It’s been a long couple of months. Some of it passed by in a blur, other moments stand out so sharply I can replay it in my head over and over.
I’ve watched my family and friends fight personal battles, shed tears, mend the pieces of their broken hearts. Sitting in a newsroom, I am reminded every day of how fractured this world is. Planes fall out from the sky. Gruesome murders, poignant deaths.
We live in a broken world, but there is beauty in brokenness.
Easter, to me, holds some kind of significance thanks to the last couple of years. It’s a big deal in Australia, even if you don’t believe in God. There’s easter egg hunts to look forward to in the office, hot cross buns filled with all sorts of yummy things (salted caramel’s my favourite), and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
Of course, it’s a huge deal at church too. Having been part of Hillsong Kids it’s always a joy to spend an entire weekend preparing an entirely new venue for visitors to walk through those doors, only to be enraptured by their surroundings. We sing our hearts out and see firsthand how kids connect with God. Parents, who have not been to church in awhile, see the delight on their children’s faces and I can’t help but think – just for a day, they remember that God is good; God is on their side, and God loves them more than they could ever imagine. I pray that families – big or small, dysfunctional or completely happy – remember that for the rest of the year.
The thing about having been in church for a while is that you risk being comfortable. You’ve heard it all before. It’s obvious if the worship band hasn’t practised. The speaker walks through the door and you think you know what he’s going to say.
Worse, sometimes you reach a place where you cannot see God’s hand on your life.
That was me, circa September 2014.
I’d arrived in Singapore, knowing full well that coming home was part of His plan – whatever that means to you. But I was carrying so many memories, and nursing a broken soul, that I couldn’t see it. So I ran. I ran as far as I could.
I stopped going to church. That’s not to say I didn’t attend once in awhile, whenever I felt like it. Work became an excuse, especially since I have to work weekends sometimes. If people asked: “Which church do you attend?” it became second nature to reply: “hillsong.com/watch”. Because it was true. More often than not, I rolled out of bed late Sunday morning, turned on my laptop and attended “church” virtually.
It was awesome for awhile.
The thing about the Christian faith is that at some point, a rebellious part of you thinks you know it all. When I was 19, I thought I had the Christian life all figured out. Go to church every Sunday without fail, attend cell group, pray without ceasing, serve God in whatever area you can – the busier the better.
The next year, I realised my perception of being a Christian could not be more wrong. I got tired of serving in church – almost resented my involvement, really – and couldn’t see beyond the here and now. Life threw me into a series of pits that seemed unfathomable. I wanted to give up.
But God didn’t give up on me. Not in a holy “burning bush” moment, but He showed up in ways I didn’t realise He could. He came to me in the form of friends, food, and warmth. Friends went the extra mile – even those who weren’t believers – to make sure I was okay. They gave me words of encouragement that nourished my soul.
Slowly but surely, I crawled out of that dark place – thanks to those that picked me up along the way.
Since that time, I’ve changed my mind about what it means to be a Christian. To follow Jesus. In evangelical pentecostal churches – or to non-believers, that means church with bright lights, smoke machines, electric guitars and drums – we like to say Christianity isn’t a bunch of rules, but for most of my Christian life I was living by the rules.
I decided to break the rules one year.
I’ve been here before, the whole no-church thing. And it sucked – big time – but I learned that God is, indeed, everywhere. Some may think I’m a lunatic but I can converse with him in my room just like I do in church. And that’s the beauty of it, you see, in an omniscient God.
Being a Christian really is knowing that everything good is from Him. That the church is not contained within the four walls; that cell group isn’t some church lingo for hanging out and listening to people talk about the Bible. For a while, “cell group” to me meant going to a friend’s house after work and quite literally breaking bread and opening a bottle of wine (yum), sharing our burdens and praying silently for each other. It rarely involved the Bible. And it was community at its finest.
Church should literally be wherever we are. If bringing heaven to earth is our great assignment, then we as Christians are sure doing a heck of a bad job. Instead, we’re better known for waging wars against every kind of sin imaginable – abortion, homosexuality, whatever you say.
Have we forgotten that we are all broken people too?
The thing is – we will never stop being broken. But the good news is that in brokenness, we will never stop seeing the beauty of grace – the amazing art of receiving what we don’t deserve.
Look around you. We live in a land overflowing with goodness and yet we think we have it bad. We’ve been given so much – and are we giving any of it back?
We should be known for the very things we champion. Love, for starters. A give it my all, let’s throw caution to the wind kind of love. The kind of love that would dine with the very people you know would betray you. The kind of love that would go to the ends of the earth just to let you know what it means to be loved.
I came back to Singapore in September 2014 thinking I had it all figured out. Of course, as always, I was proved spectacularly wrong.
There’s a verse in the Bible that says those who hold on to their life will lose it, and hold on to my life I did. So many things in the last few months had not gone to my plan, I thought I was entitled. I didn’t plan on moving home. I didn’t plan on falling in love. I didn’t plan on it not working out.
I could not see how all of this was a good thing.
And so I went on with life, business as usual. Wake up, get ready for work, go back to bed. It almost became a ritual. Keep posting on Facebook and Instagram. Keep writing. That’s life.
One day, after a trip to Perth, I realised for the first time that I’d run so far, I didn’t recognise myself anymore. I didn’t enjoy the things I used to love. I visited a church and for the first time, worship became a Christian karaoke session. I was well and truly lost – or just less found, perhaps.
C.S. Lewis once famously said: “If I find within myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy, I can only conclude that I was not made for this world.”
Which brings me back to April 2015.
I did not want to surrender to the Great Church Debate going on in my head.
In Melbourne, I was a part of an church that to me embodied everything church should be. Welcoming, generous, inclusive. It isn’t perfect – not by a long shot – but being a part of it was such a great privilege. To me, it was a place where people could walk in and feel at home. It was a place where the broken can come to life in just a moment. God knows I had many of those moments there.
But I couldn’t find it here. I was too tired, each Sunday, to walk into any given church and make small talk. If people asked “How are you?” I was tempted actually express what I was feeling: “I feel like shit, how about you?” fully knowing that it would be politically incorrect.
So live streaming church was my next best bet. But at some point, it wasn’t enough.
Going back to my old church wasn’t an option because I didn’t want people to go: “Oh you’re that girl from ___________! I remember you!” The megachurches scared me, for various reasons. But one of the biggest reasons was the crowd. I am aware that Jesus preached to crowds probably far bigger than many megachurches here but I was terrified of fighting with throngs of people each Sunday for a seat. So that was out.
I wanted so badly to say I love Jesus and I love the church, broken and beautiful as she is, the bride of Christ. But I couldn’t.
Churches here, in my head, were unwelcoming, sterile, formulaic and worst of all – exclusive. It seemed like one needed to fit a certain mould to be a part of a club. I had all these reasons in my head to not go.
In the words of hillsong united:
My heart beating, my soul breathing
I found my life when I laid it down
Upward falling, spirit soaring
I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground
One day, I decided to stop running. To just give it up, lay it down. And literally go – okay, God. You win. You always have. You are good. I’m going to stop fighting.
I decided to choose the light.
I decided to fight for the things I believe in. Church still goes beyond the four walls. Let’s have authentic conversations. Let’s do good, feed the poor, lift up the people around us. Let’s make church the place where it’s okay to not be okay.
So come Good Friday 2015, the day Jesus was hung on the cross more than 2,000 years ago, I’ll be headed to church, where I’ll have to talk to unfamiliar people and sing songs I don’t know. I’ll be celebrating one of the greatest acts ever known to man – the day a man loved every human being so much, He decided that carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders was the best thing to do.
Cross equals love.
This Easter, I can say – I love Jesus. I love the church, broken and beautiful as she is, the bride of Christ. Because in the darkness, we make up our own stories. Sometimes they are horror stories. But in the light, everything becomes clear.
In spite of it all, He is still good. Thank you, Jesus. For giving it all up for us. For showing us what it means to look at the bigger picture. For grace, for mercy, and for another year. x