I stopped going to church.
Somewhere between all the "Do this and not that", I stopped enjoying Jesus.
Somewhere between all of the opinions and theology,
between all the fake "We love people!",
(more like: "We love lost people and only other Christians who think, pray, eat, sleep,dress and act like we do")
I stopped enjoying Jesus.
No I didn't say "loving", I said "enjoying".
I can only compare my relationship with my Jesus to a married couple who love each other enough not to get divorced, but lost that spark long ago and can't figure out how to be friends again.
I know Jesus doesn't hate me, but why do I feel like He does?
Every time I walked into church I felt shame, I knew I wasn't good enough.
I knew what my church experience would look like before I even went:
I would struggle during the sermon to feel like God still wanted me.
And of course a bunch of people coming up to me like:
"Hey! Can you do this and that for me? Thanks! Bye!"
and then they never really talk to me again until the next time they needed something.
A few of my friends would talk to me and say hello, and that would make me feel warm for a second until I remembered that God didn't really like me...
Church was work.
My pew turned into my office.
The Bible was that big stack of papers on my desk that I was ALWAYS behind on,
and my prayer time had a quota I needed to meet.
Did I do some great big horrible thing?
Not really, no.
Did I have anything to hide?
Well why did I feel like I wanted to hide from God?
I know I'm not perfect, but I couldn't figure out where this guilt was coming from...
I wasn't engaging in sex outside of marriage.
I wasn't drinking any alcohol.
I didn't cuss.
I wasn't doing drugs or smoking.
I was following my daily devotional and having a quiet time
(they weren't great because I felt this way, but I was still having them)
I wasn't addicted to porn.
I didn't really even listen to much secular music,
and I wasn't running a prostitution ring....
I went down the laundry list of things that could be keeping me away, but I came up short every time.
Where were the God-hates-me blues coming from?
I couldn't figure it out until I noticed a few red flags:
I found that I cringed whenever someone taught on, or gave a sermon about "Grace"and "forgiveness".
(Drunk on grace? Like ew. Away from me Satan)
The word "prosperity" could launch me into an angry rant.
For me to take any preacher seriously they would have to agree with 100% all my viewpoints, share in all my personal convictions and have all their ducks in a row.
Ministry was a mixture of hype and dread, sprinkled with catchy slogans and cool words, and a huge side of shameless self-promotion, and name-dropping.
Oh yeah, and a good tear-jerking testimony and "Amen" to wrap it all up with...
Sound like a horrible horrible person right?
I couldn't agree more!
What had I become?
What happened to the girl who just wanted to serve Jesus and love people?
What happened to the girl who cried when she read the Bible?
Who use to think that she could bring Jesus to the world?
Had that girl just grown up and learned the correct and proper way to serve, and been shown the true dark-side of ministry?
I had become a Pharisee!
(huge dramatic gasp.)
Yes! My real problem wouldn't be found on my sterling silver laundry list of "things Christians don't do"- My problem was that I had become, religious.
And no one had forced me to become one either, I just spiritually let myself go!
Yes I was as religious as they come.
Bring me a harlot and a bag of stones, because I had a religious spirit.
If Jesus was alive today and doing ministry I probably would have boycotted his podcasts because of something stupid like seeing Him at a conference shaking hands with a Pastor who thought it was acceptable to take a sip of alcohol as long as you didn't get drunk.
Yeah, that bad.
I was even self-righteous and religious about self-righteous religious people!
(good for nothing scum, right? Glad I am so #blessed, and not like them, right?)
Seriously, it was bad...
But the truth is,
I didnt mean to be that way.
I didn't know where I went wrong.
Somewhere along the way the rules became more important than the Saviour because my heart had grown so callous that I believed the only way to keep Jesus in your heart was by keeping every thought, action, and word in line with perfection.
And do you have any idea how often I fell short of perfection?
Once I acknowledged who I was and what I had become I knew I needed a 'restart' moment.
A fresh start.
I remember crying on the bed in our guest room when I admitted who I had become to my husband.
I told him about the days when i use to baptize my friends in swimming pools and pray for anyone who asked for it, anywhere not matter what.
My super duper correct-ministry approach was all off, but my passion and love was so alive.
I'd give anything to get back to that.
Now lucky for me, God was already 10 steps ahead of me on this whole 'fresh start' thing, because we were already in the process of moving to another state about 1,000 miles away.
I remember the day I woke up in another city knowing that my fresh start was about to begin.
I prayed that God would teach me about 'true religion' the kind He spoke of in James.
I wanted to see His face.
I wanted to know His heart.
God was leading me into a season where all the religious-poison was being sucked out of me, and I was being made new.
Yes, there is hope for even the religious with Jesus.
I felt God directing me to His Word,
to His creation,
and to His people,
and through studying these things I would better understand His heart.
I needed to rewire my brain and renew my heart
I needed to enjoy my Jesus again.
Everyday that I prayed and sought God I would say
"Jesus I want to enjoy you today"
"...teach me religion that is true and pure in Your eyes."
Where did God lead me to teach me how to enjoy Him?
Outside to experience crazy, awesome, beautiful things He created and called "good!".
Outside to enjoy His handy work so that I could better recognize His brilliant touch and creativity in my own life.
Sounds too hippie-ish to be true right?
But it really is that simple, I made a cautious effort to experience new things.
To search and find beauty in everything.
You'd really be surprise how uplifting and freeing appreciating all that the Creator has created for us is.
I wanted to learn what true religion was, so where did God lead me next?
What super famous, mega-church pastor, evangelist, worship leader fandome did He have me join?
What best-seller church leadership books did He have me buy?
What bigger-than life church leader did He have me fangirl over, and quote in all my tweets and facebook posts?
God lead me to the bedside of a young girl (about my age) who lost almost everything from a horrible sickness.
I don't want to go much further into her story (because it's not my story to tell), but she has taught me more about love and ministry than all my years of sitting in a pew.
God is wrecking my mindset that ministry just takes place behind the pulpit, and freeing me from the mindset that you are unsuccessful and backslidin' if you aren't leading a church ministry.
God is reminding me that although there are some hard truths in His Word that there are also promises and words of hope.
Hope that looks like this:
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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."
His yoke is easy and His burden is light...
I have to remind myself of that when I am tempted to try and complicate or add burdens to myself.
God has already paid the price, and "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus."
God's yoke is easy and His burden is light...
Sometimes we make it so hard.
Sometimes we even enjoy making it hard.
We view it like some sort of spiritual accomplishment when we pile convictions on ourselves (Not ones that the Spirit leads us to take up, but those ones we add because our favorite preacher has, or our parents had...) but then we cannot stand up under the weight of our "for-show" convictions....
And that's where I was, crushed up under all of the expectations I had placed on myself.
I had to believe, not just the powerfully convicting verses in the Bible, but the ones that tell me that even my most righteous moments are rags compared to the glory of God.
I need God's grace.
I cannot do this without the grace of God.
I love Jesus.
I love God's Word, and I believe in both of those more than anything else.
I am thankful that God is a God of forgiveness.
God is a God who loves the Pharisees, the religious, and self-righteous.
Jesus describes Himself as gentle and humble in heart and begs us to come to Him so that he may renew us.
He wants us to cast off our heavy burdens and trade it in for His yoke.
I know it is hard to admit that you have a spirit of religion because it seems like the ultimate sin, but God is showing me that it's a sin like any other, one He is willing and eager to forgive if we will give it to Him.
Whoever is still reading this, or made it through this long post (sorry), search your heart.
If you are burdened and find that you just don't really enjoy Jesus anymore, pray.
Pray that God will soften your heart, and give you rest.
And He will, just like He did for me.