So when I speak of having grown up in church culture, I literally mean, I grew up in it. From as early as my memories span, I remember church. For all of my growing up years, I don't remember missing a Sunday service except for when we were out of town or sick. I grew up with weekly Sunday school classes, church potlucks and picnics, youth group, weeknight kid's clubs, memorization of scripture, daily Bible study, Christian music, church camps, involvement in church ministries (e.g., helping with the nursery, singing on worship team, helping with youth group, community outreaches, etc.), and church Christmas productions.
Honestly, I'm thankful for much of this culture I was raised in. I love the family of God, imperfections and all, and I feel I received a rich heritage. Aside from being born into this culture, as a young person, I thankfully learned to make it my own faith, not merely a culture I was born into. Over the years, I've wrestled with my own questions and beliefs about God and faith, and some of them have changed, some of them have been replaced or broadened, and many of them have remained the same, merely being strengthened through the years.
Still, as with every culture, we tend to pick up some negative things along with the good, and we don't always recognize it, swimming around in it all like fish breathing in water. So along with many of the beautiful things I've gained and learned over my lifetime in church culture, I've picked up some things I'd love to let go of. Things like religiosity.
While talking with a dear friend this morning, we touched upon this idea of living a religious-less Christianity. For those of us who've been in it for awhile, this is much easier said than done. I know it's true, we Christians can be pretty religious, myself included. The sad thing is, following Christ was never intended to be a religion. It's a way of life, a passion, a love, a commitment, a change of self - but not a religion, regardless of public perception or even our shortcomings in living out this love for Christ.
For me, this is a hard one to swallow. All of my teenage and young adult life, prior to my Dad's sudden death, I was in the habit of reading my Bible several times a week, if not daily. I faithfully went to church every week. I prayed often and picked up my guitar to worship almost as often. I'd say I did this thirty percent out of habit, fifty percent out of desire, and twenty percent driven by a need to pursue perfection. Things changed drastically with my Dad's death, and while I feel my faith has grown deeper and more real in many ways, I have also acquired some guilt. I'm not as I used to be. Things don't come as easily to me in my faith as they used to. I often wonder if I'm a washed up, has-been Christian in comparison with my former self.
Through these past several years, though, I've been learning something about beholding God. While I have a hard time picking up the Bible as often and reading it, I love to go for walks and notice Him in my surroundings. When I'm outdoors, my soul sings God's praises. I settle down and enjoy talking with Him. The same goes when I'm writing. I'm learning to see God more in my daily life and incorporate that into the story I'm continually living and writing. When I'm talking with people, I see God more often. I see Him in the changing seasons, in the hustle and bustle of the city, in all the colors and diversities of people, in the unfolding of daily world events, in the babies and the elderly, in the homeless and the immigrant and refugee, in the poverty of some who are rich and the wealth of some who are poor. I see Him in the different ways those who love Him prefer to worship. I see Him in my times of play and my times of work, my times of joy and my times of heaviness.
In every day life, I'm learning to behold Him. But I still struggle with that guilt, that I'm not who I used to be, that who I used to be perhaps was more spiritual or pure or devoted. I'm not sure, exactly, but I guess it's the religious part of me I'm still trying to unlearn. I'd like to hold onto the rich treasure of the word of God, of personal times of worship and prayer, while letting go of the need to hold to a certain level of performance in these practices. I'd like to believe God is bigger and grander than my ability to perform and my continual inability to meet the mark of my own religious standards.
God help me, I'd like to love and live and breathe a religious-less faith.