Confessions From The Last Pew Part 1: Reaching God From Where I Am
6 minute read
1. a : to stretch out : extend
2 a : to touch or grasp by extending a part of the body (as a hand) or an object
b : to pick up and draw toward one
c. to communicate with
I've taken to sitting at the back of the church most of the time. Honestly, it's so I can make an easy exit if the shouting gets too crazy or service goes too long. I don't like having to walk down that red-carpeted center aisle, all eyes on me, as I make my exit. It may sound terrible but it's my truth.
Don't get me wrong: I attend church because I love to spend time in God's house, worshiping. I go to give Him what I owe Him and to get filled up for whatever I may face during the week. Many Sundays I end up crying. That's how my praise flows out. I don't shout. I don't scream. I don't get slain in the Spirit. Tears stream down my face and my hands go up.
Just...from the last pew of the church.
I can't say that God's presence was any more tangible during the services when I allowed the ushers to seat me at the very front than it is now. I experience His presence just the same. I get lifted just the same. I receive what I need just the same. That seems almost counterintuitive based on how we are often taught about God: There is a very specific way to reach God, to communicate with Him. A very specific proximity to Him. If we fail to meet that criteria, we fall short and have little to no access to God.
I see how so much of my life was lived metaphorically from the back pew.
I wasn't engaged in church even though I was there 4 to 5 nights a week growing up. Church was something I was made to do. It became an activity I resented because I was made to feel that God wasn't honored by the dreams, gifts, and talents I had. A lot of things about me were offbeat. I questioned everything growing up. I wanted to be an artist of all sorts. I wanted to sing like Whitney, act like Halle, write like Maya... Everything that religious folks seemed to forbid, my inner creative cried out for.
So I learned to stifle my creativity at an early age to avoid criticism and appear closer to God.
God was a noble idea but not a nurtured relationship in my life until I got to college and started to figure out my path for myself. Some days I prayed. Some days I didn't. But I found that He was just as attentive to my prayers when I had spent months away from church and weeks without reading my Bible as He was when I got back on the good church girl wagon.
Looking back, I see how creative repression actually did the opposite. My creativity (and yours) has always been a function of relationship with God. Choosing not to sing, choosing not to put my writing out into the world, choosing not to pursue acting for fear of what church folks would say kept me from releasing my experience of Christ into the world for years. It also kept those who may have needed encouragement and affirmation from experiencing it when they needed it most. I allowed opinions to keep me from reaching God and being all of who I was created to be. Now, at 30, having spent some time healing from church hurt and bolstering my relationship with God I wonder how many of us still allow others to make us believe that God's heart doesn't beat for us because we don't fit a man-made mold?
God can reach us anywhere and He doesn't require that we deny the very creative spark that He placed in us in order to do that.
We can reach for God anywhere and we needn't feel any shame if our reaching out for Him doesn't look like someone else's reaching. For any number of reasons, I'm not comfortable sitting at the very front of the church. People often hype the idea that troublemakers love sitting at the back. And maybe it is easier to steal a glance at a phone or crack a joke with someone if I'm sitting way in the back but I pay no less attention and I feel God's power no less two paces from the door than I have when I sat just a few feet from the altar.
I have felt closest to God seated at the back of the church or at the park or in the back seat of an Uber heading to Penn Station, eyes welling up with tears at God's goodness. I have experienced His presence while in bed, typing up a blog post. Proximity to God doesn't rest in physical distance in a church or temple. It rests in the heart, in the mind of the person seeking God.
No matter where we are in life the grace of God is equidistant. And receiving it depends on nothing more than trusting that He absolutely loves us and has endowed us with gifts, callings, and creative abilities for His glory, not others' criticism. Our show of Love back to Him is a life of all He's endowed us with, poured out in service and surrender.