Your love is a mystery
How you gently lift me
When I am surrounded,
Your love carries me
Hallelujah, Your love makes me sing!
"Hallelujah" by Brenton Brown & Brian Doerkson
I'm going to start today's post with something I wrote last year when this journey really began...
Written Friday, March 30
Tonight we attended the new members class at the Lake Forest Park Presbyterian Church. We started going to the church every Sunday about three weeks ago and have been enjoying it. I have never had a religious presence in my life in any consistent or significant way. I have never said I believed in God or that I thought that Jesus was the Lord or the savior of all mankind. There have been many times in my life when I was unsure whether I would ever understand religion. I have had friends who were very religious or faithful people, and I looked at them with a little bit of envy and wondered what it would be like to believe in something so fully. Even though I've said that I kept my mind open, and that I was still deciding what I believed, I never truly thought religion or church would ever be a part of my life, let alone one that I might enjoy or that would really mean something to me.
So we decided to go to a new member class because I thought that maybe Justin would want to join and that I would just get a little more acquainted with the church etc. I knew that one of us would have to be a member if we wanted to dedicate Sam, which I think we do want to do. I want to provide Sam with the community and education that the church provides, because I think that way it will be easier for him to decide on his own what he believes when he gets older. Well, it turned out a lot differently than I thought...
When we got there, they gave us each a folder with some papers in it. I was looking through it and came to the sheet that to me signified the reason that I wouldn't be able to become a member of the church. The four questions. The questions they ask you in the Presbyterian church, and the answers you must give:
Who is your Lord and Savior?
Jesus Christ is My Lord and Savior
Do you trust in Him?
Do you intend to be his disciple, to obey his word and to show his love?
Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, giving of yourself in every way, and will you seek the fellowship of the church wherever you may be?
We all introduced ourselves then went through a few exercises. We talked about what was the source of 'warmth' in our lives when we were kids, and most people's answers revolved around their families or mothers. My answer was my mom for sure. She was always there for us and provided us with everything we needed throughout the years. Then we moved to the question of when in your life did God become real to you instead of just being a concept? This was an amazing conversation that involved tears from several people, myself included. Listening to one of the group members talk about feeling like he wasn't alone and not worrying during his wife's c-section, and hearing another group member talk about praying for her daughter in the hospital when her daughter almost died and knowing that her daughter was going to be okay and make it. A few people said that they didn't think they'd really had a moment like that, one person said she felt she'd had prayers answered. I spoke up and said that the closest thing I thought I'd felt was feeling an intense love for my family and that one moment in particular I could think of was when I was pregnant with Sam and had a moment of absolute peace when I thought of the miracle that Sam was for me, thinking I would never be pregnant and then it actually happening and how I couldn't believe it.
It was very emotional in the room, but in a good way. It's wonderful to be in an environment where you feel completely comfortable and that it's okay to be open and to share, and I did feel that way. Then we moved on to the purple paper... We started with the first question - Who is your Lord and Savior? Mike asked us what it meant for Jesus to be your Savior? What is he saving us from? There were various answers. Jesus saves us from death. Jesus saves us from suffering for our sins. Etc. Justin said Jesus saves us from ourselves and from only thinking of ourselves, helping us remember to do things for others and for God. And something started in me... we started to move on to the Lord part, but in the meantime I wrote this down in my notebook: "[What it means if] Jesus is our Savior - Jesus saves us from each other and from pain. By following the things he taught, we save each other through generosity, love, kindness and charity. Jesus' example was love - he loved everyone enough to be crucified, beaten and persecuted because he thought it would make things better for us. If we all loved one another as much as Jesus loved us we could eliminate all pain and suffering. When we love each other we save ourselves." The funny thing is, it's not something someone told me. It's not me spouting off someone else's ideas. It's just my interpretation of what it means for Jesus to be your Savior. I didn't even know I had an opinion about that. Then we moved on to the part about the Lord. Mike asked, what does it mean for Jesus to be your Lord? Well, what is a Lord? Again, people had a few answers, but it's pretty straight forward. The Lord is the boss. What he says goes. I wrote down - "The Lord is our leader. Live by his example always. If you make a mistake it's okay because you will be forgiven as long as you keep trying."
We moved on then to the second question - Do you trust in him? What does it mean to trust in Jesus? I wrote down "Trust Jesus - Trust that it will be okay. Trust that if you are good, you will be rewarded with love and goodness returned to you. Trust that you are on a path and that you make life what you make it. Trust that the things he said made sense and that we have the strength to carry it out." Other people said things like, trust that he has a plan for you. Trust that even when you don't know why, things are happening for a reason. Now, I've always thought the idea that someone has a plan for me is a little ridiculous. But what if that's not what it means? What if it means that Jesus had a plan for everyone, and that plan was for us to be good people, to help people, to love one another, and that by doing that we would be fulfilling his plan? What if it means that he knew the best way to live and that will lead us to the futures we deserve?
The third question - Do you intend to be his disciple, to obey his word and to show his love? Well, that's an easy one. A disciple is like a student. By answering positively to this question, you agree to learn his word, obey it, and to follow his teachings, love one another, show charity to your fellow man. Whether you are a religious person or not I think that if you break it down the golden rule is something that really everyone should follow, no matter what they believe.
The fourth question - Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, giving of yourself in every way, and will you seek the fellowship of the church wherever yo may be? What do you agree to by answering that you will do these things? You agree to be a committed member of the community that is the church. Participate and support your fellow church members. Know that the church will be there for you no matter where you go, that you will always have a place when you are feeling lost and need comfort. Know that you can provide comfort in that way for other people as well.
Those are the base questions you must answer to become a member of the Lake Forest Park Presbyterian Church. And I can honestly say that I might be able to answer them the same way that other people who are members do. My interpretation isn't necessarily exactly the same. Even before tonight, I thought that if I said those words above, that I would just be totally lying. But now I'm not so sure.
I've never thought about any of this in this way before. I never GOT IT. I always thought that religion was something very strict and stiff. I thought that in order to be religious I would have to conform to someone else's ideas of what God is or who Jesus was, or what exactly it means to BELIEVE and to have faith. I didn't get it. Having faith doesn't have to mean that you agree to what someone else thinks exactly. You can have different ideas about the details of what God is or what it means to believe in Jesus and God. The bottom line is still the same! Not everyone has the same exact view, and that's okay. So, I don't believe that God is a dude sitting up in the sky telling us what to do and where to go. Maybe I believe that God is love. God is the love and compassion that lives within people, it's the positive spirit that is available to everyone if they choose to tap into it. God is what makes us love each other, care for each other, want to help each other and give everything for each other. God makes a mother love her baby. God helps us see how to work it out when we have problems with friends and family. God is the spirit of love. I know I might sound like a giant hippie here, but I never got it. I didn't realize that in a church full of 100 people, there could be 100 different ideas and beliefs and that is okay, because it leads to the same place. Loving one another. Doing good in the world. Helping people. I suddenly realize that I CAN have faith. I CAN believe. I CAN belong in a community, in a Church. My interpretations are just as good as anyone else's. I actually have interpretations! What?? I might believe in God. I didn't realize there were different ways to believe in God. I didn't realize that I might be able to do it... that mabye I have actually believed in God for longer than I realized. By the way, I could just go on writing about this... but I would just be repeating myself.
I am freaked out. Not in a bad way. I just can't believe that I never saw this before. I can't believe that I went to church and something clicked. I don't know what to think. I can't believe that it could be that I actually might find religion in my own way. I didn't know it was possible. In the car on the way home, I talked to Justin about what I'd written down and what I was thinking about. I felt emotional, charged and overflowing with a weird kind of wonder at all the thoughts in my head. I talked to Violet after I got home. I wanted to call her even though it was late because we've had so many conversations about faith and because I know how happy she was when we decided to start going to her church. I told her that I had a moment at the group, and told her about what I'd written and what I'd been thinking about. This is when I came to the above realization that I hadn't gotten it before, and tears were streaming down my face. And I could feel how happy she was for me. I don't even know what is happening to me. It's all very new. I don't even know what it means. I told her that I felt freaked out and didn't know what I was even thinking. She told me she remembers feeling that way too.
Well, it's almost one in the morning now and we have to get up and be at the church at 9:00 for the 2nd part of the class tomorrow morning, and then at the end, the church elders are going to be there to help anyone become a member who wants to do it. And I am thinking about it....
That night was one of the most amazing nights of my life, and always will be. I still get tears in my eyes when I think about it. It was literally an awakening to something I never thought I would see. Ever. Suddenly, I felt this great love in the world and I had access to it. It truly was awesome, it was empowering, it was glorious.
to be continued next Thursday...
- Find the next post in the series here: 'Holy Crap, I Believe!'
- Find links to all posts in the series here.