My Year of Anonymity

After several years of Christian ministry, I’d slowly and unintentionally gotten myself wrapped up in a giant Christian bubble. I didn’t like it—I missed refreshingly-secular conversations with people who didn’t think like me, and I wasn’t making room for that when my calendar was booked with church services, small groups, outreach trainings, and prayer meetings. I didn’t want to wipe away all Christian influences—I think that being connected to fellow believers helps ground you in your faith—I just wanted to leave behind the bubble that isolated me from people who didn’t share my faith.

And like some other changes I’ve needed in my life, I decided to go drastic for a short period of time. Swing to the other side of the pendulum, so to speak. And later, after I’d experienced both extremes, find the appropriate middle ground for me.

So I took a year to be anonymous. That meant I was no longer networking with as many Christians as I could at as many Christian activities as I could. Instead of being at a Christian activity 6-7 times a week, I now chose to do so only once a week. Each weekend I slipped into a pew at the beginning of the service, interacted with the people around me only when instructed to greet them, enjoyed the rest of the service, and then slipped out of the pew to go home. No small group Bible studies, no fellowship hour, no prayer meetings, no ministry staff meetings. No intentional spiritual discussions with other parishioners. I didn’t even introduce myself to a pastor. Just church, just once a week, with the occasional casual conversation with my husband about what we’d heard there.

The point of this was to get out of the rut of Christian over-commitment, as well as to get out from under the burden of expectations of how involved a devoted Christian “should” be. I knew that if I limited my involvement for a period of time, I could discover which Christian activities were actually important to me because I would start to miss having them in my life, not because I was being told I needed to do them. Then I’d slowly add in the activities that would not only feed my soul and provide friends but also give me a chance to give back to my community.

I’ve heard that every “Yes” you give to the things that matter most to other people is another “No” you’re giving to something that matters most to you. For years I’d been unwittingly defaulting to “No’s”: No to forming friendships with people with different faith perspectives, no to giving my time to the other causes that were important to me, no to investing deeply in authentic real-life Christian community with just a few people. When I finally started saying “no” to a lot more (but not all) Christian activities, I was more free to say whole-hearted “yes’s” to the ones that were right for me.

When my year of anonymity came to a close, I ventured into a church Bible study because I missed learning about God through conversations with other Christians. That led to saying yes to a volunteer day to help my community, as well as setting up a meeting to discuss my faith journey with my pastor. Each step brought me closer to the balance I was seeking—to be present and invested in the faith community and outside of it.

If you’re “out of balance” in your involvement inside and outside your church commitments, consider making a change. If you’re moving away it will be easy to start in your new church community with no commitments. If you’re not moving away, out of respect for your community and your leaders, let go of involvements gradually and communicate your intent with those leaders so they don’t 1) wonder whatever happened to you, and 2) keep bugging you to come back. And if you are the leader, give enough advance warning of your end date (commensurate with the level of responsibility of the role) so there is enough time for a replacement leader to fill your position.

I’m still finding the appropriate middle ground for my church involvement, step by step. May you and I each discover the life and joy that our church commitments bring, the grace to realize our “yes’s” and “no thank you’s” and the courage to live them out.

Meaning What I Sing

I love to sing songs to God in church. Not all songs, certainly, and not all verses/refrains in any particular song. I feel very strongly about meaning what I say, and sometimes I stop singing when I’m not quite sure I’m on board with a line or two in a worship song.

In particular, some songs bring up a lot of tension for me as an introvert. They may have their root in scripture (or they may not), but I have some difficulty singing them if they haven’t been contextualized for our modern day and if they seem rather extroverted on first look.

Verses like:

Shout it, go on and scream it from the mountains, go on and tell it to the masses…

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Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen

A number of years ago a friend loaned me her copy of Henri Nouwen’s the Return of the Prodigal Son. It, along with a few other great books I read around the same time, opened my eyes to the depth of relationship that is possible with God. It also addressed how my deepest insecurities often distract me from that deep relationship I simultaneously long for yet am afraid of. In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen shares insights from years of study and thoughtful reflection (his own, his friends’, and fellow scholars’) on the familiar parable through the lens of Rembrandt’s famous painting.

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The Half-Scorched Tree

I love trees. They speak to me metaphorically, providing significant analogies and life lessons about growth and beauty and provision and purpose. I can sit for an hour pondering my life (a form of meditation) in the vicinity of trees, and I’ll almost always walk away with new insights.

I’m also drawn to Bible verses that refer to trees and plants as a symbol for a person’s healthiness and vitality, or lack thereof. Psalm 1:3 is a prime example of this. Referring to those who meditate on God’s word, it says, “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither. Whatever they do prospers” (New International Version, 2011).

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Will God Save Me from This?

There’s a particular area of my life in which I am extremely unhappy. It reduces the quality of all the other areas of my life, too. Every day I ask God to save me from this thing, and every day that I am not saved from it I am faced with the question, “Is God going to save me from this thing, or am I supposed to save myself from it?” How much of this is in God’s hands, and how much of it is in mine?

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Streams of Living Water, by Richard Foster

One of the most eye-opening books I’ve read about my faith is Richard Foster’s “Streams of Living Water.” In Streams Foster describes six different ways that Christianity has been lived out over the centuries, each of which he asserts is as biblical and valid as the others. This came as a surprise to me, as I’d grown up in one of the six that seemed to assert that it was the only right expression of Christianity.

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Illegitimate Guilt

Sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing between a legitimate feeling of guilt and an illegitimate one. What I mean is, when someone I respect or love disapproves of a choice I make, I feel so bad about disappointing them that I start to feel like I’ve actually done something wrong. Even if it’s not wrong, just something they don’t like.

It’s even worse when they bring God into the equation.

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Mountains of Decisions, part 3

Prologue from part 1 and part 2:

I am not a hiker. And though I appreciate the beauty of green and flowering things from behind the glass of a window, I’m not even really that fond of being outdoors. So I was surprised to discover that the image that came to me year after year as an analogy to describe my life, was a mountain. Complete with hiking trails.

The last time the mountain imagery came to mind I was at a major crossroads in my life instead of my ministry. Well, it had something to do with my ministry in that I was considering leaving it.

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Mountains of Decisions, part 2

Prologue from part 1:

I am not a hiker. And though I appreciate the beauty of green and flowering things from behind the glass of a window, I’m not even really that fond of being outdoors. So I was surprised to discover that the image that came to me year after year as an analogy to describe my life, was a mountain. Complete with hiking trails.

The second time this mountain imagery came up, I had already decided to sign on full time with the ministry I’d been part of for 6 years. I’d been offered the choice to move to another city in a nearby state, or to stay at the campus I knew and loved. They asked me to pray about it, and when I did, the same mountain image emerged from my subconscious. Only this time, there were two ways up the mountain.

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Mountains of Decisions, part 1


I am not a hiker. And although I appreciate the beauty of green and flowering things from behind the glass of a window, I’m not even really that fond of being outdoors. So I was surprised to discover that the image that came to me year after year as an analogy to describe my life, was a mountain. Complete with hiking trails.

The first time this mountain/hiking imagery graced my life I was a college senior asking what I should do after graduation. More specifically, I was asking if I should intern with the campus ministry that I was part of in college. As I asked, this picture unfolded: it was me walking up a trail, starting at the base of the mountain where the incline was gradual, continuing to more steep sections, and occasionally stopping to enjoy the view and to survey how far I’d come. There was a sense of satisfaction that the hard work was well worth the vista point. And there was a deeper sense of God’s presence and his promise that he would always be with me, in the easy aspects of ministry and in the difficult ones, on the days that felt like accomplishments and the days that felt like failures, and that his hand would reach out to help me up the steeper parts of the climb.

Continue reading “Mountains of Decisions, part 1”