God is where we most expect but also where we least expect, often where we thought God wasn’t supposed to be.
“Mama, can we go to the parking lot at Hobby Lobby?” My “6-and-a-half” year old cocked her head to the side as she made this strange request.
I laughed and asked “Just the parking lot? Why?”
With wide eyes and even wider arm movements Claire explained “Well, once I found a dollar bill there and I think if we go again I might find another one! We could go to a few parking lots to see if we could find more!”
We laughed at the idea and came up with a plan to “keep our eyes open” the next time we are in a parking lot.
Later that day I was reading about the treasure worth more than everything we currently own, waiting for us to find, hidden in a field (Matthew 13). I mean, it’s not the same as the dollar in the parking lot, but still.
I couldn’t help but think about what it means to look for something of great spiritual value in places we pass by. The non-spiritual places we rush through on the way to the usual places we look for spiritual value.
Around Thanksgiving my family stopped attending the church we’d been attending for years. We transitioned out slowly, over the course of about a year and with much discussion and communication with our home group and pastors in the church. This is the first time in my life I don’t consider myself a member of any church.
I’ve been asked if I’m looking for a more perfect church.
I have been “encouraged” to rethink “leaving the body for personal issues” that I might be “bitter or angry” about. I’m not angry or condemning their expression of Christian faith. I agree that perfection isn’t the goal. Even though I’ve left that particular church I’m not leaving The Church, “the body of Christ.”
It’s just that Christ is beginning to look very different to me than before.
I knew Jesus was Jewish but I imagined him white.
I read that Jesus was a Roman citizen but I imagined him Republican.
I studied about Jesus hanging out with “sinners” but I imagined he would shun the LGBTQ community and those of other religions including anyone who believed differently.
I read when Jesus asked the people he healed not to tell anyone but I imagined he would use their healing as proof of his claims to be Christ (also proof that their health meant they were favored and blessed).
I noticed Jesus reinterpreted and changed ideas from the Scriptures in mind-blowing and offensive ways but I imagined I wouldn’t have been one of the ones challenged or offended by his teachings.
Sometimes the difference between Christ hidden and Christ revealed is the awareness of the seeker.
Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field worth giving up everything. I had unknowingly assumed I’d already found that treasure. My own perspective is a limited lens filtering out much of who God is. If I saw no treasure in a field it’s not because there was no treasure there. I didn’t realize that before.
As my awareness changes I’m beginning to see a different looking Christ, a different looking treasure.
I didn’t leave my church because I think God isn’t there.
There are real gifts and treasures in my own awareness of the image of God reflected by myself and those like me. God is ever present, the Emmanuel humbly meeting even the most limited of perspectives (mine included). As earnest and well-intentioned as I was, I began to realize my perspective about who Jesus is and what it means to be a Christian was limited. The Jesus I knew was more like me and the people I surrounded myself with than “like a God not made by human hands” (Acts 7:48).
I stumbled upon a different treasure:
Fields of perspective other than my own. Now I’m discovering deep value found in the image of God reflected by people who don’t look like me, don’t think like me, don’t bear my own image.
What does it Mean to Sell Everything I Have?
For me it looks like examining theological assumptions and giving up perceived control about correct beliefs. Kinda like looking for dollars in parking lots and treasures in fields. It means being brutally (and wonderfully) honest with myself about everything and letting go of any pretense I used to protect myself. It means leaving the comfort of certainty and familiarity of my evangelical charismatic Christianity. It looks like seeking out different perspectives with curiosity and humility.
A Field of Treasure
As I take this posture in faith I am finding abundance that I didn’t have before. Unlike before, when I felt pressure to stay close to God and do all the things God wanted me to do, I am finding a God who doesn’t require me to have firm and correct doctrinal beliefs to be with me. Like the psalmist I’m also unable to shake a persistent God who stays close even when we find ourselves in the darkest and deadliest places. In fields that seem to look empty to almost everyone.
A Field in the Valley of Shadows
To some my journey might look like an empty field, a valley of shadows, maybe even a little like death. I get it. It looks like that to me too sometimes.
I used to think I should and could avoid this place that seemed like the shadow of death. It seemed like people who didn’t exercise wisdom, perfection, goodness, or right decision arrived here since they weren’t enough to allow God to protect and provide for them. I feared that for myself, thought it was the result of some evil plan I wasn’t vigilant and fervent enough to stop.
Fool’s gold doesn’t glitter in the shadows.
Now I see this as an unavoidable place to grow on the human journey. In this valley I can sort through what I have treasured with clearer perspective, without condemnation. This is a sorting place to release the unnecessary weights I have picked up on the way: ideas, beliefs, assumptions and implications I mistook for the kingdom of God.
As I lay aside all the things I thought I needed to do and be I’m experiencing the rest of still waters. I fear evil so much less than ever before because I’m actually letting God be with the me I actually am. In this place, my soul is being restored.
I need to spend some time here.
It often seems easier to stay the same, to avoid the valley, to not face the shadows. Now that I’m here, the treasure I’m finding in a different looking Christ is worth the difficulty. I had spent my whole life around such bright light that I was blinded to the God of the shadows. Where I had held onto everything I knew for fear of being wrong, I now am learning to release with joy.