How Do You Like Your Eggs?

A while back, maybe a year and a half ago, I had a conversation with Beth McCord, an Enneagram Coach, because I wanted to know for sure that I was a 9. I was pretty sure, well, almost completely sure, but I was having a hard time taking that definitive step and saying yes, that’s my number, because I didn’t want to be wrong.

During our conversation, she used an example to describe an Enneagram 9 as Julia Roberts’ character in Runaway Bride who, every time the reporter asked an ex-fiance how she liked her eggs, it was exactly like his.

In the end, she tries all different kinds of eggs and settles on what type of eggs she likes best, not the type of eggs that she thinks she should like best because it’s what someone else likes.

I’ve spent a lot of time liking other people’s eggs.

In Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, which I read more quickly than any other book in a long time, she writes about the difference between fitting in and belonging (see also her newest book, Braving the Wilderness):

“Fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

When you’ve moved around as much as I have, belonging is a lot harder to come by and fitting in is–in the short run–is a lot easier.

  • Go to a church where women aren’t allowed in leadership? Sure, I can find other ways to use my gifts.
  • Live in a town where there are unwritten rules and expectations that aren’t to be questioned? Sure, I’ll just keep my thoughts to myself.
  • Go to a Bible study that feels like it’s at the pre-kindergarten level? Sure, I’ll just read on my own. It’s all about meeting new people.

There are some advantages to adapting to other people; you can find common ground and you really will have something in common, and you don’t always have to get your own way in everything. The disadvantage is that it makes it difficult to differentiate yourself from others and to understand your own identity, and you can never really get too close to anyone to truly share what’s on your heart and mind, because the fear is that if they knew, they’d think less of you, you’d stop belonging, you’d be disconnected, you’d lose people, and you’d be lonely.

However, it’s more lonely to not be able to be yourself.

It’s also exhausting, because you have to spend a lot of energy wondering who and how you have to be based on other people’s expectations and standards instead of truly learning who you are.

This is a lot harder for women, I think, because we are often the primary caretakers of our homes and children, and so much of our energy is expended on other people, and various churches will see that as what we are primarily supposed to do. They even have moms groups for us where we can get out of the house and have adult conversation–about our kids. Have you ever found a church with a dads group that talks about changing diapers and sleepless kids? No? Think about that.

I have spent a lot of time in places where my identity is wrapped up in that of being a coach’s wife and a mom; there have been relatively few times in the last thirteen years where I haven’t met someone because of those two parts of my identity.

And so, I learned to adapt and take them on as my full identity, shoving the rest of me aside as necessary. Not all of the time, of course, but a good majority of it. It’s only been in the last two years that I’ve really started to feel more free to be who I am, and it’s often a daily struggle.

In a recent episode of the Typology podcast, author Marilyn Vancil spoke about being a Type 9 and the vague sense of self that comes along with that. She said:

“I didn’t even really know how I feel about anything. I don’t even know what I want. I don’t even know what I care about…I didn’t even know what my agenda was, let alone have it matter.”

It’s easier for us Type 9s to understand and know what we don’t like/want instead of what we do like and want, and so I’m now trying to figure that out for myself.

One thing I know for sure, though, is how I like my eggs:

  • Cook 1 hash brown patty in a frying pan and break it apart.
  • Add 1 egg and scramble it together.
  • Mix in approximately 1-3 teaspoons of salsa, depending on how much you like it and how spicy it is. I prefer Mrs. Renfro’s Ghost Pepper Salsa.
  • Top with a handful of shredded cheddar/taco/Mexican style cheese and mix in until melted.
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Well That Was Embarrassing…and it was ok

I had an embarrassing moment at church a couple of weeks ago.

I’d been scheduled to be “worship leader” (this is a more traditional service so what that means is doing the call to worship, scripture reading, etc. It does not mean a singer in this context. No way would anyone want me as that.).

I’d also been scheduled to be one of the elders serving at the communion table.

I knew both of these but I compartmentalized them in my head and somehow had not actually connected the fact that they were both on the same day, despite thinking about them both that morning.

We sang our first hymn and as the call to worship popped up on the screen, I was still sitting in my pew. I smacked my head, said “oh geez” and walked up to the podium. I didn’t have the paper everything was on; I hadn’t even bothered to pick it up, but was able to read off of the screen.

There was a time when I would have wanted the floor to swallow me up if something that embarrassing happened to me, but I didn’t feel that way this time and I was able to laugh about it.

The reason is that I found a church where I belong, not just a church where I fit in. The difference between those two concepts were something I read about in Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. She writes:

“Fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

I’ve spent a large portion of my life fitting in instead of belonging, especially in church situations.

It’s a different world when you belong somewhere.

Along those lines, in this video, she talks about the importance of some people’s opinions, and that the opinions of people who actually matter “are the people who love you not despite your vulnerability and imperfections, but because of your vulnerability and imperfections.”

As a recovering perfectionist, I’m glad I can be in a place where I don’t have to be perfect, where I don’t have to fit in, but a place where I truly can belong.

 

Putting Together a Puzzle

Over Christmas break, we tried to put together a 2000 piece puzzle. That sounds nice, right? Time off from work and school, lots of relaxing, pretty falling snow, hot chocolate, Christmas music, etc.

It wasn’t like that at all.

It was an extremely difficult puzzle with colors so similar and so many pieces that looked the same that it seemed impossible to understand where they were supposed to go, even though we knew they all fit somewhere. After Christmas break was over and we didn’t have time to work on it, we eventually put it back in the box, never completing it.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen the picture I took of all the personality and spiritual gifts assessments I’ve taken over the years, spread out on the floor in my sunroom to see what pattern I could find, to see how it all fit together.

I’ve done them so many times because I’ve been to so many churches over the years, and each time you start over, you do what’s offered, and you find out where you fit in that place.

The problem with that is that while my gifts didn’t necessarily change (writing and teaching emerged the most frequently), there wasn’t always a specific or clear place for me to fit.

In a culture where many people go to church twice on Sunday and attend other church activities on Wednesday, and in a church of 500 people, in a place where the Bible is supposed to be incredibly important, it was disheartening to see that most people really didn’t care about learning more about it. I taught classes on Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and Luke, and there were no more than five of us in the room for any of them. While I don’t think the amount of people that attend is what makes something successful or not, it continually surprised me that more people were not interested.

I also had a conversation at one point when I offered to write a series of articles for our bulletin, but was told that was really just for the pastors and other staff.

Another time, I attended a Bible study in which I brought up the questionable premise of the study’s author, because I thought it hinged on something that was not certain at all. The study’s leader said, “well, that’s too deep for me,” and we moved on.

Apparently a reason I never quite feel like I belong has to do with my INFJ personality.

Because Ni perceives the world so differently and profoundly, INFJs often experience a sense of loneliness and isolation, even when they are with other people.

The rarity of their personality type makes a lot of INFJs feel like they don’t fit in.

I think that, combined with all of the many times I have moved and had to adapt to new people and cultures, has made it more difficult to know myself than I realized.

We gave up on the puzzle for now, but I’m not giving up on the puzzle of my own life.

Not this time.

 

This week’s Recommended Reading:

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Finding a Church…Again

It’s been about two and a half months since we moved. We’ve visited six churches so far, but the search feels more tiring to me than it did the last time we had to look for a new church (2012; you can read about it here). I’ve told two new acquaintances that I am just not sure what I am looking for this time. Last time, we had a checklist; it worked well. We ended up in a church that had what we were looking for and we made some good friends there. But for some reason, even the thought of making a list this time feels tiring. It’s not like the church will be perfect; none are.

We’ve visited churches that have liturgy and responsive readings and sing hymns. We’ve visited churches that have bands and others with organs or piano. We’ve visited churches where there is communion every week and others where it it less frequent. There’s been grape juice at some, wine at others. They may or may not have a tagline to advertise their brand. Their websites tell us what they believe and what to expect. There are groups and programs and sports teams. Some churches have had 20 people in attendance; others have had hundreds. In some, people have been welcoming and friendly; in others, we’ve been ignored. We haven’t heard a bad sermon.

And still, I am not sure which one is the best fit.

It’s hard when I don’t want to act like a consumer when deciding, but it’s too easy to do. I look at the websites, the bulletins. They tell me exactly what they have to offer me, what the next steps to take are, and then I’ll belong. They are all excited or glad I’m there. I can “connect” or “get plugged in.” And if I don’t? They don’t really say–but I’ve been in enough churches to know that if you don’t sign up, volunteer, get involved, then you aren’t seen as really being a participating member of that community. You’re not “buying in.” You’re not truly being a part of community.

But what if finding a church isn’t about ordered next steps? What if it’s not about finding a place where more and more activities are added to my life?

Jesus said,

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” –Matthew 11:28-30

If this is true, why does it seem so often that church is not a restful place? Why does church seem difficult, not easy? Why does it seem that there are heavy burdens connected with church?

The sermon I heard yesterday was about finding one’s identity in God, and not external factors (such as social media, our jobs, etc.). I question, though, how this applies if one’s identity in God separates a person from the way (most) everyone else thinks church should be done. We see large churches with large budgets as the ones that are alive or growing and small ones as dead or dying. Why?

Jesus told us that where two or three are gathered, he is there. He had only 12 close disciples that he spent time with. And he didn’t have a praise band or colored lights. And we have no idea if he was “a great speaker.” By today’s standards, that’s a failure of a church.

I remember a group of people I met with two or three times a week for Bible study a few years ago. For about 3 or 4 years, we met regularly. We went to different churches in different denominations. Some of us didn’t even attend church. In that group though, we grew as friends more than I had in the churches I attended then or have attended since then.

Is that church? Many would say no. There was no singing, no offering, no greeting time, no power point, no three-point sermon, no jokes. No ordained people to make it official. It was simply sharing a meal and learning together. We were in community with each other, just as we were, not as anyone else expected us to be. I think one of the differences between that group and church as I’ve experienced it for some time is that in that group, we were individuals who came together to be a part of a community, rather than a community who discouraged people from being individuals. Maybe that’s what I’m looking for: a place where I can be me and be accepted for that, instead of having to conform to what is best for everyone else.

Does such a church exist? What are your experiences?

A Letter to My Church

The following is a letter I sent to my church’s elders and deacons the other day. While I will keep the rest of the email conversation private, I will say that it was well-received and will be an ongoing conversation. I’ve edited out people’s names for privacy. I am posting it here as an inspiration and a resource for anyone who also sees the need for change in her church.

Dear Members of [Church] Consistory:

I have loved my years at [Church]. When we first moved here at the beginning of 2012, we visited many churches and took about six months to decide that [Church] was the church for us. We eventually became members and had our children baptized here.

We had a list of what we were looking for in a church, and one one of them was “Does the church affirm women in leadership?” This was important to me because I’d previously been in a church that did not believe in the equality of women–it is a denomination that claims men and women have different roles. I was hopeful that [Church] was different based on my conversations with, Pastor R, Pastor D, and Pastor R2 as well as a sermon that R gave that first summer that we were here. I thought that [Church] would be different because at the national level the RCA does believe in the equality of women.

Unfortunately, here at [Church], this equality is still lacking. In [Church]’s  25 year history there has never been one woman on consistory. This is detrimental to the church as half the church is being disregarded and not represented. There are no women in leadership for young girls to look up to (unless they want to work with children or sing). The explanation I’ve been given is that women have been nominated but nobody has ever wanted to be the first one.

I have nominated women for elder and deacon every year that I have been a member, but none of my nominees have made it through the vetting process (whatever that vetting process is–I don’t even know how it works). This past year, I even asked my nominees if they’d been contacted by consistory. They said no.

In addition to this, a current elder even told my husband one day that he thought his wife would do a better job as an elder than him. I have nominated his wife every single year.  If what this elder said is true, why has his wife not become an elder or deacon but he did?

It seems that most women in our church are relegated to working with children, music or giving announcements. I’ve heard only one woman, a missionary, preach at our church during my time here.

This must change.

In order for a church to thrive, all members of that church must feel welcome and valued and given the opportunity to exercise their God-given gifts.

When we do not have women in leadership, not only are we missing out on half the church, we’re missing out on what God can and will do through these women. There are messages from God that can give people hope and joy and express God’s love, but they are silenced because of this latent sexism.

On April 17, our guest speaker J challenged [Church] with the question, “what problems need to die?”

The problem of not having women in leadership is the one that I see that needs to die.

We cannot do the church’s job of spreading the kingdom of God to the world if half of the church has no input or say in what our church does and how it works. We cannot raise up young girls to preach and lead in the future if they do not see it happening now.

All four of the gospels tell us that women were the very first people to preach the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28 that this new humanity that is created in Christ has no distinctions between genders. And over and over we see, especially in the gospel of Luke, how Jesus lifts up those who are marginalized. We need the marginalized in our church to be lifted up.

You have the power to change this.

I challenge you that for the next round of nominations that you only accept women who are nominated, and that you explain this ahead of time. You might ask, “but what if they aren’t qualified?” and I would say to you “what if they are?” and “what if qualified women are being overlooked in the first place and the positions are going to less qualified men?”

If you are feeling hesitant, I encourage you to read and discuss books such as How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership or She Can Teach or Gifted to  Lead or Good News for Women. I can also give you a copy of the women in leadership study that I wrote–and taught in Sunday School–a couple of years ago.

In Acts 2, we see the church coming alive. The Holy Spirit, the gift promised by Jesus, has come at Pentecost. People are confused, uncertain as to what is happening. It’s new and it’s different. It probably made them anxious, maybe even fearful.

But Peter steps in and explains what is happening. He tells them:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. –Acts 2:17-18

Peter recognized that God was not withholding the Holy Spirit from anyone. It was poured out on women and men alike, given in order to be a blessing to and make disciples in the world.

I hope and pray that [Church] will also follow the Holy Spirit.

The Sign of the Blue Jeep

I recently reread a novel in which the protagonist believes in various signs to tell her what to do, such as when she rolled a die, got a 3, and took it as a sign to drive for three tanks of gas, no more and no less, and that would be the place she should live.

I’ve never been much of a believer in signs, as I’ve always thought they are very much left open to interpretation and not very reliable. I’ve been thinking about them lately, though, as one of the Advent readings for last week mentioned signs:

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars…” (from Luke 21:25)

While that section of Luke is one of foreboding and warning, it started me thinking about other times in the Bible that signs are used. There are a lot. Here is just a sampling:

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. –Genesis 1:14-15

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.–Genesis 9:12-13

 

You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. –Exodus 31:13

 

There was one time, though, that I did get a sign of something to come. I wasn’t necessarily looking for this sign specifically, and I certainly didn’t ask for a sign. It is in my mind now, though, because it is advent, and because we are waiting, again.

Four years ago, we were also waiting.

The summer or two prior to that time, my son had spent a great deal of time playing with the granddaughter of our neighbors down the street, and it included a lot of driving her pink Barbie Jeep. He wanted his own Jeep, though, and was very specific: Mommy, I want a blue Jeep. Well, Mommy pretty much said no, because Mommy wasn’t about to spend that amount of money on a brand new toy Jeep. With cold and snow, the Jeep was mostly forgotten, and given up for inside toys.

Then one day, a few days prior to Christmas, I walked into our local thrift store. When I entered, sitting right in front of me was a like-new blue Jeep, priced very nicely. I didn’t buy it that day, but promised myself that if we heard about my husband’s potential new job before Christmas, I would come back and buy it for the kids.

They’ve gotten a lot of use out of that blue Jeep over the last four years.

And so, this year, I wait again, and again waiting and wondering and not knowing is difficult. Having to actually trust God instead of just saying I trust God is also very difficult. I don’t know what my blue Jeep will be this time, or even if there will be a sign. I only hope if there is, that I recognize and embrace it.

Waiting in the Darkness

Today, Advent begins. I’m not sure what to do with Advent, to be honest, much as I’m not sure what to do with the entire Christian year. Because I haven’t attended a liturgical church in a very long time, the seasons and holidays of the Church year, with the exception of Christmas and Easter, are peripheral. Some have given it a passing nod, others have ignored it completely.

We know that it is the season of waiting, of anticipation. The problem, though, is that we don’t really like to wait. We live in an instant-everything culture in which we rarely have to wait–and when we do, we are very impatient. So why would we pay attention to a time in which waiting is the focus?

We should focus on waiting, though, because even though we don’t like it, there are times in our lives when it will happen, and if we don’t have any experience with waiting, it will make those times even more difficult.

We all do have to wait–we just don’t always notice it.Sometimes, the waiting is for something tangible: school to be out or a new job to materialize. Sometimes, the waiting is less tangible, such as the healing of a broken heart.

In Advent, we celebrate the anticipation of Christmas. We look back on when people were awaiting the birth of Jesus. We talk about Advent being a time of hope and expectation, of light coming into the world (one reason why we took the pagan holiday of Saturnalia and declared it Jesus’ birthday–I think–correct me if I’m wrong there). A problem, though, is that because we believe in what happened in and through Jesus, we only tend to take on the positive and happy side of hope. But hope, I think, has another side to it.

When everything is right and good in our lives, what is there to hope for? Hope, it seems, can really only exist when everything is not right in our lives. Hope is not all sunlight and happy feelings. Hope exists in the darkness, the despair, and the doubt. This is why I love reading Lamentations; both of those concepts exist at the same time:

He has filled me with bitterness, he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the LORD.” The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. –Lamentations 3:15-23

The writer of Lamentations is at what is probably the lowest point a person can be. Still, though, despite that, there is hope in that darkness. The darkness will not win, but it doesn’t mean we won’t walk through it. That is one message of Advent that I think we miss. Yes, it is about light coming into the world. Yes, our days will get longer and lighter around Christmastime. Yes, we believe Jesus is the light of the world. We need to remember, though, that sometimes, light doesn’t glow as brightly as we hope. That sometimes, the only way we can see light is to notice the darkness around us and intentionally look for the light that shines in only the smallest of ways.

Another 10 Commandments Monument Comes Down

I saw a Facebook conversation where someone was upset about a 10 Commandments monument being taken down from public property. A non-Christian person had commented, and then someone asked this person, in what appeared to be a genuine question,”Which of these inhibits your freedom as a non-Christian?” and then listed all 10. This person responded with “the first four.”

Is it really that difficult for us as Christians to understand that if “Have no other gods before me” is legally binding then if a person does not believe in the same god as us, that person would be doing something illegal?

If the 10 Commandments were U.S. Law, how would they be applied and how would people be punished for not following them? What would constitute making an idol? If making an idol is illegal, then would anyone who follows an idolatrous religion be arrested, tried, and put in prison? Anyone who doesn’t follow a religion at all?

If the amount of money that a business-owner makes is of supreme importance to him or her, would he or she be punished for idolatry?? That’s hard to imagine in our capitalistic society.

If my neighbor has a brand new car that I really, really wish I had because mine is 15 years old and I wish I had it, will you arrest me and take me away from my family because I broke the law by coveting?

These are questions that often don’t get asked and answered. We don’t usually go any deeper than “they’re in the Bible and we are supposed to be a Christian nation” and that’s it (never mind that the commandments were given to Israel to follow, not to Gentiles).

If you feel the 10 Commandments are what our laws are about, why do you believe that way? What do you think the punishment should be for breaking them? How would you enforce them? Which version should we follow (Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant)?

If you want the 10 Commandments to be the law of the land, would you follow them yourself? How would you want yourself penalized for breaking them?

As Christians who supposedly believe that we are changed people, that we are a new creation, that Jesus’ law is to love others, as people who often say that the Bible’s laws were “too hard” for people to follow, why do we want to make other people, many of whom do not even believe, follow laws that we cannot even keep ourselves?

Is Your Light Shining or Blinding?

The other day, I sat in the chilly morning air on my deck, coffee in hand. It was still dark out, but as I sat in the quiet of the early morning, somewhere behind me the sun was rising and the darkness was fading.

It struck me, at that moment, how gradual it was. Now, that’s pretty obvious to everyone, but noticing it at that particular moment turned my thoughts to references to light in the Bible.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. –Genesis 1:3-4

I’ve always thought of this as God turning on a blinding light so that everything was bright right away (and maybe it was–we don’t actually know from the text), but what if it was more of a gradual light? After all, the sun, moon, and stars have yet to be created. We also see that God separated the light from the darkness. In order to be separated, they had to be intertwined somehow, didn’t they?

And then we see references to God’s call to Israel to be a light to the nations, Jesus’ reference to being the light of the world, as well as his words to his disciples to be the light of the world:

I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, –Isaiah 42:6

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” –Isaiah 49:6

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” –John 8:12

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. –Matthew 5:14-16

This isn’t a new theme we’ve never heard about before; sermon after sermon has been preached on the subject. Children sing “this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” But do we ever stop to wonder just how bright we should be? If we are driving down a dark road and our headlights are on high and a car approaches from the opposite direction, we turn them down so as to not blind the other driver. On a bright sunny day, we don’t turn them on at all. Different situations can call for different levels of light.

I’m afraid though, when it comes to sharing our faith or being a light of the world, we tend to only think of being a bright light instead of thinking situationally. If our light beams are always on high, chances are sometimes it will blind people, and sometimes it will have no effect. Perhaps we would do well to think about varying the strength of our light depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. One person may only need a simple flicker of light in his or her life, another may only need a spotlight, still another may need all the lamps on in the house. It might be that someone needs a constant, dim presence, like a night light in a child’s bedroom while another person can get through the dark night and wait until morning without being afraid.

Sometimes, we’re too afraid of the dark, but without it, we would never see the stars.

 

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” ― Francis of Assisi, The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi

It Is Well With My Soul…Except When It Is Not

I’m not much of a singer (cue my sisters and mother laughing knowingly) and most of the time, really don’t care much for music. For weeks, maybe months now, I’ve stood still in church during singing time, sipping coffee, looking at my watch, leaving to go to the bathroom or get a drink, or simply sitting down and reading my Bible or writing in my journal. Often, I find I am bored singing what seems to be endlessly repeated choruses, and I have wondered if it even makes a difference when the congregation sings because most of the time all we can actually hear is the band. It has a feeling of singing in community but not singing in community, because the community aspect is masked. Sure, we’re there, we’re participating, but for me, I often find something lacking. I understand and appreciate that many, many, many people are touched by music and love to sing praises to God. I’m just not one of them.

And so yesterday was fairly normal for me, until the song at the end of the service. We sang “It Is Well With My Soul.” The music was softer and not overwhelming the congregation and I found myself singing along. I could actually hear my own and others’ voices for a change.

It is well with my soul, I sang, and I thought, “hmmm…I think it is.”

Choosing hymns and praise songs for church is not random; there is a lot of thought that goes into what songs to sing because they should blend well with the topic of the sermon (yesterday was about reconciliation). They are often meant to make us feel good, to give us hope, to help us feel joyful.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work. We cannot force ourselves to feel at peace and joyful. Earlier, I’d seen a man standing with arms crossed, bored and/or angry expression on his face. I suspect all was not well with his soul, and I felt badly that he had to participate in something that was obviously not what he was experiencing.

I don’t think we should have these expectations that life is always great once we come to know Jesus. Even Jesus himself told us how difficult it could be to follow him. Do we not believe him?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. –Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. –Matthew 19:21-22

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” –Matthew 24:9

And we see just how difficult it can be for even one of Jesus’ closest disciples to follow him:

Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. –Matthew 26:74-75

That night that Peter betrayed Jesus and wept bitterly, I doubt he could have sung “it is well with my soul.” Instead, perhaps, these verses from Psalms are what came to mind:

But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. –Psalm 22:6

I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.–Psalm 6:6

If one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, someone who spent an extraordinary amount of time with him, has a hard time following him, why do we expect it should be easy for us? Where do we get the idea that no matter what, it should always be well with our souls (other than the song lyrics telling us that)?

Yesterday, I would not have been able to sing that song if everything was not well with my soul at that particular moment in time. Maybe a few weeks ago, I couldn’t have sung it. Maybe next week I won’t be able to sing it. We have ups and downs in life, and the process of our souls becoming well is just that–a process. It’s not instantaneous and it doesn’t always stay at the same level, for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes, it’s like having the flu, healing from it, but still having a lingering cough.

Maybe we should just admit that it is not well with our souls…and despite that, there’s hope that it will pass. But would we sing that in church?