Yesterday, my husband said one of the nicest things he could possibly say to me. He said, "You know, if you don't want to go to church tomorrow, I understand. It's going to be really crowded and if you want to stay home, that's cool." BINGO! Permission! I find that I'm someone who feels like they need permission for just about everything. Wearing white in the winter? If I can find a fashion expert who's done it, that's my permission. Not enjoying "church" (well, I don't need permission to feel what I feel, but I guess I look for permission to act on it)? I'm thrilled when I read or hear someone confidently speak about their faith AND their issues with "church". So yesterday, I had that much longed for permission NOT to participate in something that I'm not excited about AND kind of feel like a hypocrite attending.
Today is a "big day" at our church. A huge crowd is expected and I couldn't be less enthused. Even this morning as I lay in bed reading, I could feel a twinge of guilt. How could I not be over the moon excited to see "God at work"? How could I not want to be a part of that? What will people think that I'm not there? Lemme just park it here for a minute. That last one is really the biggest deal for me, if I'm being totally and completely honest with myself and everyone else. What will my fellow church members think when they see my husband there and not me? Will they feel bad for him that his wife "not with the program" or not on "fire for God" (how I loathe that phrase)? Will they see me as a potential ministry? Will they question whether or not I really have "got it" in terms of salvation? I wish I were at the point where the opinions of others don't matter to me, but I'm not there. I'm ashamed that I'm not there, but there it is.
But the more I lay in bed and read words of grace by Robert Capon, the more I felt permission. In fact, the more I GAVE myself permission. Permission to just be me. Permission to feel what I feel and not over analyze it or even analyze it at all. Permission to freely admit the truth about me TO myself. Permission to NOT smack on my "church" face and get with the program.
The fact is, I can/could get bitter. I can (and sometimes do) ruminate on my life in fundamentalism and it can really piss me off! And that being pissed off can turn to bitterness. I taste in my present church a flavor that I tasted in fundamentalism. If you've ever tasted the distinct bite of cilantro (an experience that puts senses taste and smell simultaneously) then you'll always recognize when a dish contains it. That's what I sense in my church experience now. It's a flavor of fundamentalism. Unlike cilantro (which I LOVE), it's making me turn up my nose like someone just boiled eggs. It evokes memories of sermons admonishing me to "Do something great for God!!" or "Get on fire for God!" and all the fear and self loathing that came with that. Because, (and I am almost scared to type this), what if it doesn't matter to me to do something great for God? (Did I really just survive typing that? No bolt of lightening?) What if, after so many years of squinting my eyes and bearing down real hard like I'm trying to give birth, I just can't make myself understand what it means to be "on fire for God" or "sold out for Jesus" or "all in". Those phrases make me painfully self aware E-VER-Y minute of the day of what I'm doing or not doing. What I'm feeling or not feeling. Am I being spiritual enough? Should I like watching that show? Should I really be spending my time like this? Would Jesus laugh at that joke? And it just makes me NUTS!
I don't want to get bitter. In fact, I REFUSE to get bitter! And, oddly enough, permission seems to play a part in not heading down Bitter Boulevard. My church doesn't need to change for me. It doesn't need to change to suit me. The pastor doesn't have to alter his message or direction or anything else to placate me. And the flip side to that is that neither do I. A pastor (any pastor) isn't the final say on God's word. And neither am I. And maybe we're both right or maybe we're both wrong. But God will sort that out in His time.
This getting permission FOR me FROM me is a new thing to me. Honestly, I've never really trusted my thoughts. The fear of being wrong seems to plague me. And so I tend to look to the confidence of others. There are so many people that just seem to be certain about so many things, and I (foolishly at times) tend to trust their certainty over my doubts. A trait that has not really served me well. This whole permission thing is uncomfortable for me, but maybe with practice I'll become more comfortable in acting on the things and trusting the things that I hold dear. As my kind husband says, "It's a process...."