Mending a Critical Spirit
A few years ago, I attended my first-ever women’s gathering at our church. I rarely summoned the energy for these things, not seeing myself “the type” to sit, eat, and make small-talk. And if there was a time to “share”? Forget about it. My shackles went up, paranoid and prickly at vulnerability, afraid it would break something inside of me.
Something I didn’t want broken.
This particular morning, however, I was ready. I’d grown tired of my critical heart, weary of who I'd become after all my years knowing Christ. I was exhausted with "Christians," with big-church, come-let's-be-friends-with-each-other-and-nobody-else gatherings. I perceived this is how they all were. In my mind, women’s events were about cliques, groupies, and comfort. Let's get together and talk about our first world struggles while the rest of mankind suffers from things like hunger, pain, sorrow, isolation; we’ll gather, eat cookies and bemoan our "busy" lives. Instead of confessing deep struggles, we will make cute crafts while chatting about Johnny's sore throat or the new Starbucks latte flavor. It all seemed so pointless, worthless, silly even. Or so I thought.
Fortunately that morning, my cynical heart shattered.
I hadn’t realized how hard I'd become, how much I feared revealing pieces of myself to others. I’d write a bit about myself here and there on the interwebs but even that still felt invisible enough. I didn't have to show my face or meet anyone in person. I could easily hide, get by without being fully seen.
But not at a women’s breakfast.
Face-to-face interaction at round tables.
I began to sweat.
As I sat down, the host began to introduce the speaker. Her topic? Community.
The speaker stepped behind the podium, arranged her notes, and said: Genuine community is not elusive and need not be feared. My shoulders sagged, all tension released. The walls I had built started to crumble. I gave my full attention, rapt, scribbling notes and absorbing the message.
When time came for the (not-so-scary) small group discussion, I met women my age, some much older, some at very different places in life, some who indeed love Starbucks lattes and/or openly sharing about their children. I soaked it up. We were a community of women, all struggling with various sin issues and brokenness. Indeed there were cookies (and yes I had one), there was also truth and love and respect and honesty. All things I hold dear.
I stepped forward in faith and into the arms of women who embraced me despite my timidity; women who didn’t judge or scorn or criticize; women who embraced all of me, ugliest parts included. My preconceived notions vanished.
These were women who love.
That morning God tossed me a life vest, yanked me out, covered me in warmth, and whispered what is right and true. I loathed who I'd become but He extended forgiveness through a group of grace-filled church ladies.
I grabbed hold of their olive branch and held on tight.
The Spirit moved within, revealing the beauty of community as I literally felt His power unfold around me. Surrounded by these dear sisters, I prayed: Jesus, I'm weary of this bitterness, ashamed at the cynic I‘ve become. Forgive me for not representing You well in my words, actions, or thoughts. Renew my heart. Grow me into a woman who honors You. Lord, thank you for showing me what it truly means to shed judgment, embrace vulnerability, and adopt Godly friendships.
I felt the weight of shame, anxiety, and bitterness fall away. Tentatively I stepped forward, renewed and ready to give and receive the joy I had always longed for.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
-Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV)