Read He Loves Me Part 1 as the first part of this story.
My bolt of lightning
A few weeks later, I happened to be shopping at Wal-Mart and stopped in the book aisle. Most of the books at Wal-Mart aren’t ones I care to read, but that aisle usually has a Christian/inspirational section. I had found other interesting books in that section, so I stopped by the aisle every few months to see if there were any new books on display.
This time, a title caught my eye and my attention: So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. Hmm. That sounded like me. With my constant restlessness and now learning so much about Jesus in the Gospels, going to “church” was harder than ever. I picked it up and skim-read most of it for two hours while standing in the aisle leaning against my shopping cart. What I read shocked and startled me. According to everything I had been taught about “church” and Christianity, it was practically heresy.
But, it also had me jumping up and down inside saying, “Yes! This is exactly how I’m feeling. This is exactly what I am experiencing. This fits exactly with all I am learning in the Gospels. Someone has finally put my unrest and discomfort into words!” But did I dare? Was it actually true? As a Mennonite, I had heard so many cautions about reading books written by Christians outside of our denomination. Supposedly, only the Mennonites interpreted the Bible correctly. Other teachings would “deceive” us. I debated a little and finally placed the book in my shopping cart. I finished my shopping at Wal-Mart, mulling over what I had read. Still unsure, I went back to the book aisle and placed the book back on the shelf. I paid for my purchases and went home.
But, I didn’t forget. Over the next few weeks, as I continued my study of the Gospels, I thought about what I had read in that book. Finally, I went back to Wal-Mart and purchased it. After all, hadn’t I also been taught that the Bible is the standard of truth? We should compare everything we read or learn with the truth as the Bible presents it. The Bereans studied to see “whether those things were so.” Isn’t that what I was doing? If the book So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore matched what I was reading in the Gospels, then it wasn’t heresy.
I started reading the book in tandem with my study of the Gospels. Each chapter brought more illumination and confirmation. Each chapter put into words the hunger I had lived with for so long but could barely explain. I had reached Chapter 3 in the book when lightning struck. I can still picture myself that morning, wrapped comfortably in an afghan on my pink chair, my feet propped on a chartreuse green footstool, the heater cozily blowing heat my direction. It was just God and I that morning, talking to each other. A sentence in Chapter 3 was this: “There’s not one thing you can do to make Him love you anymore today, and there’s not one thing you can do to make Him love you any less, either. He just loves you.”
I sat stunned, as the meaning sank in. God. Loves. Me. Like. That. Even if I stumble into my addiction five days in a row, He still loves me. If I have victory five days in a row, His love doesn’t change. You see, up until that moment, I was living in performance mode: “Do right, and God will bless you and love you. Do wrong, and He is displeased with you.” Ever since I first gave my heart to God when I was 11, I was trying to earn His love. I was trying to be good enough to earn His approval.
Now, I found out, it doesn’t matter. I was trying to get something I had had all along. I already have His love. I already have His approval. Does it mean He doesn’t hurt when He sees me struggle with sin and addictions? Does it mean He doesn’t want to heal me so I can live His life for me? No. But it does mean that God doesn’t change. I can live loved, sure that God will never cast me out or desert me. Life in Him is about living out of that love and identity. It’s not about earning favor. I already have His favor. All of it. I already have His love. All of it. It’s that love—and living in the security of that love—that will change me, not me desperately trying to “do things for God.”
The journey since
That was the beginning of a journey that has never ceased to amaze me. Learning the truth about God’s love for me didn’t instantly stop my addictions and my many other struggles. It would take another five years at least for me to understand what drove my addictions and why. However, in that moment, I lost my fear. I lost my fear of God deserting me. I lost my fear of God giving up on me because I wasn’t good enough. I lost my fear of messing up life so badly that God couldn’t redeem it.
Over the next years, I moved from fear into trust. I trusted that God knew all about me and would help me. I trusted that He wanted to change me and would change me. I stopped the frantic trying to be “good enough” and trusted Him to do His work in me. I struggled with remaining in the conservative Mennonite circles, but stayed, trusting He would show me where He wanted me in His time. God became my intimate friend, the One to whom I could talk freely about anything. Now, God was in my struggle with me, redeeming me and changing me. I learned to live loved.
If you are struggling, desperately trying to “be good enough,” stop. You don’t have to earn God’s approval. If you are God’s child, you are “good enough” simply because Jesus’ blood has washed you clean and made you righteous. He smiles on you and loves you, no matter what. He aches and grieves with you at your sin and struggle and longs to change you from the inside out. Tell Him all about it. Tell Him you want to change but don’t know how. Ask Him to change you. Ask Him to show you how to live loved. He will answer because that is the kind of God He is.
P.S. #1 You may notice that I am careful how I use the word “church” in these two articles. I no longer call the Sunday morning service a “church” service because it perpetuates the idea that church is something we go to rather than something we are. For a slightly longer explanation, read the postscript from this post. Sometime, I hope to write some articles that talk more directly about the church. For now, you can read the short version.
P.S. #2 I hope and pray that I did not come across as “Mennonite bashing” in these posts. That is the last thing I want! I no longer identify specifically as Mennonite, preferring to introduce myself as a Christian or a follower of Jesus. However, I still believe and practice the basic tenets of the Mennonite denomination, as I believe they are Scriptural: no divorce and remarriage, nonresistance, the head covering, and modest dress. Too often, identifying as Mennonite reduced conversations to “my culture” rather than the fact that a relationship with the God of the universe is the best life ever.
The conservative conferences of the Mennonite denomination were not God’s place for me, but they are for many people. There are many blessings there as well as many failures, just like anywhere else. Unfortunately, I largely experienced the negative side. That is not the case for everyone. The majority of those I know well in that setting are sincere believers walking with God as best they understand Him. Most of my friends are conservative Mennonites, and we love each other dearly.
P.S. #3 The book So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore was written by Wayne Jacobsen. He has written other books as well, books that have been pivotal in my journey with God and my understanding of His church. If I could, I would give a copy to every Christian I know! I recommend them to my friends and rejoice when the books bring clarity to their lives too.
I like So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, Finding Church, and He Loves Me the best. Though Wayne’s name as an author is not on the cover, he was also involved in writing The Shack. The author of that book is William Paul Young; the book has been since been made into a movie. Both present life-changing truth, a revelation of God, and a discussion of good and evil that changed me. Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings also do a podcast, the “God Journey.” Each week, they talk about living out God relationally in this world. Sometimes I wonder where I’d be if God hadn’t led me to pick up So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore. I might have stayed in the trap of religious performance a lot longer.
Wayne Jacobsen has a website https://www.lifestream.org. There you can access the podcast, the blog, his travel schedule, and the books he has written. His books are available on Amazon as well. His podcasts are also available in the iTunes store for iPhone and iPad.
He Loves Me Part 1