Once again, it’s time for a sneak peak at my soon-to-be-published book, Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian. If you’ve missed either of my other excerpts, check out my posts on shame in high school and feeling alone at church.
Today’s excerpt takes me back to 2011 in southern California as I struggled to find a church community in the wake of a pivotal youth missions camp in Milwaukee. This special ROCKHARBOR journey would ultimately lead to baptisms and church testimonies and vulnerable life groups, oh my.
Struggle is so dark and messy. But as always . . .
There is always redemption.
Sometimes you enter a new situation or encounter an unknown person, and you know something about him or her or it. Something deep and true and altogether mysterious. Call it intuition – woman’s, twin’s, or otherwise – call it “love at first sight” or the Holy Spirit or whatever you desire.
The first time I entered ROCKHARBOR’s church doors, I sensed something. Felt myself physically emotionally spiritually stepping into somewhere special. Immersing myself into something innately unlike anything, anywhere of the last quarter-century. A place of passionate worship, an authentic young pastor, and wonderful people. Goodness, the people.
Those people saved me from potentially giving up on church forever.
I knew after one service that I was home. Just knew. Knew that this particular church was indeed my spiritual oasis after crawling crooked, bloody ditches from church to church in unrelenting Saharan heat. Those Sunday night services fueled me with life unparalleled, and several weeks removed from my first church visit, I swallowed many pressure-packed gulps and drove to a “life group launch” that would introduce newcomers to small groups in the church.
And so I went diving for community, yet again.
We met in a small room – a couple dozen newbies united in our desire for integration and connection. Purpose and belonging beyond Sunday’s tedious church walls.
An associate pastor introduced himself. Introduced all the life group leaders who, in turn, introduced themselves, described their small groups: what days they met, their approximate age range, marital statuses, and so on. My heart was motoring with every introduction, but I felt encouraged. This was nice; this was good. We were actually getting options. Different small groups for different ages and life stages. A chance to slowly feel our way into this scary new –
Without warning, we were told to find our new leaders and flock to them.
As everyone rose and started criss-crossing the room, I stood from my seat and almost bolted for the doors. Just ran from the room. Couldn’t stomach the perpetual expectation that I should be social – be normal – like the rest of humanity, the rest of Christianity, and so naturally “find” my new small group. My people. My church people.
But I wasn’t normal; I wasn’t capable of such a simple task.
How should I know where to go? Where to belong? For over two dozen years and at least as many churches, I didn’t belong. Not with the youth group, not with the college group, not with the “young professionals” group, not with any “post-college” group, and certainly not with an entire congregation. Not with any group of Christians but my tiny ministry team from the prior summer.
Standing in that church’s room full of normal social Christians, all I wanted to do was go back. Back to the Midwest, back to Milwaukee – back to that overflowing well of redemption which had since run dry. Like a sloppily bearded Jack Shephard from LOST, I only yearned to go “baaack” to my mystical plane-wrecked “Island” of Milwaukee and never again leave.
I eyed the church doors long and hard, but I didn’t walk out. Instead, I trudged across the room and stumbled into a circle of people I didn’t know as I listened to the leader again describe his group: a bit older and mostly married, sophisticated with wine-drinking rituals, and basically not at all what I was looking for in a small group.
Familiar hopelessness flooded my veins all over again as I resigned myself to never belonging in the Church. Never finding such regular, life-infusing community again. That my three months in a Milwaukee Eden truly had been it.
Sitting in a circle full of Christians I didn’t know, I started emotionally detaching from this life group launch, counting down the moments when I could slip away and finally give up on community forever.
Just then, another group leader arrived late to the scene. A young guy my age with blonde hair and a mellow surfer boy’s vibe about him. He introduced himself to the room, and I noticed a few people bailing on their experimental groups and gravitating toward him. I followed. Listened to him describe his unique group behind a row of heads. Felt something tug at my heart.
Intuition. Or the Holy Spirit. One of those.
I checked out his life group later that week.
My first book, Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian, hits email inboxes this Wednesday! Join my newsletter for your own free copy before it hits online retailers later this month! For more info on Struggle Central, check out my book page or the video trailer below: