On Trying

Mike and I didn’t start going to church together until Landon was almost a year old. We went hesitantly. We went because we felt like it was right by Landon– because we wanted him to hear all the lessons about patience and kindness and we wanted him to know the real Christmas story. We went despite all of the things that turned us off to church a long time ago, and figured it couldn’t be that bad if it was in a movie theater with free coffee.

And we kept going. At first, because it was the “right” thing to do, and eventually, because we wanted to. It took me a long time to get there, though.

My family has taken me to church since before I can remember. I learned all the lessons about patience and kindness, and I knew all about the real Christmas story. I sang in the Christmas and Easter plays, and memorized a zillion Bible verses. I went to retreats and church camp and had the t-shirts to show for it. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t get over the pressure to be a “good Christian.”

So much pressure! Raising my hands in worship because a pastor told us to. Wearing all the right things and praying all of the right prayers. All time low? Faking speaking in tongues when I was twelve because a bunch of church leaders prayed over me for what felt like forever and I just wanted them to stop. All of these things were supposed to make me a “good Christian,” but I didn’t feel like one at all. I started resenting any association with it because everything I knew about being a “good Christian” actually seemed pretty awful. I was in high school and my parents got a divorce and our attendance at church was spotty at best and I was relieved.

When I moved out and the choice to go at all was up to me, I didn’t.

I never stopped believing in God, but to say our relationship was strained is an understatement. I spent am still spending a lot of time working out what that relationship is supposed to look like, and I’m finding that there’s no one way it’s “supposed” to look. There’s no one way I’m “supposed” to pray or worship or dig deeper.

I can pray in the car on the way to work in broken up phrases like I’m talking to an old friend, or silently as I’m falling asleep at night. I can worship by listening to iTunes radio while I write lesson plans, or in church on Sunday. I can dig deeper in my own way and try my best to be patient and kind and do right by other humans, because I’m discovering that’s what it all boils down to– trying.

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. [Maya Angelou]

I was hesitant to go back to church because I still felt a need for space and feared the pressure to be something I’m still figuring out. I feared being associated with “the church” because there’s a heaviness that comes with that. A heaviness of expectations not just from others, but from myself I guess.

I don’t know much for sure, but here’s one thing I think is true– being a Christian means a lot of things, but it doesn’t mean you’re perfect. Most of all, I think it means being brave enough to admit that you’re imperfect, but you’re trying. When you know better, you do better, and you allow yourself (and others) plenty of grace in the meantime.

Our church is pretty awesome because I feel like that’s exactly the message I hear every week, and we’ve been going for almost two years. I don’t feel the pressure to do anything in particular except to work hard to love people and to try. And that looks different for all of us, doesn’t it? It evolves. It allows for us to fall short and pick ourselves back up. To do better when we know better.

I’ve been tossing this post around for a while in about a million different versions without ever publishing it. It wasn’t until I read this post and this post by a favorite writer that I felt like I should, because it’s okay to feel all the feelings and say them out loud because they let you know that you are not alone.

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