We broke crackers and dipped chips into salsa and port wine cheese balls, and made chamomile tea at 11pm. And we called it church.
She’s roughly fifteen years older than me, but whenever we gather in her old farmhouse kitchen, the kids asleep upstairs and a pile of crayons at the corner of her counter, I feel like we meet on this common ground. She knows how to meet me where I’m at.
We talked about heartache. About moving on. About staying cautiously optimistic for the future. We talked about making decisions ahead of time, about the past, about telling ghosts to go and how some ghosts linger into the future.
And we talked about church. And how we don’t like conventional church. And how we don’t feel like we always belong. The forced atmosphere of having your shit together and making surface-level small talk. How depth and creativity are more often looked down upon rather than celebrated.
But in these rare moments in her kitchen, leaning over her counter, my mug of chamomile tea burning my fingers, I felt so celebrated, seen, and understood.
“The world is out there,” I said, “and things are going to happen and things have already happened that I have to face. But I feel so content in this moment, that even though I’m not where I wanted to be, I feel like I’m okay where I’m at, and it’s going to get better.”
I think that’s how church is supposed to look. It’s supposed to look like us doing life together, gathering around kitchen counters and cheeseballs or watching the Bachelor because sometimes the rows are too much. Sometimes the preacher man is too much. Sometimes the songs and the hand-raising and the prayers whispered aloud are too much, and you just need someone to meet you where you’re at.
Because I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not really sure anymore, and I’m not really okay with that, but I’m okay being uncertain for a while if it means I have the freedom to search it out. And if the entire purpose of church, not the Sunday-morning-tithe-10%-sing-a-song-and-leave church but the let’s work through shit together church, is to do life together, then that’s the kind of “church” I want to be a part of. And if people are honest, maybe that’s what a lot of them want too.
Not to be preached at, but a space created to feel safe to admit the things that make us not okay. The last thing we need is to be told our emotions are invalid and that all we need is a little more faith, because sometimes life just sucks and sometimes you need someone to sit with you as you wade the waters and walk through the woods because that’s life: it’s a series of waters and woods and storms, and at some point we will all make it, we are all on our way out, but preaching from the mountain will not always be the save all. We need the stayers, the ones who sit with us in the dirt as we cling to our baggage and cry over suitcases full of memories we can’t bring ourselves to throw over the edge.
We become too caught up in reaching the masses instead of reaching one person, or two or three, really well. We’ve taken love out of the equation, and as we mask our skeletons and hush our ghosts, we cripple someone else’s bravery to open up too.
I think that’s a stumbling block for me, that I deem certain brokenness beautiful and attractive to share, like that brokenness you’re okay telling the world or posting or sharing over coffee, and other brokenness too shameful. Nobody wants to hear that mess. That doesn’t make me the perfect imperfect human being.
No, our brokenness is brokenness period. We all fall short, we all fall down, and we all have really bad days and really bad nights that don’t seem to end, and we carry baggage we don’t want anyone to know about because it is messy stuff, it is broken things, and we don’t like being broken.
So if anything, for now please know in this moment you are not alone. The world may pretend it has it all together, but we don’t. We really, really don’t. And you’re okay. You’re welcome here with us.
It starts with us.
And our vulnerability. Our bravery to meet someone where they’re at and tell them, “You’re okay, you’re okay. I’m sticking with you. Here’s how I made it out of the woods.”
Or saying, “I’m not out yet, but I’m not letting you go.”
I don’t think we’re going to find this in a church building or on Sunday morning. I think it’s possible, and I know I’ve found it in for the first time in a very long time. But I think most of the time, church happens throughout the week, when we pause our journey so we can help someone else. Lay down your life for your friend, yeah?
And we’re not going to be perfect at this. We’re going to be unauthentic. We’re going to accidentally (or purposefully) burn bridges and say things at the wrong time, and we’re going to hurt people. That doesn’t make it okay, that just means it’s going to happen because regardless of what the church says and how we’re “different” from the world, we still screw up big time. We’re not exempt from failure.
Perhaps what needs to change is “we vs. them” to “us.” Because we’re all in this mess together.
I do not have the answers, and this concept is neither original nor remotely new. But I know where I’m at in life, and I know for this season I don’t always feel comfortable or safe within four church building walls. Even when I go to surround myself with people, I still feel like I’m lacking something.
But on the night we broke crackers and drank mugs of chamomile tea at 11pm, I felt it.
She said the word for this feeling is gezellig (Dutch word, pronounced ha-sell-ick), a word encompassing a sense of belonging. A holy sense of belonging. Holy not meaning religious or perfect, but different. Set apart. Unlike anything else. It’s sacred, it’s precious, it’s something that cannot be described other than infinite.
And if the church is meant to be holy, if we are meant to not look like the world, then the thing that has to change is how we love and create space to belong.
I don’t mean our friends. We already do a really good job at stressing how close we are with one another. I’m talking about the committed kind of love, the for better or for worse, the holding hands and opening doors, the fearless and persistent pursuit kind of love. Sometimes I just wonder what it shows the world when we’re loud about talking about our loneliness and heartache and settle for unlike-minded people because the world does a better job at pursuing one another than God’s people do.
// jenna bednarsky (read her here, because she is absolute gold)
I’m not going to get this right, I haven’t gotten this right, and I know that, and one more blog post about how the “church should be” isn’t going to help things. Just as much as we don’t need to be preached at, we don’t need more posts about how people try too hard to be authentic and aesthetic and whatever other A words you can insert there.
But all I know is I want to invest my money into comfortable things to create a space that feels safe and secure. I want to be courageous to tell my story and walk in vulnerability, because I know I have become all the braver when I’ve watched someone else’s courage to be vulnerabe.
And I want to buy cheeseballs and chamomile tea and invite someone over at 11pm, because that’s when the ghosts show their face and that’s when we need people most, and be there with them as they fight. Because in that moment they don’t need another Bible verse or a song, but gezellig. A place to belong. And sometimes that looks like kitchen-counter church.
(this post was specifically inspired [although it seems to be as always] by h.b.)