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When Losing is Gaining

The date is June 2021. Like the rest of the world, my past year has been filled with uncertainty, bread making, gardening, and of course, toilet paper hoarding (I can admit it now...it was me!).  I find it really important these days to remind myself what day or even what year it is.  Even as we are finding ourselves returning back to what feels like normal, there is a sense of unfamiliarity to it.  

The awkward pauses when we see old friends because we are not sure if a hug is appropriate, but a wave doesn’t seem like enough.  How about an elbow bump? As I think about celebrating birthdays on my patio, and whether or not we will be blowing out candles I feel the familiar slip further and further away.  

Gathering in sacred spaces is different and standing in auditoriums without singing the words to the songs that I have belted out before makes my heart feel anxious.  If I'm being honest, these new spaces leave me feeling like something is missing.  As we round the corner to the end of this pandemic, I know we can look forward to those familiar things returning back to us.  But the question that rises in my heart is: "how do I find God in this space right here and right now?  In the longing, in the waiting, in the anticipating?"

Friends, I must say there is something about the crucible of isolation that causes one to reevaluate, well EVERYTHING!  I'm not sure if it's because I have the time to sit and be quiet, or if my exterior world and interior world are colliding, but during this time not only has my physical health been challenged but also my spiritual health.  

Like so many other people the COVID 19 virus made its way through our home and, well, momma was hit the hardest.  At the time we were just learning what the virus looked like and so the doctors told me I had "walking pneumonia."  In a later appointment my doctor confirmed my suspicion when he said; "My dear, that was COVID", and we laughed because it was in the past and I was fine, or at least we thought I was.  

Over the past few months as the lingering effects of the virus have been identified we are realizing that some are longer lasting than others. The future recovery process is not really known, but as I move forward I am noticing the brain fog (a real thing) and excessive tiredness are slowly diminishing and breathing has become a little less laborious.  

But these aren't the only lasting effects I am experiencing. The 'me' on the inside has also changed during this time.  The pressure cooker of isolation has caused me to call into question the very foundations of my faith.  The simplicity of duality that my younger, naive self has always clung to has been challenged...no, let's be honest it was taken to the back alley and it got its butt kicked!  It felt like I was losing my faith.

At first, I tried to resist the unsettling arguments that were rising to the surface of my heart. Kind of like when you see a cat cleaning itself in the corner of the room.  You know it needs to be done, but you don't need to see it.  So we leave the cat to finish in private or you tell the cat to leave, poor cat!  Eventually, I realized that I had to come face to face with these questions, and friends I have to say, this was awkward.

I have been a Christian my whole adult life and most of my childhood. So when I began to question the truths that I have always believed, it was my natural reaction to close my hands into a fist and hold on tightly.  I thought that this had to be some sort of test, and I was determined to pass it with flying colors.  To me, holding onto what I believed to be true was how I was going to pass that test.

As a follower of Christ, I knew that my faith wasn't works-based, which means there is nothing I can do to earn the love of God.  But, if I'm being candid, I couldn't help but feel as if the Lord was angry with me, and I needed to prove myself to him again.  Friends, I cannot stress how far this is from the truth, but this is how I felt.  And so, with the tenacity of a pit bull, I held on.

Holding on proved to be more challenging than I could endure, and with much reluctance, I began to inspect the questions floating around in my heart. My whole life I had thought that questioning God on certain things was wrong, almost sacrilege; but I learned not only is it okay to question God, but Scripture encourages us to do so.  In the new testament in the gospel of Matthew Jesus says this to the disciples:
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
Mathew 7:7-8 NIV
As we begin to unpack this verse we see that Jesus encouraged a culture of questioning and curiosity.

By this time in his life, Jesus had developed a practice of drawing back before or after times of ministry.  This scripture is another example of him doing just that.  What I find interesting about this passage is that Jesus' words to his closest followers are counter-cultural and very controversial.  At this point in the history of the church (or "in the history of the people of God" as the "church" was not formed until after Jesus' resurrection), Mosaic Law was followed.  In this sermon, Jesus pushed back against the culture and the law and encouraged his followers to question everything!  He called into question the laws of man and religion, and inspired them to live according to the law of grace and to extend that grace to others and themselves.

Another key point that we can take away from this Scripture is that Jesus did this in community WITH his disciples which again is counter-cultural. The truth is, it is my instinct to pull back during these times of questioning.  I isolate myself, telling myself that it's not okay to wrestle with my faith in open spaces. My reasoning for isolation is that I don't want to cause anyone else to stumble.  My thought has been, "let me clean this up, make it pretty, and then I can instruct the people around me on how I was able to get to the other side."  

However, the reality of it friends is this, people NEED to see the struggle.   If people only see the end result, how are we discipling others to navigate through?  Again, I am still learning this, and it is not easy or natural for me to struggle with others, but in the upside-down kingdom of God, it is the right way to do it.  

As I leaned into this process of losing, I realized I wasn't losing at all, I was gaining.  I began to open up the fists that clenched so tightly, to what I believed was true.  The more my hands opened the more I realized that I wasn't holding onto truth at all, I was holding onto ideals. These ideals had nothing to do with actual truth, but they have been the lenses of family, of culture, and of my personal religious affiliation that colored my view of everything.  As I let go of these false truths, the things that are actually true have become more and more clear.  

Frankly, I still have questions rising to the surface of my heart. To be really honest it is still awkward, but as followers of Christ, navigating our faith walk isn't supposed to be pretty, it's not supposed to be perfect and orderly.  When we look at the lives of the disciples we see that Jesus took 12 misfits and used them to turn the whole world upside-down.  Today, he still uses the broken, the weak, and yes even the awkward to do extraordinary things in an ordinary world.  The invitation is still there as Jesus calls us to walk in the deep places with him, my prayer is that we would respond to that invitation with humility and grace.
 
In next week's blog, we are going to talk about the practical ways I navigated this season in my life.   It's not going to be "10 steps" to answering all your questions about God, but I will go into the particulars of how I sought out trusted spaces of community and wise counsel to help me navigate the process of questioning.  

2 Comments


Regina Irwin - June 22nd, 2021 at 9:38am

Beautiful and Authentic..thank you for baring your heart and inviting us into your process

Diane M - June 22nd, 2021 at 7:30pm

Ursala, I hear your voice as I read this. You’ve always been that authentic, no-bs (can I say that🤔???) ) kind of girl to me. Your openness will encourage those who have been or are still struggling to know they’re not alone. The truth is, more people are moved & even encouraged through our brokenness than the façade of perfection. We cannot relate to “perfection” but we can relate to brokenness and we find consolation and courage to step out in the company of others when we’re open & honest. The body of Christ! Thank you for your leadership. I’m proud to call you sister and friend. ♥️

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