Ask for the Ancient Paths

‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’

[Jeremiah 6:16]

crossroads

I can’t quite seem to swallow the lump in my throat when it comes to church. I can’t seem to sing, at the end of church, without feeling the burn of how weary I am. I stand there, not singing, heavy with disappointment in my tired, needy, letting-the-team-down-self.

This is not a criticism of the particular church I have been going to. It’s just, I tell my husband, I have to work really hard to feel like my faith matters.

***

I have been spending some time with Jeremiah’s words since I listened to this podcast (scroll down) a few months ago.

I listened to it again this morning in the quiet of my kitchen, all of it bringing rest to my weary soul. The kitchen is quiet because my daughters and husband are at Church. Truth is, in this season of life, that’s a gift to me. My husband and daughters are at Church. I am also at church – the kitchen, the quiet, the podcast. I hear that criticised, sometimes, those of us who claim church in the quiet, on our own. But this morning I heard Jeremiah say ‘Stand at the crossroads and look’, which is what I’m doing, and it may take some time.

***

I have written before how healing Adam S McHugh’s book Introverts in the Church was for me.  I bear it in mind a lot when I have All the Feelings about church. I remember that I over-think and am overly sensitive.  Reading the book has helped me understand my own reactions and given me tolerance for feeling out of place. It has also given me permission to practice Christian spirituality in ways that fit who am I – like this morning, like the kitchen.

Because I went through a ranty season, toward Church in general, I can struggle, now, to voice my discomfort. I don’t want to be critical! But I couldn’t quite swallow the lump in my throat so I decided to be honest about it, and I have started to feel like I might know which way to go.

***

I love the chapter in Philip Yancey’s book ‘What Good is God?’ about AA where he shares his friend George’s shrewd observation that while people feel uncomfortable to arrive late to church, that in AA if a person shows up late “the meeting comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to greet the latecomer, aware that their tardiness may be a sign that the addict almost didn’t make it.”

It is easy to rant about Church, I know. Church isn’t about finding our ‘perfect fit’ and it does our souls no good to pick and choose and rate like consumers.

Yet. Some of us almost don’t make it. And when we turn up, if there’s choice in the matter, shouldn’t it be somewhere we have room to breathe? And might that look different for me from how it looks for you? Might it be true that the mass of worshippers in the big church are authentic and the decisions they make as they get out of their seats for the Altar Call will change them, but at the same time, I am not called to force myself to worship there, God isn’t asking me to get into the aisle.

***

Yancey writes about how some of George’s church friends tire of his ongoing struggle. ‘Aren’t you done with that issue yet?’ they ask. And this is what George says: ‘I realise that for the rest of my life, I can go to AA meetings and nobody will ask me, “Aren’t you finished with all this talk about your alcoholism?” They will just say, “Keep coming back – glad you could make it.”

The sign at the front of the little Church we have started going to says “Welcome. We’re glad you are here” and I believe it. Who knows why my soul finds more rest here than somewhere else? Maybe it’s the ways in which it (ironically) reminds me of the church I grew up in, maybe it’s the old wooden pews, maybe it’s the winding country roads, maybe it’s the trees. Maybe it’s the people who notice us and the minister who sits in our living room and tells us his own story.

***

I love these words from Galations in the Message: “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”

I think about that a lot. I’m going to think about it more this year. Making a careful exploration of who we are is important. Doing the creative best we can with our lives is important. (These verses are like a biblical recommendation for Myers-Briggs!)

This year I’m trying to take more responsibility for being an INFJ and explore how that impacts my life at the intersections of motherhood, work and faith. I think the creative best can apply to where we worship, too… that exploring who we are also relates to church and allows for differences between us. And let’s not miss this: Don’t compare yourself with others.

***

I started this blog-post many Sunday mornings ago.

After standing at the ‘crossroads’ for some time we started heading for the country roads and sitting on the wooden pews.

Do you remember that old Jewel song we used to love? Life Uncommon? My daddy had it taped repeatedly on an old cassette and we used to belt it out together in the car. Now he has it on his iPhone and every time I’m at the old homestead I hear it floating down the stairs:

“Lend your voices only to sounds of freedom, No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from”.  

To be fair, dad drowns Jewel out and I feel, always, he’s singing it for me.

Stand at the crossroads and look.

Do not compare yourself to others.

Honour the lump in your throat.

No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.

Find your mega church or your country church or your podcast or your support group. Sink yourself into it. Find rest for your souls.

 

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14 thoughts on “Ask for the Ancient Paths

  1. I sat in my church,the one you grew up in, this morning. I looked at others and wondered if I was the weakest person there because of the lump in my throat. Almost didn’t make it. Thank you for your wise words.

    • Ah thank you. I have been amazed at how much this post has resonated with people. Reminds me of the Baba Farid quote: “I thought I was alone who suffered. I went on top of the house, and found every house on fire.” Much love x

  2. Sharon, this post is brave and honest and beautiful. There is something so significant in the waiting and the wrestling and listening….it reminds me of this quote I love by Robert Benson-
    ‘The truth is always this: if I will pay attention and be faithful, if I will live the seasons as they come, I will see some new thing that will be born, even in me, even if I cannot yet perceive it.’
    Indeed. Much love to you xo

  3. Would you believe this Sunday night I slunck into my church service 15 min late and I headed for the back pew, as you so wisely observe that inner struggle… I almost didn’t make it… Thankyou for reminding us that God will meet with us wherever we are and that “one size does not fit all”

  4. I wrote a long comment about how this post has lingered in my mind and made me realise things about myself and then I accidently deleted it and now I’m too fed up to start again but keep writing! I am grateful for it.

  5. I love INFJs. I’m married to one. They are such a rare and precious breed that they rarely meet anyone like themselves. This can result in them feeling ‘apart’, ‘on the edge of things’, observers of, rather than participants in life. Such a rich and interesting personality type!

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