One commonly accepted definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
I think I’m there.
I attended church this past Sunday morning, and I was very moved by the temple talk given by a young woman who is just finishing up her first year of college. She was talking about campus ministry, and how helpful it’s been for her. She began sobbing as she described her difficulty transitioning into adulthood, and how angry she was at everyone else for being fine. She described how she was attending church regularly and praying every day, and how angry she was at God for ignoring her prayers, and for being totally useless in comforting her and helping her to find her way.
I found myself sobbing along with her, my own eyes filled with tears, because I could relate. I’m well beyond the whole transitioning-into-adulthood thing, but I’m very familiar with the feeling of not being fine when everyone else seems to be, and with yearning for God’s mercy and receiving at best silence or at worst more pain.
She talked about how a peer minister with her college’s campus ministry had reached out to her and got her involved in serving others. She talked about how she began to see God’s love in the people she helped, and the people she served with. She talked about how she’s now become a peer minister and council member herself, and how even though some of the work of leading the ministry is tedious (three-hour council meetings) she is still aware of God’s presence and love in the people around her.
That’s what I want. That’s what I’ve always wanted, first as a parishioner, then as a pastor.
I’ve never really experienced it.
I was humiliated and shunned by the Catholic church of my elementary school days. I was ostracized by the Evangelical church of my high school days. I got mired in the inertia at the UCC church of my discernment days. I was too stressed and depressed to notice much good during my internship days. I suffered through an utterly demoralizing personality conflict with the senior pastor at my first call. I experienced it briefly when I served as an interim in New Hampshire, but that was by design temporary, and could not last. Both I and my husband were violently rejected by the people at my most recent call.
From the UCC experience onward, I was in service with and to the people of God. Each time I was hurt by the church–ignored, judged, or even outright attacked–and I wondered how God could let people who call themselves Christians do this to me. Didn’t they realize they were acting in God’s name? Didn’t God realize it and want such misrepresentation to stop? And each time I remembered that the church is a congregation of sinners (including me), and none of us is perfect. So I’d do my best to forgive (I still have a long way to go for some), and I’d hope that I’d find a gathering of God’s people who would welcome me, hurt and wounded as I am, and be Christ for me as I tried to be Christ for them, as I was taught all baptized Christians are called to do, ordained or not. And I’d go someplace else, holding onto that hope, and get used and abused again.
And here I am, at a new congregation, getting misty-eyed at the testimony of a young woman who seems to have found what I’ve been seeking. Yes, I’m a little jealous of her (back to that bit about everyone else seeming to be fine when I’m not). And I found myself fighting the tears, because I didn’t want anyone in the congregation to see me crying. That’s a weakness, and my experience tells me that church people exploit weakness just as well as non-church people do. It’s much safer to keep the walls up, and keep your vulnerability hidden.
The pastor came up to me afterwards and asked me how this morning went for me. He knows some of my story, knows I’m pretty fragile right now, and I think he saw the wadded up tissue in my hand. I told him that the service had struck a tender spot, and I was struggling a bit. He assured me that I was in the loving arms of Trinity, and I was safe.
I might be insane, but I find myself daring to hope that he’s right.