May 9, 2023 -


When Spiritual Formation Anchors Us To Jesus and Each Other.

Sara Billups

Sara Billups
In the midst of brokenness, doubt and confusion how do we stay grounded? Sara Billups, author of Orphaned Believers, helps us find our way back to Jesus, to community and ultimately to experiencing wholeness in our faith by sharing her own story and giving us a vision of how spiritual formation can help us experience more spaciousness to hold each other in seasons of doubt and flourishing.

Episode Reflection

Invitation to Explore

Sara Billups talks about the spiritual and cultural dynamics of being an orphaned believer. Spiritual orphaning happens when people who are pursuing Jesus can’t seem to square their reading of the gospel with what they see in the American church. Cultural orphaning happens when followers of Jesus feel a sense of alienation either in a non-Christian culture or a cultural Christian context.

Does her definition of being an orphaned believer connect with your experience in the church? Have you taken the time to consider the ways in which you have felt out of place with the way church looks in the United States today? What feelings does this orphaning bring up in you?  

Scripture to Study

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;

    he drew me out of deep waters.

He rescued me from my powerful enemy,

    from my foes, who were too strong for me.

They confronted me in the day of my disaster,

    but the Lord was my support.

He brought me out into a spacious place;

    he rescued me because he delighted in me.

(Psalm 18:16-19)

Wise Words to Consider

“The idea of more room, more time, more openness, just a kind of bigger field or bigger tent, a longer table, like the idea that there’s room and with God’s grace, there’s time… I think that underneath that kind of canopy, there’s so much room for our doubting, our pain, our need for healing, our loss and grief.”  – Sara Billups

A Prayer to Lead You

Jesus, You have brought us out into a spacious place, a place where we can come authentically before You with our doubts, fears, struggles, and pains. Your embrace is bigger than our brokenness. Your love is deeper than our flaws. Your grace is higher than our doubts.

You have not left us as orphans, and yet we may still feel like orphans as we seek to follow You. Breathe Your Holy Spirit upon us so that we might feel Your presence and hear Your whisper of acceptance and delight. 

Make us into people who create spacious places for the sake of others. May others find rest and comfort in our presence. May we make ourselves available for others. 

We sit at Your feet and listen with open hands, dear Jesus. Amen. 

A Practice to Begin

Sara shared some contemplative practices that grounded her during a season of spiritual drought including:

  1. Taking a posture of listening when praying.
  2. Reading the Psalms. 
  3. Paying attention to liturgy. 

Over the next few weeks, begin incorporating these practices in your walk with God. What do you notice about the way you approach God when you use these practices? What is something new you’ve begun to see about God, yourself, and the world around you as you slow down, pay attention, and listen? 

Questions to Answer

Sara painted a picture of creating a spacious place where we can freely bring our doubts, pains, and struggles and carry each other as the church. The church, in its health, is meant to reflect the spacious place that God creates in his love and grace toward all people.   

What would it look like for you to begin creating this spacious place in your community? Do people closest to you feel like they can bring their true selves – including their doubts – to you? Do you have a place where a community can carry you even as you struggle to believe? 

Resources to Help

Sara Billups, Orphaned Believers

Parker Palmer, Let your Life Speak


Sara Billups: [00:00:00] Underneath that kind of canopy, there’s so much room for our questions and our doubting, our pain, our need for healing, our loss and grief. It almost feels kind of like this protective bubble.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:00:11] Welcome to the Created For podcast, a space where our everyday lives intersect with God’s redemptive story.


Michele Davis: [00:00:17] Where together we learn from diverse voices, explore our unique callings, and pursue communal flourishing.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:00:24] We’re your hosts, Chelsea Smedley.


Michele Davis: [00:00:27] And Michelle Davis.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:00:28] We are constantly being shaped by the world around us. Not just emotionally or intellectually but spiritually formed by our liturgies of consumerism or the way we relate to one another in our particular circles. All of this forming isn’t bad, but as Christians, we want Jesus to form us more than anything else. We chat with Sarah Billups about the place we find ourselves in as a church, which for a lot of us, feels unhealthy and wounded. And how spiritual formation, both individually and communally, can be the antidote.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:01:09] Hi Sara, it is so great to have you on the Created For podcast. I’m a big fan of Orphaned Believers and just your presence in the world. Um, and so yeah, I would love to give you a chance to introduce yourself to our audience.


Sara Billups: [00:01:26] Oh, thank you. I’m so happy to be here. Yeah. My name is Sara Billups. I’m a writer based in Seattle, writing about faith and culture. And my first book just came out from Baker in January of 2023, called Orphaned Believers. So, I’m just excited to talk about it and some of those ideas and to be here.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:01:45] So I would love it if you could share about the term Orphaned Believers, where it comes from, who these people are.


Sara Billups: [00:01:51] Yeah, when I say orphaned believers, I really just mean any Christian looking around the American church and wondering where Jesus is. You know, I mean, think about it in a couple of ways. Think about a spiritual orphaning, which is really people who are pursuing Jesus but feel like or have been hung out to dry by the church. People that can’t square their reading of the gospel with what they’re seeing around them right now in a lot of brokenness in the church. So, I think about a spiritual orphaning and also a cultural orphaning, where maybe if you’re like me, I mean, I live in Seattle where it’s not common to identify as a Christian. And if you go to church, it’s probably not by accident. There’s no cultural pressure or social capital that’s necessarily gained. And so, when I talk about faith to people, it’s usually exhausting. Or I have to kind of explain I’m a Christian, but here’s what I mean. And so, there’s just a bit of an alienation that can come. Or if you live in the Bible Belt or a place where cultural Christianity is common, I think that there can feel like a cultural orphaning when you look around, and maybe you don’t see a place for yourself in kind of a megachurch culture or kind of mainstream Christian radio or marketing, or you just are sensing a lack of mystery or nuance or aesthetic in your church experience.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:03:15] Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s so great. I have just, like, been having lots of conversations about a lot of those things, like, wow, Christian culture feels really overwhelming and hard, or the things that we learned before, like, maybe aren’t sufficient enough. Like there has to be more than this, and just this feeling of, oh, like, are there other people that are thinking this too? And so, I think it’s really beautiful. This book has created such community of bringing these people together. This is your own story. It’s like an investigative deep dive into history and culture and then also, like, has this really great message to help people hold on to Jesus. And so, I’d love to hear about how God called you to write this book in this specific way with these different parts.


Sara Billups: [00:04:02] Yeah. You know, I think, like a lot of us, I woke up in 2016 when Donald Trump was elected, and I just looked around and thought, things are worse than I thought. And then the pandemic started, and I looked around and thought, the church is more divided than I thought. And then George Floyd was murdered. And what quickly moved, I think, from unity and the white church to, in some pocket’s criticism of critical race theory and other pieces. I thought this is, this is so broken, and this is so hard. And so, really, back in 2016 is when I started writing more personally about faith and culture. I was working in Seattle at at a small press and writing for all weeklies, and I was doing a lot of writing work, but it was certainly public-facing and not at all about faith and culture.


Sara Billups: [00:04:50] And so I got really good at not talking about that part of my life. So, I went to church on Sunday, but it really wasn’t a very integrated experience, and I had a lot of fear of talking about my faith that I kind of worked through, which I realized was really about about me and my own kind of concern about being accepted. I just it was really good for me to go through that process because it was kind of self-aggrandizing and just say, like, God, this is clearly not about you. So that was a healthy personal process. And then in in 2020, I woke up with the idea, and it was just one of those kind of very rare clarifying mornings where I got out a bunch of index cards and got on the floor, and started scribbling out chapters. And my husband woke up and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I have this idea.’ And, like, the idea has changed so many times, but I just see this as a moment in history where we’re struggling to come to terms with, with what we mean as the church. And so, I wanted to understand, coming up in the 80s and 90s, what were the factors at play that led to where we are now? Like, could I pull some strings to kind of get to the place where we are?


Michele Davis: [00:05:54] Yeah, I resonate with so much of what you just shared, Sara, and even have caught myself at times just rehearsing the timeline of what’s happened in the last like 7 or 8 years. Like in my own life and in the world, I see around me. I think it’s definitely it’s important to look back, but I find myself I can kind of get stuck there. And so, what I like about what you’re writing about is like helping to move forward. So, can you like tease that out a little bit more? How can looking back help us then to be faithful now and then move forward?


Sara Billups: [00:06:32] Yeah, yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, there’s ways to look back to only reinforce what you want to see or believe. There’s a way to look back to reinforce your own kind of narrative about the church and to kind of use that as a talking point. Like, I didn’t want to do any of that. I think there’s a way to talk about this stuff, not to not to burn it down, but to clarify. So, I think that the nuance is how do we talk about what happened to bring those things to the light so that we can begin to talk about them more and move past them? If we criticize the church, it’s because we love the church, because we want to preserve the gathered body of believers that Jesus has left us with. So, you know, when I talk about church, I really just mean community. Like, you know, God is Trinitarian; God is communal and left us with community and with each other. And so, we’ve just done a really fine job throughout all of church history messing that up again and again, but this is our moment and time. I think that those of us that that have a kind of like a burning in us for change, those of us that have the resolve and vision to do the work of reformation inside the church. That’s a beautiful calling, but that’s not where everyone is or needs to be or should be. For some of us, that means taking time, taking time away, or taking space. There’s just a real non-anxiousness that comes if you’re pursuing Jesus and and not isolating, you know? And so, I think that the work of looking back is only kind of a first step towards personal work and also ideally communal work towards towards clarifying a way ahead.


Michele Davis: [00:08:09] That’s really helpful. Yeah.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:08:12] This kind of idea of, you know, saying, okay, orphaned believers, people who are looking around the church, they’re looking for Jesus, wondering where he is, and then also having this, like, heart that, yeah, I want to see change happen. And so, I really like how in your Created For talk, you combine this idea of reclaiming agency and wholeness. And that was something that I hadn’t put together. And so, I would love it if you could talk more about how you see those two things as connected.


Sara Billups: [00:08:42] I think that in a lot of ways that we’re harmed by the church or by each other, by somebody we love, that it can result in damaging our agency. I think that part of flourishing, part of wholeness, requires being a person who feels like you have some kind of power or ability to take control and direct your life. And that’s because God has given us dignity and values dignity. And so, I think a part of all being made well is to identify places where agency may have been taken, or you may not have felt the the strength or courage to move towards to move towards it, and then to to kind of put together a path towards wholeness. And I think that idea, that word feels quite big and aspirational, but I think that’s also really quiet work that happens inside. And I think a lot of this work is how are we well formed from the inside out to kind of protect us from the many forces shaping us from the outside in.


Sara Billups: [00:09:47] And so I think reclaiming agency and moving towards wholeness comes when we do that sort of interior quiet work that maybe we would never be able to show anybody we can’t maybe prove, but that that’s where God meets us and works quietly.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:10:00] Yeah, I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about how you’ve seen this play out in your own life. Like, I know that in your book and in your talk, you shared about being in a 12-year spiritual desert and kind of moving out of that. I would love to hear more about your journey.


Sara Billups: [00:10:15] You know, I grew up in the Midwest, in Indiana, and went to college at an evangelical college. Taylor in Indiana. I met my husband there, and we became really enamored with the idea of co-housing and intentional community that was kind of in the water back in the in the 90s and 2000s. So, we were certainly, and also, there was this idea of returning to the city that a lot of young suburban white people like me were hearing. That was kind of led by Tim Keller and Redeemer in New York. So, there were a couple of threads that we were kind of following without knowing it until later.


Sara Billups: [00:10:49] And so we thought maybe Seattle is this place where our interest in aesthetics and ideas and beauty could come together with our faith. Because in Indiana, we really weren’t able to find a lot of creativity or folks that were interested in in ideas. It just felt a little bit more homogeneous. And we thought the city could be a place where there was an answer. So, we got out here in 2004 and really quickly realized that this is not the magic place where we could be kind of like Cool Christian. It was actually a place that had its own complications and weight. And certainly, I now see that a lot of that is because we landed here right in the middle of kind of the building of Mars Hill and what Mark Driscoll was doing. So, I now understand, looking back, kind of when we landed and what that meant. But pretty quickly, a lot of friends began to identify as spiritual but not religious that we moved out with or that we knew. My husband, Drew, and I just had this sense of kind of like, we’re treading water, or everyone’s sort of evolving or changing, and what are we doing? And we’re trying to be faithful, but are we just missing something? And we just kind of had a life that didn’t really have a main idea, you know? And so, I, I, it got to the point where it felt like there was like a physical weight on me.


Sara Billups: [00:12:00] There was such a physicality to this kind of time of, of feeling like if I had a light, it was almost snuffed out, you know, it almost became like a bag of rocks on me. There was a weight where I couldn’t, I couldn’t keep going. And I thought, I can’t keep trying to manage these two identities, and I can’t keep trying to say I’m a Christian but not actually do any kind of personal work, let alone collective work to to pursue that. It just it didn’t make sense. It felt like an old label. Should I shed it? Was it something that I just carried from my family of origin? So, so what happened is that I realized if I’m going to be serious about this, that requires actually pursuing, pursuing a faith that would then serve other people. What does that look like? And so, there’s a woman, Debbie Tacke Smith, who I started meeting with, who is the director of spiritual formation at our church at the time, I began to explore contemplative practices. We started meeting for spiritual direction. I think a lot of evangelicals that grew up like me kind of got the message that we should be skeptical of Catholicism or that maybe Catholics weren’t really Christians or there are a lot of smells and bells. And so,


Michele Davis: [00:13:13] That is the phrase. That’s the phrase, for sure.


Sara Billups: [00:13:16] There are a lot of smells and bells. So, I think I had wondered, was there anything out there from other traditions? So, really exploring contemplative practices, Ignatian spirituality, and direction became quite grounding and really turned things around for me. So that was happening in tandem with me kind of writing quietly and then moving towards sharing that writing. So that’s, that’s a little bit of the story.


Michele Davis: [00:13:39] Yeah. So, it sounds like God met you in serving others and like contemplative practices and adding in other traditions. What was, can you describe a bit more what felt different about that compared to other seasons of your spiritual life?


Sara Billups: [00:13:56] Yeah, the best way I can describe it is that I started listening, that I kind of got quiet. The way that I prayed as a kid or when I was in my teens or even 20s, it was really chaotic and just kind of like a laundry list of fears or anxieties. It’s not like I don’t pray like that now. Sometimes I do, but I’d never just really stopped to be still and quiet. There’s such a pace around us, and personally, I’m type A, and so it had felt a little bit unclear about how to really just sit and rest. It’s uncomfortable to begin that posture, but I think that that is really the the main thing that changed how I, how I pray now is about listening. And the other thing is that I just started to read the Psalms. I just, I started to read liturgy. Things that, as a kid, felt boring became quite full of life and a place of of real depth and meaning in a new way. And so, I began to listen to what other people were saying. I began to listen to what David was saying. I began to pay more attention and that, that posture really changed a lot. I think a weekend that really brought that together for me is when I went on my first silent retreat; which again is a person that likes to be chatty, I felt very uncomfortable thinking about, but it was a profound gift to be quiet and to listen.


Sara Billups: [00:15:17] The other things that happened in that season that I think really brought flourishing were understanding discernment differently. I read Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, where he talks about coming together with a group and a Quaker clearness committee around a central discernment question and really got unstuck. So, the way, the way that these work, it’s just people ask open-ended questions in this session that really get you to think about things a little differently that are led by the Spirit. But there’s so much quiet, so much listening, a lot of time for prayer. It’s just a really beautiful, spacious process; having people that we know realize that we’re such a mess or that we’re in such a, such an unsure place was uncomfortable but so beautiful. There’s just in prayer sometimes I think testing what we hear by giving it time and also by bringing in other people we trust can be really beautiful. So that’s just another example of kind of what changed for the way that I approach faith in the past few years.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:16:15] Yeah, I feel like hearing you talk about some of these practices, I’ve personally like been blessed by the way that you have talked about liturgy and spiritual formation. I think it’s something that I always thought of as very ethereal and otherworldly and, like, hard to obtain. And I think that you do a really good job of grounding these things in our everyday lives. So, can you share a little bit about those?


Sara Billups: [00:16:41] Yeah, sure. So, when I think about liturgy, it’s just kind of it just means the work of the people. And we all have different liturgies. I mean, my liturgy in the 80s was going to the mall on Saturday and church on Sunday, like, or watching TGIF on Friday nights. You know, like we have different liturgies regardless of whether or not we identify as a Christian; it’s just a part of the rhythm of life. But I think that when we move into understanding spiritual formation more, there’s different practices, there’s internal practices of like fasting or prayer. External practices of, like, direct service and then communal practices. And again, this is, these are ideas that Richard Foster talks about in in his work dating back to the, you know, to the 70s, which is where I first learned about this in high school. But then communal practices like church or worship together or singing or music. And so I think that growing up in the 80s and 90s, like someone had this question for me, like, wasn’t I spiritually formed because I was, I was praying as a kid? And, and I think again, yeah, that is certainly true, ` but I think the differences, the invitation is to sort of enter those pieces like prayer just a little differently, like giving some more space and some more room. I think, like a lot of people, a lot of kids, I would ask Jesus into my heart, like every night for days and months and years, like I just wanted to be sure that my name was written in the Book of Life, that I was okay.


Sara Billups: [00:18:16] I do believe clearly that Jesus meets us and that conversion is real, whether that be a moment or a season. So, I’m not speaking of this theologically. I just mean in terms of the way that we experience uncertainty about salvation. I think that the way that I prayed as a kid, there was so much kind of frenetic energy and seeking. But now I realize that in seasons of doubt or uncertainty that we can carry each other. And I think that healthy spiritual formation done in safe community or the people that we trust can help us to do that. I mean, in that 12 years, there were many times when Drew, my husband, carried me, you know, and there have been times of doubt in his life where I’ve carried him. And I think the church can do that, too, in health. And so, when I think about the way that I pray now and how my liturgy of prayer feels, it’s just shifted a lot to being open-handed, non-anxious. There’s this idea of Jesuit indifference where we just kind of open up a question to God with our hands and say, like, either way, I want to pray to the point where these two, these two possibilities are even and open and trust you with them, God. So those have been profoundly grounding and revitalizing personally, and I think for a lot of folks in my life.


Michele Davis: [00:19:39] Yeah. Can you explain more what you mean about we carry each other, and that Drew carried you?


Sara Billups: [00:19:45] Sure, yeah, I think that the idea of doubt is crushing for a lot of us. Because when we start to doubt for the first time, and we haven’t before, there’s just such a worry that if we turn over a rock, there’s going to be this fatal question that then takes away our faith. That if we keep questioning and digging, we’re finally going to get to the point where we hit the bottom, and our faith just poof is gone. So, I think that when I talk about carrying each other, I mean being able to be in a place of, of doubt or of desolation instead of consolation, that we can be at a point where we are questioning hard and deeply. And sometimes the faith of other people around us, the way that they pray for us, the way that they tell us, and remind us that we are loved. The way that they kind of stand as a witness for God’s goodness and presence and continual love no matter where we are. It’s just almost, like, a just like a soft place to land. That’s really what I mean. And I think that the church in health, again, can be a place where we come as doubters that don’t have anything figured out, that are accepted and received. It’s kind of like I have a couple kids, and my son’s 13, and so he started to ask big and difficult questions, and we’ve been really careful to say, it’s okay to not be sure. You don’t need to get to a place of certainty like let’s be spacious about where you are and what you’re struggling with and not be afraid of those things, and I think that there’s a way that we can model that kind of non-anxious posture for him and as well. So that’s a whole other story. But yeah,


Michele Davis: [00:21:24] But that makes sense. And so, it sounds a bit more communal and involved than just a list of prayer requests. It’s more presence in people’s lives. It’s a lot more familiarity with their struggle; it sounds like.


Sara Billups: [00:21:40] Yeah, it’s just so real and human and such an anecdote to what we see on social media, where we feel like we’re supposed to have it together, or we’re messy, but it’s kind of like a curated mess and you still kind of feel bad. Like a real person in your life, seeing where you are is just a beautiful gift if we can have it. And there are seasons of life when maybe we don’t, or we do have online communities that are healthy. But I do feel like, like, the work that you’re doing and the conferences and various possibilities to connect in virtual ways can be really grounding. I think, more than anything, it’s about our posture. Like, do we have the posture that’s moving away from isolation and towards, towards other people?


Chealsia Smedley: [00:22:25] Yeah, I really like this idea of a safe landing place for people who are doubting, and like making sure that it’s okay, you don’t have to be sure. Let’s be spacious in the way that we approach God, approach other people. And so, it reminds me that you often refer to Psalm 18-19. I would love to hear how God brought that verse to life in your life.


Sara Billups: [00:22:47] Yeah. Psalm 18-19. Let’s see if I can get it right. “He brought me into a spacious place. He rescued me because He delighted in me.” That a couple of you know, I mentioned kind of reading the Psalms differently for the first time a few years ago, and that just really lifted off the page for me. I think that for me and I think for I think a lot of us, the idea of more room, more time, more openness, just a kind of bigger field or bigger tent, a longer table, like the idea that there’s there’s room and with God’s grace, there’s time really, I think means that underneath that, that kind of canopy, there’s so much room for our doubting our pain, our need for healing, our loss and grief. It almost feels kind of like this protective bubble.


Michele Davis: [00:23:37] Yeah, I like thinking about a spacious place that feels like what so many of us are longing for. And also, I have always thought that verse is interesting, that He rescued us out of delight, not out of obligation. You know those things like that. That just it fills my soul.


Sara Billups: [00:24:03] It is so beautiful because it reminds us of God’s goodness. God’s closeness. It’s nothing but comforting. It’s like a blanket.


Michele Davis: [00:24:10] You know, there’s a quote from your writing that says, ‘Spiritual formation anchors Christians so that our liturgies can remain rooted in Jesus, not the market, not Republicans, not Democrats or any other political party. Formative practice can infuse us with wisdom and perspective, so our faith is steadfast and does not become defensive or entwined with false constructs, including nationalism, premillennial, dispensationalism, or conspiracy theories.’ This is me now, not you. We’ve talked a lot about the spiritual formation part, and I would love to then kind of dig into some of this other sticky stuff that’s entwined into the church right now. And, like, how have you seen that practically in your life, that spiritual formation help you and help others resist those cultural pulls?


Sara Billups: [00:25:02] Yeah, that’s great. Growing up as a kid, being told I probably wouldn’t have time to have a career or start a family because Jesus would return. You know, looking back, that was the case with my husband across the country in Maryland being told that by his dad, and he just collapsed in the backseat of the car. Like I think many of us that had that experience kind of remember when we were first told that it’s very traumatizing and intense. And in some ways, it’s interesting to talk about now because, looking back, it just almost feels campy, you know, like the Christian scare movies, like A Thief in the Night or Armageddon, there’s just such an 80s twist aesthetically.


Michele Davis: [00:25:39] Oh, yeah.


Sara Billups: [00:25:40] And it’s also fun to write about a little bit, too, because some of it’s so wacky. But when you grew up hearing that when you’re being formed, I mean, I was hearing that from when I was 4 or 5 years old. It’s just like a deep fear that I can still, even when I was researching and writing about that, I can still feel. End times, culture was like reflecting what was going on in the broader culture. So, like the Cold War or Ronald Reagan was talking about Armageddon. There were big Hollywood movies that were talking about the world ending and the Russia scare and nuclear threats. So, this kind of Christian thread was woven into what was happening in larger culture. And I think that the message that I got was it makes sure that you’re saved and that you’re okay and then talk to other people you love and make sure they’re okay and they know not to take the mark of the beast. But there was such a, such a disregard for caring about the Earth, for caring about other people, for collective communal work. Because we were really told what was the point? I was told, What’s the point of trying to care for the earth if it’s just going to burn? Which is just like saying that.


Michele Davis: [00:26:48] That phrase, it’s all going to burn, was like. That’s all over the 90s evangelical culture.


Sara Billups: [00:26:55] Totally. I think that formation as an anecdote grounds us in Jesus, who says, ‘Don’t be afraid of the world, love the world, take care of the world, bring flourishing now.’ You know, it’s this beautiful way of bringing us into the present and doing the work of caring for creation and other people in a visceral, practical way, daily as a as a real answer to that kind of fear based let’s just make sure everyone’s all right and we’re safe, you know? Because there is this feeling of exceptionalism that came with that, too, growing up. There was this sense that when you think, you know how it’s all going to go down, that yeah, that there is almost like this. I had so much fear about almost like an excitement, which is weird to talk about now too, but like, kind of like when you know what’s going to happen, you feel like you kind of have this advantage. And I think that that’s a piece that we really see mirrored today in Christian nationalism and conspiracy theorists like people that are kind of in and and have this kind of secret decoder and know how it’s going to go, which is really just, I think, based in fear, protectionism, concern about American demographics changing and world. And so, so I think that formation, again, grounds us to the present. And then, when it comes to to culture wars, I think it’s it’s so easy to make a straw man to put someone on the other side of the pew or the aisle as the enemy. There’s it’s easy to not have nuance. Yeah. I think that formation lets us resist the tendency to to do that. It lets us see that other people, in their brokenness, just like us, are loved by God. And that is uncomfortable to say and uncomfortable to do, to know and realize that we’re all loved by God, no matter who we are or what we believe. But I think that if we can sit with that discomfort, even saying that now, after writing and researching, I have discomfort saying it. But I think that normally when we have that feeling, there’s something good to pursue there, you know? So, I think that formation helps us know that we’re all responsible for each other and that there’s possibility and hope for reconciliation in that, you know? And then, then, the third piece how formation can help with with consumerism. Like we’re so easily swayed, or at least I am, be it by an Instagram story or this hope that I’m one more purchase away from, like, another green smoothie drink to make me feel good. Or like Dryuary will help me finally get where I want to be, or this practice can help. I think that I think that formation grounds us in the kind of beauty of our brokenness and that we can’t buy or image our way into into wholeness.


Michele Davis: [00:29:43] I’m writing that down word for word. We can’t, we can’t buy or image ourselves into wholeness. That is, that’s a word.


Sara Billups: [00:29:52] Thank you.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:29:55] When we’re here, and we’re saying like, okay, a lot of the Christianity that I was taught that it’s broad culture, things that are going on seeped into Christian culture. How do I like push against the culture part of it and like actually get to God’s heart?


Sara Billups: [00:30:06] Yeah, it’s, it’s so hard. It’s so hard. I think that a couple things come to mind from my own story and from looking around and talking to other people in my life. The first thing that I think is important is to move towards community, if we can, to to do the quiet work of loving each other well. I mean, I think about my, my mother-in-law. I think I’ve talked about her a few times, too. You know, she lives in Baltimore and just every week is in the city delivering meals. Her neighbor had to go to the E.R., and she spent the day there. Like, there are so many examples in her life where she just, without any sort of fanfare, without telling anybody anything, just shows up for other people. And I think she’s like closer to to the heart of God, to living quietly with direct service and living through the ordinary heart of life. But by being available, you know, she’s just really available. And so, I think there’s something I really learned from that that I think we’re closer to God’s goodness and the true and good fruit of what it means to follow, to follow God, and to do that work when we just show up right where we are, like my mother. My mother-in-law, Lynn’s not going to be a breaking news headline. It’s not going to be like, like Southern Baptist delivers casserole to like senior center. Like, no one.


Sara Billups: [00:31:22] But but the loudest voices in the room and what we’re hearing in the headlines are are not ever going to follow quiet stuff going on all around the world and in different places. And so, I think one way we move closer to the heart of God is just by showing up right where we are. And that’s so beautiful that that’s hidden work; that’s so much truer. And then I think the other thing is to really focus on the life, like the life of Jesus and how Jesus calls us to live differently. And it was just such a radical, beautiful life that brought this upside-down kingdom. There’s something that I think can draw our hearts like a magnet towards that kind of posture and way of living differently because we act on convictions, not because we’re trying to follow a path that somehow gives us recognition but that helps us to just be in the world and do good work because we’re convicted by the way, Jesus sometimes turned tables over, but sometimes healed people and said, don’t tell anybody about it. You know? Like the the work of his life in his resurrection is so beautiful. And that’s the other thing that that I’ve been thinking with writing the book and talking about it, like the idea of of if this story is true, if it’s not a myth, if there really was a virgin birth and a resurrection, like if it really happened, that is radical and that changes everything.


Sara Billups: [00:32:40] The life and death and resurrection of Jesus is incredibly reorienting and an inoculation against some of those other forces that shape us from the outside in so easily.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:32:52] This has been such a joy to hear more of your story and to learn from you. I would love for us to end on this question. So, in light of all that we talked about today, what is one way you would encourage someone, probably someone who feels like an orphaned believer, wants to participate in God’s redemption of their community?


Sara Billups: [00:33:13] Oh, yeah, I would just say that I don’t know. I mean, I just honestly thought of that MLK quote that that that the arc of history is long, and it bends towards justice. I mean, that’s a ubiquitous quote, but there’s something so true and beautiful there. I mean, I think that the idea that Christ, in the end, will make not only all things new but all things right. That all of history is moving towards redemption, towards flourishing, that wherever you are today, that you are an important and beloved part of that story and whatever season you’re in. Just again, approach that with a spaciousness to know that you’re delighted in by God that you’re loved. Um, I, I mean, my kids have this Bible, the Jesus Storybook Bible, and it talks about everything sad being made untrue. And so, I think that wherever you are today, we can come together in this great hope of all things being made right and new.


Sara Billups: [00:34:14] And. And sometimes, sometimes, that’s enough. So, I would just, like, leave folks with a blessing to know that, like, we’re all in it together, and this is our time. And so, if you, if you feel like you can participate in that change, to know that Jesus left us with the church, and that’s a beautiful thing that will persevere, and that has throughout all of history and that the church right now in other parts of the world and in other times has flourished and flourish again. It’s not going anywhere. Our job is just to show up and to be faithful and to be quiet, and to meet God in the ordinary heart of life. And that’s just such beautiful, true work. And so, I just want to, I guess, bless folks to to hold on to know that you’re not alone and to move forward and, if you can, to move forward together.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:35:00] Thank you so much, Sara.


Sara Billups: [00:35:02] This has been such a gift. Thank you.


Chealsia Smedley: [00:35:04] I want to leave you with Psalm 18-19. ‘He brought me into a spacious place and rescued me because He delighted in me.’ Together in the spacious place that God brings us into, we can be transformed by the quiet work of finding the heart of God in our ordinary lives. And while we’re formed from the inside out, we can see transformation in the world around us.


Michele Davis: [00:35:32] For more ways to continue journeying with us, hit subscribe in your favorite podcast app, check out the show notes for any links we referenced, and then go to for a guided reflection based on this episode.

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