“Time” marches on for everyone. Time. We are all on a pathway that leads to the end of time for this life. When I was younger, like many, I never gave it a moment’s thought. So where am I headed now in what will probably be the last 20 years of my life (give or take)? I have lived 62 years and am not a person who is in any major or even minor ministry in a church family. I'm not a part of the respected “mature women's” group giving out advice to the younger women. I have a feeling I was just a bit too unconventional to be considered for the role of a women's “Christian mentor.” They say everyone has “gifts,” but I find a lot of what is being shared these days about church families helping people find their place in the church ringing a bit hollow. For me it consisted of only filling out surveys to identify your spiritual gifts, and then sadly ending the conversation after the results were read. This happened several times over the years.
I have had to walk a very singular and independent spiritual walk over the years. I have had to stand on my own around people who were interested more in socializing than deep spiritual conversation. My church incorporated a monthly “course” that gave opportunity for people to have a deeper spiritual experience with God. I attended, looking forward to the conversation and gleaming some nuggets for myself, only to find many struggling with the idea and they didn't seem to be getting out of it what the author intended. I found it sad, and frustrating and eventually I stopped attending. Whether right or wrong, I did not return for the last two meetings. I still suffer the odd pang of guilt from that choice.
So what does a 62 year old women do when her gifts have not been made use of by church family and she now fills a seat in each service taking care of her own spirituality? Well, I asked God that question and I can only share what I feel He has brought to mind.
I was reminded that I had a very deep and spiritually satisfying upbringing at the age of 20 and for the following 8 years. This spiritual foundation was set so solid that no challenge has ever rocked it. I was reminded that few Christians have been so blessed. I felt the Lord say that I have had input into many people's lives where they could not find the answer within their church family, without always being aware of it. I have been blessed when the Lord chose me to express His heart by helping to lead others to salvation in Him. These have been awesome experiences as they then joined a church family, returned to, or changed churches to continue their own spiritual journey.
So after some thought, I had to admit I was looking for affirmation from my somewhat distant church family instead of turning to the only one who sees me inside and out - God. So if you find—like myself—your journey with the Lord has not resulted in you being surrounded with deep spiritual friendships found in your church family, you are not alone. Even Jesus wasn't well understood by most. Please, I am not saying I walk like Jesus Himself, just saying that he empathizes with my life experiences.
So take heart. Keep true to the person God has made you. God made you the way you are for a reason, the best thing you can do is figure out what that reason is. Do not conform, not just to this world but to any social images and parts people play in church. As Christian we can be focused on having to live in this world while striving to be separate from world. Part of that is not participating in what we believe is ungodly behaviour or having wrong priorities. But just because something happens within the church, doesn’t make it right, and just because something happens outside the church doesn’t make it wrong. Behaviours can be “normalized” and go unquestioned.
We have developed our own “culture” and I slowly realized I could no longer participate in some of it. It just felt too uncomfortable. Seek God and His will in Scripture, let Him fill your heart and let your actions come out of that. When He becomes your deepest friend that words cannot describe, you’re freed to be authentic, meaning everything God intended you to be. Sounds “cliche”, but that person God wants you to be, may come as a complete surprise even to you. No one would guess at 62 years of age that I am an older married Baptist woman. Why? Because my conversation, some of my outward dress and personal spiritual life are not typically “Baptist”.
Most Christians I have met over the years in various denominations have spent most of the available time they have for church, in organized activities or attending potlucks in homes or church. I have a lot of difficulties with this. I am not comfortable getting together for mainly food and then a brief Bible study after. I am not sure what purpose this serves and it is certainly not reaching the lost as new unbelievers rarely, in my experiences, have shown up. I have enough teaching to carry me through till the Lord takes me home. I fellowship with non-Christians most and mentor a new Christian in my home because she feels uncomfortable in a church setting because of very severe negative experiences. We fellowship in restaurants, parks, pubs and shortly will be with her and her non-Christian partner playing cards some evenings where they will drink their beer, he will smoke and my husband and I will probably have wine or a cocktail only because we are not beer enthusiasts. I get together with other Christians weekly with her so she has a sense of family but nothing sanctioned by our Church. Do I go out with Christian friends just for fun? Absolutely! It is re-energizing, stress relieving and a very spiritually healthy thing to do. I find during those times some of the most important things in our lives are shared and I end up taking home lots of laughter as well as some meaningful and challenging thoughts. Wonderful times. Would I attend Bible study like meeting? Yes, if people had studied ahead of time and shared what the Lord had shown them. People sharing their lives this way has been an incredibly enriching experience for me. Can all believers do this? Absolutely. We all have the same Holy Spirit leading and teaching us. Just read Paul’s admonishment in Hebrews 5:12.
I am not a card carrying “member” of a church although I have a church family and feel very much a part of it. It is enough for me that I am a member of the body of Christ. I have found most “denominations” find my type of commitment inadequate. Our commitment often goes unrecognized because we are labelled as those who lack the required commitment.
There is a joy and freedom in being who God made you, which for me meant living and thinking outside the conventional Christian framework and yet still recognizing these brothers and sisters in Christ are all still my personal Christian family in the larger context of us all being a member in the body of Christ. I now understand this is to be the place where I am supposed to live, even within a denomination. And despite pressures around me saying, “conform” in order to be fully accepted into a particular church , I have had a modicum of success of being the person I believe God wants me to be for Him and for all those He loves. Hopefully, I can continue to grow in my walk with the Lord and be faithful to path He has put me on.
So be courageous and bring into the light, those no one else sees, who happen to be unique in their own way, and like yourself are an integral part of the family of God. These have just been some reflections from an ‘older person’ who has decided her life has less regrets than what she originally thought.
Janice has been married to a now retired high school teacher for 42 years. She is a mother of 3 girls and grandmother of 3 girls and a boy. After completing a BA in Child Psychology she decided to stay home when her own children arrived, home school for the formative years and run a child daycare in her home. Over the next 32 years, she has had the pleasure of helping to raise over 70 children in her home. She is still doing daycare at present but only part-time as she "tries" to move into retirement. Having been a Christian since the age of 10, she has had a passionate love of God and has experienced Him and His family in a variety of church settings that have been wonderfully unique and challenging.
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