when you’re outside the church


I am sitting in my car, afraid to go into the church. Afraid that I will have come all this way, tried so hard, and that I will again leave with this distance tugging at my heart. And it is paralyzing.

God has dissolved into a dichotomy. A Presence and an Absence. And it all got so tied up in how it feels and what I’m thinking…and the absence pulls me deeply into itself, like a vacuum. A void seeking to be filled, pushed upon by the atmosphere around it.

And yet the Presence is somehow more compelling. Like a black hole, it is an infinitely dense mass producing this gravity that draws me inexorably.

God feels far away. I’m throwing friends and busy-ness at the Absence, hoping to fill it somehow.

I have missed His presence. I have missed it in the searching for the next great moment or crisis. I have run to the mountaintop, staring at the sky and looking for a Jesus who spent so much time eating dinner and riding in a boat. Who lived in the ordinary moments.

I was lost in the church building when I was younger. And I tried to get to the car, to get home. I was just sure my mom would find me there, because it was her car. She would come. An hour passed, with me standing there lonely. When someone finally saw me out there, she came running outside in a panic.

It had never occurred to her to leave without me. She was looking for me, and she told me quite seriously that in the future I was to stay put and let myself be found.

We hang the tattered curtain back on its rod and we sit outside the Holy of Holies, waiting for Him in this place He has been. We are the men of Galilee, staring at the sky where He was. We go looking for Him, when He came down from there for the explicit purpose of finding us.

We try to feel it. We try to feel close to Him. We try to know more things about Him. We try to pin him to a cork board and examine Him, only to find that He continues to slip through our fingers. We go to camp, or a worship experience and try to wake up that feeling that used to burn inside of us. But the glow has faded, and we just can’t feel it.

And so we are outside the church. Broken and with our faith not quite working. Looking for the way back. Trying to fix it, trying to find God somewhere in the lost and found like an old cellphone or set of keys. “where did you last see it?” “when did you last use it?”.

If my soul could be still. If my anxious thoughts could be taken captive. If I could stay in this moment instead of rushing about into the unchangeable, into the past and the future…perhaps I could be found. Perhaps I would let myself be found, rather than seeking so desperately, and trying to create His presence when I can’t feel it. Perhaps instead of trying to know…instead of bombarding the ceiling with frantic questions and theological quandaries, I could let my anxieties and worries go, and I could just be known.

If you’d like, we could sit outside the church a little longer. We could sit in the gravel of the parking lot and be a complete mess, and I don’t think He would mind so much. I know it’s hard to go in there right now. I know it feels like God is millions of miles away. We could sit here for hours and talk about our lives, for a change, instead of trying to figure out some burning question or resolve some complex issue. We could sit here on this hill and watch the sun set, the way Lauren and Jen and I did at the very beginning of summer. With drinks from Sonic and a blanket. We could stay here until it comes back up, and we don’t have to go inside right now, if you’re not ready. Eventually there may be stars, and the quiet might be exactly what both of us need to quiet the crazy inside our hearts.

But just know…He is here, too. And even when it feels like absence we are known and we are found.


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