I’ve always known that God loves me, but, and this might shock you, it’s a relatively new thing for me to realize that God actually likes me, actually enjoys me, as well. Maybe this is a revelation for you too?
Though I grew up in a wonderful church family, for the past few years, I have struggled to find a community of faith to call my own. In our three years in Charleston, we never really did find a church to belong to. For over a year, we thought we had– we loved the “contemporary” service at an Episcopalian congregation that blended the liturgy I love with the music that touches Jon’s heart. And the people there were friendly enough. But we couldn’t find places to “plug in.” We weren’t interested in leading the youth group, though we’ve both been active in ministry to teens in the past. We were too old for the college kids, but too young for most of the “young marrieds” activities, and we just didn’t fit in with the people who already had kids. We were in church programming limbo. So, after about a year, we realized it was time to try to find a place where we wouldn’t still be treated like “visitors” after a year of attendance. We church hopped ever after.
I also tried to find a community of faith outside the church. I joined a bible study for medical wives, but, as I’ve written, I didn’t exactly fit in there as an outspoken, feminist, liberal, doubter. I always felt like they didn’t really know me, didn’t really like me, and REALLY wouldn’t like me if they knew the real me. Like: if you can’t handle “Sarah on her best behavior,” you’re really not going to do so well with “Sarah in a vulnerable moment.”
And, though I didn’t really realize it until last night, I think that my time in that group (and another community group which Jon and I both belonged to and ultimately left) left me feeling like yes, God loves me, but maybe God, or at the very least God’s people, doesn’t like me very much.
I wrote about our churchless time in Charleston and said I still hadn’t found what I was looking for. Now that I’m back in Little Rock, I really feel that I should follow up and say that for now, we have, praise God, found a community of believers where we feel at home, and I found it through Twitter of all places.
Our new church is small, but I’ll take quality over quantity any day. We meet in a converted house near our neighborhood every Sunday night, and, like the very first Christian churches, share a common meal and enjoy each other’s company. We try to keep to a flattened style of leadership, so we take turns leading in a conversation about Jesus, trying to get to know Him very well so that we can live like He did. And we have a great time.
Perhaps the biggest revelation for me lately isn’t just that we found a group of people who don’t make us feel like heretics, though that’s a big plus. It’s that we really LIKE these people. We want to hang out with them, have cook-outs with them, go on random weekday bike rides with them, share our lives with them. And with that revelation comes the realization that they like us too!
Last night, during our “talk time,” the leader was talking about Matthew 25 and what we do for the “least of these.” We had some conversation about dealing with “the least of these,” and the fact that sometimes, the least of these are downright annoying, ungrateful, and unpleasant. He pointed out that so often, when we deal with “the least of these” we have a super secret agenda, be it that they will leave things that hold them in bondage, or that they will accept Christ, or that they will say “thank you.” He noted that “the least of these” know we have this agenda, and that this hurts them– it hurts people to feel like we’re only tolerating them because we see them as a project. He said that perhaps the “least of these” in these situations are really being the better friend, because they’re putting up with us, despite our not-so-secret agendas. And, even more mind-blowingly, he said that WE are “the least of these” to God. We’re annoying, and unpleasant, and ungrateful, and yet God doesn’t just love us, God LIKES us. God wants to spend time with us, delights in us, and, in the form of Jesus, reclines at the table with us, sharing a meal, drinking some wine, and just enjoying a conversation.
Does that maybe blow your mind a little bit? It does mine! After a few years in which I felt like Christians I knew didn’t really like me, and in which I’d begun to get the idea that maybe God didn’t either, this message is downright liberating. It makes me want to pull a Sally Field and scream “You like me! You really like me!” And it also reminds me that I have a lot of work to do toward becoming more like Jesus. In our society, we seem to think that loving someone doesn’t mean we have to like them. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “I love you, but I just don’t like you very much right now.” I’ve definitely felt that. But “loving” someone without enjoying them is not the way of Jesus. And that’s a lesson I need to learn with humility, thankful for God’s grace, and love, and LIKE.