Northwest United Methodist
I wasn’t very proactive in picking what church I would go to this week. Friday, during lunch, my friend Ashleigh asked me where I planned to go on Sunday and it dawned on me that I hadn’t done any research yet. In a stoke of brilliance (read: desperation) I asked Ashleigh if I could tag along with her and her husband, Ryan.
I had been to Ashleigh’s church, Northwest United Methodist, once before. I’d seen Ashleigh and Ryan marry each other in the sanctuary there earlier this year. This morning, we worshipped in the fellowship hall instead of the sanctuary, in what would be the second contemporary Methodist service for me in 2018. It focused on authenticity and self-reflection.
“Do you know who you are?”
“What is your purpose?”
“What is your gift?”
These were the three questions the pastor posed during the service today. He didn’t only ask the questions, but also gave us silent time to think about them and think about what our answers would be. While I am experimenting with faith, I have been using these Sundays at church to not only try to identify what type of faith I have (if any), but also to gain some more self-awareness and meditation during my week. And so I loved that the pastor was asking these self-reflection questions and let us think about them. There was even a short activity where we were asked to write one word descriptions of ourselves. It was so tough! What am I? What is my identifying trait? I wanted to write friend, because I pride myself on having a super close circle of friends that I can depend on and that can depend on me. But then I thought, is that my defining trait? Shouldn’t I be the leading lady of my own life, and not be defined through the friendships I have? Instead I wrote listener. I listen to other people’s thoughts and needs and wants, I listen to mentors and teachers to learn, and now I am trying to learn how to listen to God. I have wrestled with the perceived weakness of being a listener instead of a talker my whole life, but I have found peace in recent years by realizing that I can listen to what other people want but not always yield to it. I’ve gained mental and emotional strength by listening.
Why did the pastor ask us these questions? First, to try to get us to think about who our authentic selves are, so we can share the most authentic version of ourselves in church and in worship. Second, he stated that if we don’t know what our purpose is, we probably won’t do a very good job at fulfilling it. And third, our gifts will be the things that help us fulfill our purpose.
He explained that oftentimes, church can be a place where people hide pieces of themselves, just like people do in the workplace. We hide things we think might be shameful, parts of ourselves that are vulnerable, and (in church especially) doubts we have. If we hide those things, then we are only displaying idyllic versions of ourselves, and not truthful versions. This negates our own “realness,” and can warp our relationship with our community and with God. So how should we have a relationship with God? By allowing our questioning hearts and minds to explore, by being vulnerable in our worship, and by inviting authenticity from the people around us.
Every single word of this sermon spoke to me and hit a very deep spiritual nerve. My mind is always questioning during church. I’ve almost always felt inauthentic in a church, like an outsider. I am afraid to show how out-of-place I feel and how precarious my faith is at this moment. If a community like the one at Northwest UMC can accept questioning minds, and people that aren’t pretending to be what they think the church wants them to be, then they are inviting people like me in and making us feel safe. Hearing the pastor’s words let me relax in my doubt.
The doubt will always be there, but as a person with quite a bit of anxiety, in church I have constant racing thoughts. Mostly something along the lines of: DON’T ACT WEIRD REMEMBER TO BE REVERENT TRY TO PRAY TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY DON’T LET ANYONE KNOW YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE. However, if someone tells me my doubt is okay and I can be my somewhat awkward, authentic, ignorant-to-Christian-culture self, then those thoughts get a little quieter. I can soak in the spiritual message a little better.
So who am I? I’m a listener, a learner, an introvert & a seeker.
What is my purpose? I’m still figuring this piece out, but I think my purpose so far has been to find some peace and happiness in my own life, and spread that peace and happiness into the lives of others. It sounds very idyllic and lofty, but really I just want to work hard and get the best possible outcome for myself and for people I love, and to me, the best possible outcome is peace and happiness.
What is my gift? I hope my gift is excessive empathy, but I probably have some other gifts I haven’t even explored yet.
If you feel like sharing: what is your purpose, and what are your gifts?