To steal a phrase *waffle warning*
I was writing a new post for my other blog, Tawny’s Tales this afternoon, regarding a sleepover we held on Saturday. I was sorting photos and editing when I had a moment of clarity: I love my Brownies.
Not so long ago, I had spoken to Owlet (not her real name!), a friend for well over 20 years now and the overall leader of our group, about taking a sabbatical from the unit. I had too much on my plate, again. I was working a fair distance from home and volunteering insane amounts of hours for my church and a local foodbank project. I was studying for a diploma and I was in a new marriage which was under pressure as my husband had been through numerous jobs in a short space of time. I had looked at everything on my plate and decided Brownies was the one thing I could give up without feeling very guilty about it.
Guilt was a big thing especially as the kind of person who drew my identity from tasks and responsibility I was given. I had developed to believe that my worth came from what I did for other people. I believed I was indispensable, thinking that if *I* didn’t do a task, no one would and people would be let down, goals wouldn’t be reached. It got particularly bad in the compartment of my life I’d dedicated to Christianity.
I had an over inflated sense of the importance of my actions which is what happens when you think everything you do is about getting church to grow (which I suppose is the same as people being “saved” but it was always talked about in terms of church growth). God forbid, people might not hear about Jesus because the church website wouldn’t have the correct Mothering Sunday service details on it!
I tried to give things up, but it seemed so important to make sure church ran smoothly, cos that’s where the big, good, conversion stuff happens right? I’ll blog about my thoughts on compartmentalising life, evangelism and the lack of separation between spiritual and secular another time. But when the emphasis was so firmly on perfecting Sunday stuff (and one night a week disciple group, and alpha once a term, and driving kids to soul survivor please…) it made easy to never say no because every little task was about helping people get to know Jesus.
I told people how under pressure I felt and both husband and I stepped down from a number of rotas. But within weeks we were asked to step back up again and take on more. Although the people doing the asking must take some responsibility, I had given the impression I was ok to do pretty much anything and everything so who can really blame them.
It wasn’t until I did a Lenten challenge last year called Not Busy that I spent time thinking about the reasons I was busy in the first place. I highly recommend the book by Stephen Cherry. A particular part of the challenge was to spend 10 minutes a day doing nothing. Nothing at all. Not reflecting/praying/having a quiet time but actively doing nothing and being ok with that. It was hard as I put so much emphasis on not wasting time. The theology, theory and disciplines have become invaluable. I’ve been able to rid myself of a lot of guilt and stress associated with defining myself by what I do rather than who I am, and never saying no because I am a people pleaser.
The challenge helped me assess my priorities so instead of giving up Brownies, I gave up pretty much everything else. I still have a part time job and volunteer one afternoon a week at a local charity doing data entry (albeit around a passion of mine, photography.) A couple of years ago I’d have thought these jobs and tasks were ‘beneath me’. I’ve got a degree for heavens sake, more talent than what is required to manage a diary and log photos. But I know there’s more to life than academia and the simplicity of the tasks bring me joy. I come home with energy left. I recognise we’re in a position to live with me in PT work but we’ve made sacrifices so I can do it. We’re unlikely to be able to afford to buy our own home this side of me being 40, but we’re both healthier and happier.
We also left our church, for many reasons which I still don’t have the desire or self control to blog about constructively. We haven’t found a new one and – shock horror – we haven’t been looking hard. The break has done us good and that in and of itself says a lot. I am wary that until a bit more time has passed, we could both just rush back in and end up making old mistakes again.
We’ll find somewhere new to go, of course we will. My husband is a musician and keen lead worshipper and he misses corporate meetings a lot. Before I knew him as I do now, I could still tell that when he was leading a band he was primarily worshiping God and everything else came from and after that. I’m biased of course, but given his talent he managed to lead the band well when his mind wasn’t necessarily on how to make the music *excellent.* He excels at creating an environment where people could musically worship God without feeling like they had to do it the way he was, the way the cool kids were, or any other way which was different to how they felt they wanted to. That, if for no other reason, means return to a more formal church setting soon because if the church would welcome it, he wants to do more of what he loves.
We do pursue our faith in current ways, but we can’t imagine going to separate churches, although we know couples that make it work. But what we feel is that for the moment we’ve got the balance about right. We’ve got people to talk to and pray with. We’re spending more time with family. I have the time and energy to serve a variety of people and causes that are important to me. It doesn’t matter to me that they aren’t traditional Christian ‘miniseries’. I’m spending time worshiping and studying. I am being creative. I’m saying no.
It all goes to pot sometimes, and my way of worship might not be in any formal way that gives some people the worries, but it feels good for me and I’ve had the to meet people who feel the same and always have done. I am master of my own time, I know I’m not indispensable. I have a much healthier view of my importance in the grand scheme of things. I don’t consider doing nothing a waste of my time, skills and gifts any more. I no longer think I’m letting God down because I’m not doing *something* that I’ve been taught the world or certain parts of the church view as most valuable. I hope this is a better place to be heading back to a church family.
So, the last year feels a bit like we’ve been to rehab! We had to get over and heal from some difficult experiences. We had to remove ourselves from the church we were in to be able to really change the way we were doing/viewing church. We still recognise the importance of church life but can’t go back in until we know we’ve got some boundaries and perspective in place and then we can exercise, stretch and amend them when we’re there.
I’m excited for what happens next, not exhausted by just thinking about it. I mean, what does it say that it took until I was the other side of 35 to work some of this out? I spent years being told by the church to be a History Maker, to be ‘on fire’, to look for the “new, fresh thing God is doing.”. My old worship team taught members to “strive for perfection, settle for excellence” when half of them couldn’t keep a tune but had hearts of gold.
Here’s a few things I’ve learned in rehab that I’m going to try to hold on to:
Do your best, but if you’re too knackered, don’t worry, God loves you anyway.
Be who and what God created you to be, but be aware it takes a lot of time to work out what that is and what you love can change. That’s fine. Just try not to waste time trying to be something else for someone else and never compare yourself to others; God doesn’t.
Doing whatever it takes to get bums on seats at church is only one way to do church.
Don’t always look to do something new all the time. Sometimes it takes more courage and faithfulness to stay where you are, serving and loving the people you’re with.*
So I’m very glad I stayed with my Brownies and (somewhat) chose them over facilitating church growth. It doesn’t mean I don’t want people to get to know Jesus and what He is all about, but I don’t think church, however you define it, is the only way to do that.
I’m not saying being nice to Brownies is the same as following Jesus, but committing to them is a good step. Spending time with them, making them feel special, encouraging them, laughing with them, steering and guiding them is loving them. If leadership is influence and pastoral care is imperative then being the best Brownie leader I can be *is* being the best follower of Jesus I can be.
* inspired in particular by Adrian Plass.