All of You is Welcome Here
“I am just not convinced that God loves me,” I heard myself say aloud to the person sitting on the other side of the computer screen. I had only just begun to meet with a spiritual director about six months prior to this conversation.* I started this journey because I was just done pretending. Pretending that I was okay. Pretending that I was a good Christian. Pretending that I felt something during worship when I didn’t. Pretending to care when I couldn’t. I was done pretending. It is funny where desperation leads people. It led me to honesty—brutal honesty, first with my spiritual director and then covertly with myself. It was this brutal honesty that led me to this statement.
“I am just not convinced that God loves me,” I continued. “Like really loves me,” I clarified. “I know that God loves the world.” For crying out loud, I had been a theology student for the past seven years of my life. Intellectually, I got it. “For God so loved the world that God gave the one and only son.” Ya-da ya-da ya-da. I had heard it a million times. It was burned into my memory and needle-pointed on my couch pillow. But I had this sneaking suspicion that led to debilitating anxiety that had lodged itself in my throat, and it prevented me from being able to get a full breath in. “I am pretty sure, I shared, that God wants to orchestrate suffering in my life to rid me of some unhealthy attachment to the world. Or pride. Or vanity. Or something awful that is inside of me.”
Spiritual Director (SD): Hmmm…So you think God is out to use you and not to love you?
Me: So what do I do about that? Are you going to fix that or something?
Me (internal dialogue commences): Then what are you good for?
SD: This journey is not about fixing. It is about noticing.
These words have stuck with me for years. They have become a mantra by which I live. They have become a philosophy of ministry. They have become a safe place for my anxiety to run. They have become a definition for love.
It is not about fixing; it is about noticing.
Spiritual direction is many things, but the primary thing it is for me is a place to be known fully and loved fully. To be wrong, wounded, and at times totally crazy and accepted in the midst of it. To be seen and not fixed is to be loved. And this place of being loved (that has truly saved my life) has caused me to wonder.
Why do we, as the church, not offer this space to each other all the time? Why do we not love each other better?
To love is to invite each other to bring our full selves and all of our experiences to the relationship, just as my spiritual director did for me that day. She saw the lie that I was believing. She knew the bad theology that was behind my fear. She could analyze all the reasons why I believed this, and from her expertise she probably could have shared with me what to do in order to fix it. But she didn’t. She welcomed me. She held my experience with me. This is what love does. Love says, “All of you is welcome here.”
In this friendship.
In this marriage.
In this family.
On this church staff.
As the church, this is not our strong suit.
To love this way means that we ask more questions and make fewer assumptions. That we pause and consider the perspective of the other before jumping to a conclusion about them. It means acknowledging that someone may see the world through a very different lens than us. And to love them means to lean over, get close, maybe even close enough to hear their breath and ask, “Can I look? Through your lens. Just for a second? Tell me how you hear this, how you see it, how it feels for you.” To love this way means that we don’t exclude any part of each other.
Your theology is welcome here.
Your wounds. Welcome here.
Your sexuality. Welcome here.
Your best days and your worst. Bring ‘em on. They are all welcome here.
Welcome here. Safe with me.
This love is fertile soil for soul expansion and growth. This space creates conviction, encouragement, healing, and renewal where it is needed. This love brings to life dormant rotting places in our souls.
At least that is what happened for me. I no longer believe that God doesn’t love me and wants to use me. I no longer think that I am an unimportant chess piece in a God-led game. God healed this rotting place. And it didn’t get healed because someone told me I was wrong or told me why I believed it. It got healed because God looked at me in the midst of me believing this lie and God said:
That lie is welcome here because that is a part of you right now.
It is a part of your story. And it is welcome here.
You don’t have to fix it before you come.”
Over time—and through a lot of pain, spiritual direction, supernatural dreams and visions, confession, therapy, and good friends—God healed it, and it ceased to exist. Love does this. Love heals. Love welcomes. It is time for the church to start loving. It is time for the church to start bulldozing the idols of hierarchy and power, misogyny and racism. It is time for the church to blow the doors open instead of locking them up tight. It is time for the church to start taking a radical posture of inclusion, to stop drawing lines and start building bridges. It is time for the church to start loving people for the God imaged in them and to welcome every part to the table.
*Spiritual direction is an ancient practice that dates back to the fourth century. It is still a means by which a Christian can co-discern the activity of God in their lived experiences with a wise guide. I love Kris Miller’s definition when he says that spiritual direction is helping another “dust for the fingerprints of God” in one’s life.