I once went to a evening class at church related to spiritual disciplines. We read through Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines over several months, and each month, we would talk about a difference practice. One evening, we were set to talk about simplicity.
I had been going to this church for several months, returning to the church I always attended during summer breaks from college, now that I had graduated. I was trying to “plug in,” attending small groups and talking about ways to serve. But I still entered the sanctuary every week and prayed that I would find someone to sit with at the 9am service.
That was part of why I had come to this class, hoping, not only for an opportunity to learn more about spiritual disciplines (one of those topics that make my ears perk up) but to meet other people who were interested in them, too. Also, just to meet other people.
On the night that we talked about simplicity, my pastor, in his cool shoes and sandblasted jeans, took a seat on a wooden stool at the front of the room, across from the round tables we were seated around, to more easily promote discussion.
“I’m going to talk about simplicity in relationships,” he said.
I had a page of notes containing my own thoughts on simplicity, answers to the discussion questions we’d been given during the previous month’s session. I had written about my own attachment to possessions and perfection, among other things, areas that the Spirit has gently touched in my heart.
“My wife and I have found that it’s best for our family to carefully guard our time,” he continued. “We’ve made friends that we love, friends that we want to invest in, and we protect our relationships with them, and with our kids, by avoiding many other commitments.”
I thought about the smiles and hellos I sent across the sanctuary on Sundays and on Thursday nights. I thought about my suggestions that we get lunch, coffee, or that I simply come over and be present in everyday life, complete with their children. I looked around at the people nodding and taking notes as my pastor continued to talk about setting up boundaries around his life.
Even then, I could see the glimmers of truth in what he said. I was learning to set boundaries, learning about the necessary rhythms of time alone and time with people. But as he spoke, I couldn’t help but think about the morning a few weeks prior when I had ventured to the front of the church to ask for prayer. He and his wife asked me what was going on, preparing to pray for me together.
“I’m just so lonely,” I said. “I feel like I’m drowning. I keep reaching out to people and no one is reaching back.”
“Have you talked to your small group about this?” he asked. That church highly emphasized small group involvement.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve been asking for weeks.”
I thought about the way that we wrote down our prayer requests on sticky notes and passed them to another person to be prayed for during the week. I was starting to feel whiny, asking for prayers for friends and community each week.
They prayed for me and sent me on my way with a hug. I left the front of the church feeling lighter in my spirit.
Like a break-up, the choice to leave a church rarely comes all at once for me. There are little things that chip away at the relationship for a long time. After many weeks of anxiety, wondering if anyone would talk to me if I didn’t walk up and interrupt their conversation with someone else, wondering when people would stop turning to me during morning worship get-to-know-you and ask if it was my first time, wondering if anyone would notice if I just didn’t come back, I walked out those doors for the last time.
I have been in many relationships that made me feel alone, even when we walked side-by-side, with men, with women, and with churches.
I’ve been thinking about scarcity often, lately. It is tempting for me to think that it’s all going to run out. I am that widow making one last cake out of her oil and flour, planning to savor the last thing standing between myself and death, looking at Elijah with shock when he asks me to make him something to eat, first.
I have soaked up community the way I used to eat fudge, wondering why I was never allowed to have as much as I wanted.
Recently, a dear friend and I talked about the Eucharist, communion, together, and she showed me something I’d never seen before. Communion is given to us in the Body and Blood of Christ, but once we eat and drink, entering into belonging and relationship with God, we are the Body and Blood of Christ.
I want to give myself away, knowing that I will be renewed.
At first it seemed presumptuous to think of myself this way, but I have watched the life-giving effect that communion has on those it is lavished upon, when freely given. Jesus does a work in me, making me into His Body and Blood.
That exchange of communion, of community, of thanksgiving around a table, metaphorical or otherwise, gives me the strength to go on, provisions from Heaven.
Now, when I look into the eyes of the ones I love and those I’m only just meeting, sometimes I find myself thinking: the Body of Christ, the bread of Heaven. And as I give a hug, or speak words of love or comfort, I think: the Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.
We eat, we drink, we are satisfied.
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