Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Spiritual Musings: The Throw-Away Pile

I've been attending my church for about 3 years now - ever since my husband and I selected it to be the place we ended up getting married. I've always been Christian, except for a brief stint from ages 12 to 15 where I decided I was into wicca, and I was feeling pretty adrift because I hadn't found a church home since I'd moved to the Chicagoland area a few years beforehand. I'm not 100% sure what drew me to this church in particular - I wasn't immediately welcomed with open arms, and it actually took a while before people would start coming up to me and saying hello. I was on my own, because my husband was bar tending at the time and would be up until 4am on Saturday nights, leaving me to venture out on my own on Sunday mornings. And I'm painfully shy, so it was hard for me to take that first step and walk up and say hello to someone. But I toughed it out for a few months, going and sitting alone, awkwardly smiling at people during the greeting of peace.

After several months, a turning point happened. Someone had heard me singing along with the music and told the band about it, and the guitarist approached me about singing with them at the contemporary services. I've been singing with them ever since, and it's my favorite part of being a member of the congregation there. However, my church is facing some trouble. Our congregation is shrinking, and attendance is down very low from where it was just a few years ago. Our congregation is also aging; my husband and I are some of the youngest people there (other than the youth group, which is also very small). We are going through some tough times, because fewer millenials are attending church, and those that are do not seem to be attracted to us.

In this time of difficulty, our pastor made a very inspiring series of sermons about Joseph that is not only applicable to my church's struggles, but to several personal ones as well, which have all led me back to writing. If you don't know the story of Joseph, I'll summarize: Joseph was one of many sons of Jacob, and he was Jacob's favorite. Even though he was the second-youngest out of 12 brothers, Jacob intended for Joseph to be his heir. Joseph was also blessed with the ability to interpret dreams, and whatever he interpreted, came true. He arrogantly told his brothers about his predictions that he would one day rise above all of them. All of this compounded to make his brothers very jealous, and they ended up secretly selling Joseph into slavery. He was later falsely accused of attempting to rape his master's wife, and ultimately ended up in prison, where he was forgotten for many years - ending up on the "throw-away pile."

Throughout all of these struggles, Joseph still retained his ability to interpret dreams. But these humbling experiences had an effect on him. When he finally emerged from prison at the behest of the pharaoh to interpret a dream (this one foretelling famine), he knew: his gift was not his ability to interpret dreams, but that God worked through him to interpret the dreams. All he was, he owed to God. But this realization never would have happened if he had not suffered first - if God had not ground the arrogance out of Joseph, inspiring humility and the realization that he needed to let God lead and not his own arrogance. As my pastor put it, Joseph needed to be in the throw-away pile for a time in order to become what God needed him to be (later, saving his people from the famine).

My church is currently in the throw-away pile. I am currently in the throw-away pile. We're feeling abused, tired, down-trodden, and a little hopeless sometimes. I'm in a job that I struggle with on a daily basis. My church is trying to find a new identity so it can remain relevant to young generations. But I don't think I can become the writer I want to be, or the person I want to be, without first learning the empathy I'm learning right now. And my church can't be the loving example of God's family that it should be without first coming to the painful realization that we're shrinking, and if we don't do something different to help young people find the answers they are looking for in life, we may disappear.

Even though this seems a little depressing, it isn't. Change and growth is always painful, but I feel lucky that I was able to be in the pews on Sunday and hear something that made me realize it has a purpose.

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