“It is well with my soul” This is one of my favorite hymns. It was offered by our worship team last Lord’s Day and I struggled to sing the words.
Is it really well with my soul?
This was my first time back in a church building and morning worship service for almost a year. Attending church became difficult for me. I’ve taken these months of quiet to consider the “whys”.
As I walked through the church doors in earlier months, I realize I carried with me my Bible, my journal and another heavy bag.
It’s been painful and meaningful for me to unpack that bag. As a little girl I was starved for the love and acceptance I wasn’t receiving in my home of horror. Maybe God would want me. I was told I would find Him at church, but attending church was risky. I grew up with a father who didn’t believe and church attendance wasn’t acceptable in my home. Some Sundays I was willing to take the risk and accept the consequences of going to church in search of this God who might want me. There was a deep ache in me to find acceptance and purpose.
I grew from the lonely little girl to a very confused teenager. Finding God still felt illusive in the maze of shame and guilt I felt. Church attendance gave me a place to condemn myself for choices I was making to find that acceptance and love. Looking back, my definition of both of those had become performance based.
I married still searching. Dane and I came from very diverse and opposite religious experiences. Finding a church together was difficult and for several years it felt easier to not even try.
God’s plan took us from the business world to five years of seminary preparation and twenty-five years of local ministry to churches. During those years I found God in new ways. Stuffed deeply into the heavy bag were my memories of living the role of preacher’s wife. My journals record stories of goodness and stories of great harm. I continued to perfect my performance and stash of masks. God still felt very distant and unreachable at times.
My search for intimacy with God in church continued and more things got stuffed in the bag. In my desire to connect at church I joined some small groups. Some felt safe and inviting. In those places I’ve been known and encouraged to grow in my faith. Others have left me with the feeling “I’m not a good fit here.”
Being joined with others in community on this faith journey is important for me, without community I am isolated.
When I’m isolated from those who can offer Jesus with skin on to me, it becomes dangerous. That’s a space evil can come to disrupt my heart and tarnish the glory I bear.
My struggle to find a closer relationship with God became intense and a year ago I decided to no longer engage in filling a pew and checking off the “I attended church” box. I wanted to stop harming my own heart by performing what felt like an obligation.
My heart longs for more. I still feel that deep ache I felt as a young girl.
As I listened to the message being shared last Sunday, these verses came up on the screen.
“Jesus began to cry. I wish that you would find the way to peace. Now it is too late and peace is hidden from you. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you. They will crush you to the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you have rejected the opportunity God offered you.” Luke 19:41-44.
These words clearly caught my attention. I may be pulling them out of context, but I could easily put my name in the place of “you and your”.
It’s not too late for me. I am back. I’ve unpacked the heavy bag. I’m wanting more. I know God wants that for me too.
I’m a warrior. Sometimes I forget, so after a moving moment with God, I had that reminder placed permanently on my wrist. Evil has marked my body with harm. I wanted to mark my body with the truth of my identity. The translation of the Greek inscription on my wrist is “Princess Warrior, Daughter of the King.”
As I write these thoughts, I’m sitting in my quiet space, ready to put on my tiara , pick up my sword and begin again.
Valerie Avery treasures the journey of embracing all God has gifted her with including creating art and beauty using fibers, beads and nature. The bond of 46 years of marriage has created a legacy as mother to 5 and “Grammie” to 20. She is venturing into the world of writing and is grateful for a place to share stories of growth and hope. You can read more here.