I had an ad in my e-mail this morning for a sale on jackets. One of the highlighted reviews said “If my house catches on fire, I’m grabbing this jacket and then my boyfriend….”
The whole ad was a little ridiculous, but I started thinking about my friend who is figuring out her faith. She’s trying to sort out where it all went wrong and if most of it was ever even right. Sometimes our house of belief catches fire and we have to decide what, if anything, we should take.
It took me back to one of my most challenging seasons in my faith. I had just taken a new job and moved to a new city. In a few weeks the whole experience became a little ember that set a whole host of things ablaze.
I remember driving to work every day, listening to the same song and crying. The words that I just kept singing out were “I don’t know how to be yours”. I would sob at the reality that I was drowning in failed expectations, trauma, grief, and I didn’t know how to belong to God in that. He would say that he loved me, but I just didn’t know how to be with him in the middle of something that seemed to prove otherwise.
When it all caught fire I had to walk away from that job. I was stuck in a new city during a pandemic, completely lost on how to move forward. I had to decide what to grab while running out of that fire. The truth is, there were mornings when I would sit on the edge of my bed and think I don’t want to take any of it. I’m not sure any of it is worth saving.
I still believed in God. I knew I would always believe in him, I had seen too much to do otherwise. But I didn’t know if I could hold on to a lot of other things people had handed me in His name. Was the God I loved even who I even thought he was? Or was the God I knew a collage of ideas and concepts other people had painted?
It was all starting to burn and I was starting to think maybe everything needed to. Where had most of it gotten me anyway?
The good got me out. I didn’t see it at the time, couldn’t fully stop to assess the situation in the middle of the flames. But the good parts, the parts of my faith that were real and true, were the things that pushed me to even walk out of the fire. The good things deep in my foundation caused me to stop and care that it was happening and to even ask the question of “what do I save?”
Something inside of me knew that some of it had to hold value. Because people without valuables wouldn’t stop to ask the question–they would walk out and let it all burn. It’s in the pause, the questioning, the wrestling and panic that you usually realize there are things worth keeping. Maybe it is not as much as you expected, but there are probably a few things you know your soul needs to take.
I didn’t know how to be His. I didn’t know how to belong to this God who seemed to be breaking my heart. But if there was the option to be His, even in the loss of everything else, I had to grab onto one truth: there is no one else worth belonging to.
A lot of other things I had been keeping burned up in that fire. The optimistic sense that “we’re all on the same team” crumbled for me. I accepted that there were people setting fires to the faith that weren’t on my team, weren’t on God’s team, didn’t care whose houses they had helped destroy. I accepted that it wasn’t my job to change them.
I let the belief that I had to be the one to “save the church” burn. I let many of the ideas people in church had fed me go up in flames. Even though so much felt like a waste, I had to clench and keep the feeble faith of when I first came to God. That deep prayer of, “I can’t do it on my own and the man who chose a cross is the only one who saves”.
I don’t hold or parade elaborate doctrine anymore. Yes, I still believe the Bible and the foundations of the Christian faith. I think “church” has a beautiful and rightful place. But sometimes that’s as elaborate as I go. I no longer go around trying to convince people (or myself) that God’s love hinges on our ability to swallow man-made interpretations of Him. There are things we just shouldn’t swallow or try to hold down. There are things we just can’t survive on.
Jesus showed us that religion, the kind of religion filled with greed and power players, will eventually starve us. He never expected us to feast on organizations, gorge on programs, digest celebrity leaders, be nourished by religious trends.
So, I grabbed the good and ran. It was just the very basic truth of salvation, that was all I was really sure of. I thought I would be sad to see the rest go. But when the flames scorched it all, I sighed at the lightness I felt in not having to live with the chaos anymore.
There’s a way to live with less. Sometimes I think it’s the only way to live.
Some days, I am still sorting through the survival stage that comes after the blaze. It often feels weak to be holding so few things. But God asks for children, not scholars, influencers, politicians, or “ministry trained”. He doesn’t need our sermon notes, commentary research, agenda for church growth, marketing projections, plans to save the human race. He wants children, dependent and needy, fulfilled in giving up the homes we built with hollow religion, and surrendered to letting them go up in flames.