I have a heart for broken things. I’m a fixer to my core. There is no problem I won’t fight to solve and I see little fruit that comes out of complaining.
Like many people, I saw the pandemic as the perfect opportunity to adopt a puppy and in true Emily fashion, I adopted two. My Chihuahua mix, spunky little Brooklyn came from a good home. Watching him enjoy grass for the first time and soak up the sun, my heart leapt at seeing a dog that had been given such a good start in life. He makes friends with everyone he meets, including all animals.
Which meant he desperately needed a friend. About two weeks later, I adopted Cookie Monster, a Blue Heeler mix who had been rescued out of a dog fighting ring. At 8 weeks old, he was fearful and timid. Brooklyn was a good big brother for him. I have had the joy of watching him grow in confidence and security. His socialization skills grow weekly. Some weeks are a total mess while other weeks I burst with pride at his behavior.
I have very strong opinions about adopting dogs rather than shopping through breeders. While I don’t condone or judge people that do so, there are few things that have reflected to me the love of Christ than rehabilitating a dog. The gentle direction and patience it takes to work with Cookie has modeled the love my Father has for me through my worst moments.
For several months, I’ve been attending spiritual direction sessions in an attempt to work through what I now understand to be a wall or plateau in my relationship with God.
Prior to being diagnosed with schizophrenia, my relationship with God was loud and proud. I engaged in many service projects, talked about Jesus nonstop on social media and was always in a bible study. You would think that with recovery, I would have only amplified my activities but the reality is that I found myself in this dark in between as I could no longer maintain the status quo “American Christian” persona but I also didn’t want to walk away from God. I pounded against this wall I ran into as I wanted my life and my relationship with God to matter more than likes on my Facebook page and photos of my “domestic missionary life.”
I wanted God to matter more but had no clue what that looked like.
By the time the pandemic closed everything down, I was growing restless with the motions I was going through. I loved my church family but hated going to church. Service projects were marked by selfies that made me feel like we were missing the point. My relationship with God was lackluster at best. Any attempt to talk to my Christian friends about the fallacy of mixing gospel work with social media branding and promotion fell flat.
Enter into spiritual direction. Pressing into the Holy Spirit and allowing God to lead me into places unknown to my conscience started to bring about more healing…and more questions.
The biggest takeaway so far is how shallow the Big Church is. The motions we go through without questioning why. Without intentionality, our sacrifices of our time, money and energy fall flat before the Lord. I’ve started to see the places I had not been truly intimate with God and as those places have begun to deepen in meaning, I have grown increasingly frustrated with a church culture that is so expressive but lacks the quietness and meekness before the Lord. The balance we so desperately need to speak truth and justice but also do great things without needing validation from others. To know the pleasure God has in us is sufficient.
I question the ways we sit in pews week after week and surround ourselves with other believers but fail to recognize that the greatest relationships we are capable of having are with the people who don’t share our foundation. The natural itch I get to be challenged by world views other than my own are not common to the Christian experience. As I grow deeper in my relationship with God, the biggest question that arises is that in a sea of sameness, where is my place in the church? What part of the body am I? Is there safe places within the Christian community to question the traditions and beliefs we have and act on without a second thought?
When I look at my two dogs, I see two different realities. Brooklyn knows his place. He plays confidently with other dogs and people. He has no fear or anxiety. Cookie is still very much figuring it out. He acts out and needs to be redirected. He moves between being protective of his family and fearful of other dogs. The moments he plays with other dogs are my favorite. When he rolls over to play with a new friend, I know he is healing. I’m excited to see who he grows up to become.
I figure God says the same thing about me.