, my hope, my love.
I don’t know what your spiritual journey has been like, or if you even know you are on one, but if you’ve ever tried to find the peace and love of God by visiting a church only to trip and fall, you know what it’s like. Maybe they didn’t welcome you, or they welcomed you too profusely (nobody’s THAT nice... must be something wrong there...). Maybe you felt out of place because you didn’t understand the customs, or you didn’t know the songs, or you said “trespasses” when everyone else said “debts” and now you’re too embarrassed to go back. Maybe the congregation was too old, too young, too weird. Maybe none of them were white; many too many of them were.
Consider that you are looking for the wrong things, in the wrong place. The church doesn't contain Jesus; Jesus contains the church. Stop searching, stop hopping around. You are the church. We are the church. And we step into the vestibule whenever we practice love with the people who are all around us every day. We do that by making allowances for one anothers' faults, having compassion for one anothers' sorrows, and lending a hand to ease each others' burdens. When we do that, we become Jesus followers.
And when you follow Jesus, you will discover other Jesus followers, and you will probably want to hang out with them, sometimes even on Sunday morning. And it will be just right.
Let Love lead you home.
Julie is the co-author of the triple-decker novel "