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.

My Kind of Feminism

One of my earliest memories associated with feminism was a TV commercial that admonished parents to not buy their daughters tea sets but to buy them chemistry sets instead. It was an attempt at shaking up the status quo, to introduce science to little girls who otherwise wouldn’t have thought to ask for it because it had never been modeled for them, and to broaden the career horizons of many young women. That commercial infuriated my mother.

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Being Phlegmatic

A former supervisor-turned-dear friend once described me as someone who accommodates others day after day until reaching an unspoken limit where I can’t take it anymore. He said that’s when I “dig my heels in” and refuse to budge, catching everybody off guard because they had no idea I was accommodating that whole time since I seemed to be participating so willingly. I learned much later that this was classic Phlegmatic behavior.

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Blogging Rules

When I began my blog a year ago, I decided to put in place some guiding principles to keep me in line with its vision and purpose (steps toward a thriving, flourishing life), as well as to keep me honest with myself and my readers. Internet etiquette is different for everyone since we all have different expectations of what’s appropriate and beneficial to “put out there,” and it’s so easy to get swayed by other people’s convictions of what your blog should be. Instead of taking on what someone else found appropriate, I put together my own set of rules for my writing. Here is what they were:

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I get a lot of advise. Some of it is passive, like what I read in self-help and other non-fiction books with valuable life lessons. Other advise is more active, like people telling me specifically that I should try something they’re doing that they love.

A lot of it is good advise. But I’ve realized that the more advise I consume, the more overwhelmed I get. I’m on information overload. I cannot possibly follow every word of advise given to me by every author, every Ted-talk speaker, every pastor, every friend, and every family member. I don’t have enough brainpower, emotional capacity, or hours in a day.

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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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Couples Retreat

A friend of mine once told me that thousands of years ago in Israel, newlywed couples would retreat for a year to get acquainted with one another. They’d be isolated from the people they knew, leaving behind the former ties and making new ones with their spouse, before re-emerging in their society as a couple united in mind and purpose.

I don’t know where she got her information, and whether it was historically true or not, and generally I thought something like that was kinda unnecessary in the day and age (and the type of society) where couples actually do know each other very well before getting hitched. But something about it drew me to the idea because I was in the kind of long-distance relationship that didn’t allow for us to be around each other very much in normal everyday experiences. We talked a lot on Skype, and I was sure that he was the right guy for me, but I knew that sharing a home and a life would be a hard transition for a couple who couldn’t act like a couple most of the time and who essentially turned back into independent people as soon as the computer screens closed or as soon as one of them got back on a plane to go home.

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Mind Reader

I have always fancied myself pretty good at reading other people’s minds. It comes from my tendency to over-analyze small details: the micro-actions or inactions of someone I’m familiar with. It’s a self-preservation tool to try to be prepared to respond in any situation. I’m always thinking about what other people are thinking about.

And I’ve been told (by someone I love and trust) that I’m not as good at it as I fancy I am.

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Losing Her “Spark”

Long ago a friend of mine reflected on a friend of his, and his reflection has stuck with me over the years. He had observed that his friend, who used to be quite bubbly and energetic, became much more reserved and mellow since getting into a serious relationship with a very conservative guy. My friend was worried that his friend was changing who she was to accommodate her boyfriend’s expectations of what a good, proper, and (in their conservative Christian perspective) submissive woman was supposed to be.

I was never quite as bubbly as my friend’s friend. However, I was an introvert who often faked being an extrovert when I was trying to win people’s affection. And I worried that when I started intentionally choosing to act more introvertedly with people, that they would worry that I was changing myself for my boyfriend, too.

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