When I started Forty for 40, I was most interested in completing the fitness-related challenges and, to be honest, some of the other items on my list were added as afterthoughts...space-fillers to round out my list to 40 items. Ironically, it's some of those "afterthoughts" that are turning out to be the life-changers.
Take, for instance, "Go to church at least 4 times that aren't holidays." I can't really tell you why I put that on the list. I haven't been a regular church-goer since I don't know when, despite the fact that I was raised in the United Methodist faith and, in my youth, church was a regular part of my life--Sunday School, Sunday morning services, youth group, church suppers, weekend rallies and summer camp. Even as an adult, there was a period of time when I would attend church with my friends (though, if I'm being perfectly candid, I think that was as much about going out to brunch afterward as it was about getting closer to God).
I have never stopped believing in God, or praying or having faith that there's some bigger force out there. I have been more than content to label myself as "spiritual but not religious" whenever the topic came up...and somehow, I think I convinced myself that that's all I wanted to be. I was uncomfortable with calling myself a "Christian" because I have too many questions about what that means...and I somehow convinced myself that you need to KNOW the answer to get anything out of organized religion.
And then, last week, my sister invited me to go to church with her and her friend, Cara, since they were going to be in Portland. She had mentioned this church, New Light, to me before--the ministers are her friend, Allen, and his wife, Sara. I accepted (thinking, "great...one more thing to check off my 40 list!" Little did I know....)
So, I went to this church that meets in a space called Hope.Gate.Way...it's located in the lower level of a parking garage. (Yes, really). Needless to say, I was dubious...more so because I was expecting something "new-agey" or fundamentalist than because of the location (which, as it turns out, is a lovely, warm, art-filled space without a concrete barricade in sight!)
What I found instead was a wonderful, welcoming group of people as diverse as the neighborhood in which Hope.Gate.Way is located. More importantly, I found a faith community that ENCOURAGES questions, even the most profound questions about God and Jesus and faith itself. And, within myself, I discovered how much I had missed (without realizing it) the spiritual connection that can only come from worshipping with others, no matter how much I was convinced that my personal relationship with God was enough.
I know that all of this is going to sound strange (at best) to some of you reading this, but my experience last week was transformative. I can't really explain what changed inside me, but I can feel it. I didn't realize how much I craved a spiritual home, a comfortable, safe place to celebrate my own faith while working through my ongoing questions about what it means to love God. I didn't realize I was envious of my sister, who had this life-changing feeling at a much younger age and who has devoted a significant portion of her life to youth ministry as a result (read her blog, My Life In Youth Ministry, for more on this...it's funny, touching and heartfelt--she's a great writer!)
I have no idea what kind of impact this will ultimately have on my life...all I know is that I can feel a lightness in my heart that wasn't there a week ago, and that can only be a good thing.