Leaving The Cave

CaveI haven’t been to church in over a year. I tried to go back this past week… but I didn’t make it.

Now, before we get too far let me explain. I’m not anti-church. Granted, I could care less for the hype, fluff, and celebrity worship that passes for modern Christianity. But I’m really not anti-church. Really. The Church is His bride. Neither did I go off on some prodigal misadventure. I didn’t waste money on either wine and women. I don’t drink and I love my wife. Part of it had to do with my schedule. I’ve been busy with both work and school. Most Sundays found me doing one or the other. But that wasn’t the reason for my fellowship flight.

Bottom line? I had issues with God. Let me explain. I spent 2 decades of my life fully engaged in professional ministry. Spent most of it on the mission field. Spent a decade of it in the ghettos of Miami. Get the picture? I worked. I sacrificed. I sweat. I bled. I cried. And I near about died. Somewhere along the way my son was diagnosed with autism. Then my wife was diagnosed with cancer. And finally, no doctor could diagnose what was wrong with me. I was okay with it all for a while. I smiled. I talked the talk. I kept playing the game. But it finally wore thin. This was the reward for all I had done for him? In a moment of anger I told God that I was done with Him. I wasn’t going to curse His name. I wasn’t denying the faith. I still believed. I was still grateful for the gift of grace. But all that had gone before was now water under the bridge in my mind. On that day I turned in my helmet and jersey, picked up the ball, and walked away.

I know. To some of you it sounds ludicrous, maybe even blasphemous (spare me those emails… you’re one of the reasons I don’t miss church that much). Some of you might understand (I’m sorry for your own hurt). Maybe this will help explain it. For 20 years I sat across the desk from broken, hurting, and lost people. I listened to their tales of tragedy, loss, and despair. I felt their pain. I cried with them. I prayed for them. I did my best to help them. But I never really understood what they were feeling because I had never personally experienced any of it. For the vast majority of my life God had kept me isolated and insulated from the disappointments that shadow this life. I was shielded. I had been kept safe in the refuge of safety. Maybe that’s why I took it so hard, so personally went life finally caught up with me. In my heart I just always thought I was different, that I somehow deserved more and better. Boy, was I mistaken…

And so, when the storms of life finally came to my front porch I shut down and started shutting myself off from others. Just couldn’t do the “church” thing anymore. Couldn’t dress up (not that I ever really did). Couldn’t fake worship. Couldn’t fake passion. Most of all I couldn’t face the inevitable and equally hollow Sunday morning question of choice… “How are you, brother?” The problem for me was that I couldn’t lie about what I was really feeling and I didn’t want to talk about it either (I still don’t but the time has come…) For me it was (and still is) a lot like Jacob and the angel. I was wrestling with God and the answers I needed were going to have to come straight from Him. I felt betrayed. I felt abandoned. I felt like God at least owed me an explanation, an answer to the all the “whys” I had uttered and all the “prayers” that had remained unanswered. I locked myself away from people and in with God. And the weeks became months and the months became a year…

That brings me to now. I don’t have many answers. I haven’t had my Job moment of divine encounter. God speaks to me often (He has for the past year) but He remains silent on any of that stuff. He just keeps telling me, “Trust Me.” For now, I’m still hurting. I’m still angry. I’m still struggling to reconcile 20 years of “faith” with the realities of living in a fallen world. But the ice is finally starting to thaw. The snow is starting to melt. And it seems like the winter of my soul might finally be lifting. I finally realized that when you reach the back of the cave the only way out is to turn around. And so, I tried to go to church last week…

I’m making plans to try again this Sunday morning. Not because it’s Mother’s Day (my parents don’t go to church). Not because I feel guilty (I don’t). Not because anyone is pressuring me. I’m going because I want to… maybe for the first time in 2 decades (funny how ministry can make you hate going to church). See, even though I was intent on walking away from God, He refused to let me walk away. That Joker kept pursuing me. Endlessly. Unceasingly. Relentlessly. Lovingly. And even though I was as angry as a hornet, I never once felt anger coming from Him. For 18 months He just kept telling me, “Trust Me. I have plans for you. This is not the end.”

So, I haven’t been to church in a year. This Sunday I’m going back…