Hi, I’m Sara Billups. I’m a faith and culture writer living in Seattle, Washington, and I’m the author of the book Orphaned Believers, and I’m so happy to have this time with you today.
I moved to Seattle 18 years ago after spending my childhood and through my early 20s in Indiana, and I thought, “Maybe the northwest is a place where my interest in aesthetics and great coffee and beauty”—I mean, I’m looking out the window at the Cascade Mountains right now—“Maybe this is the place where my faith and my interest in the arts and creativity can all come together as a really whole-hearted expression of life with friends.” Pretty quickly after we got here, that fell apart for me, and I went through a 12-year time of what I call a “spiritual desert,” where I was walking downtown to work every day, working in media, and then I was going to church on Sundays, but those worlds never crossed paths or crossed over. And I spent a lot of time working to maintain two identities until it got to the point where, almost like holding a bag over your shoulder filled with rocks, there was almost a physical weight on me, where I thought, “I can’t keep trying to maintain these two parts of myself.” And in fact, there was rest that came when I began to think, “God, I’m not in control, and I wanna pursue a whole-hearted faith and identity in you as your child.” But it took me a long time to get there. So you know, I write for orphaned believers, and looking around at the church right now, it’s a time when identifying as a Christian—explaining what you mean by that can be very exhausting. Maybe you’re not sure what you believe right now or you’ve been discouraged.
I think that there’s a way in which orphaned believers have been on the run. There’s a way in which those of us looking around the American church and wondering why we’re not seeing Jesus have been hurt. Maybe you’ve been victimized by the church or made to feel like a victim. Maybe you feel like your agency or power to create change has been taken away or depleted. Maybe you feel like the church will never change—or that if that’s what it’s all about, if the church is like this, I don’t want anything to do with it; I’m gonna walk away. Part of the work that I do is to encourage folks that are inspired by Jesus to say, “We have power and agency to create change.” And not only that, but I believe that the Holy Spirit is calling us and is calling you to use your gifts to be a healing presence in the church. Because I think that the very people who are broken, who feel like they don’t belong, who are feeling like they have to escape the church are the very people that God says in Ephesians are being brought together—are building together a holy temple where the Holy Spirit will dwell. I think that those of us with hearts burning for change are the ones that can actually begin to reclaim agency and do healing work to move towards wholeheartedness in our own lives and also to help those that we love.
And so the way, I think, forward to reclaim agency and wholeness really makes me think of three things, and the first is to know that all will be well. Growing up as a kid, I was told that the Rapture would come before I could have a family or start a career, and that instilled a lot of fear in my heart, and it also made me less concerned about the Earth and the world around me, and more concerned about whether or not I was gonna be saved, and if the people I loved were gonna go to Heaven. And so the way that I think about eschatology now—the way that I think about where the world is going—is just so much more redeemed and beautiful. No matter what you believe about pre-millennialism or post-millennialism or whatever your theology is, I think that we can read the Book of Revelation and know, “Oh, we need to believe that all of history is headed towards justice and redemption, that all of the sad and unwell things will be redeemed, that our destiny is righteousness where all tears will be wiped away from all eyes, and where the eternal light of God will shine on us, where all things that are wrong will be satisfyingly fixed.” And if we really remind ourselves that the world is headed towards redemption and flourishing, that we’re in this for a reason, that we’re going somewhere, I think that can really start to ignite something in our hearts to wanna begin to make more changes and do all that we can to begin to bring human flourishing to the world now.
So the second thing I would say is that we reclaim agency and move towards wholeheartedness by not fearing our enemies. There are parts of the church that are broken and that need to be called out and brought to light, and we don’t do this because we’re trying to burn it down; we wanna bring up and raise what’s wrong so that we can talk about it and move forward—move back to Jesus. And so I think that along the way, it can be really easy to make enemies, to divide over political beliefs or whatever issue it is. But the truth is, when we remember that we’re all made in the image of God, we’re all messy, maybe we’re scared or anxious or broken, the story is bigger than us, and the person that we may be on the other side of the aisle from with whatever issue or belief has their own trauma and hurt and history, that begins to disarm and defuse the idea of the other and can help move us towards unity.
And the third thing I say is that to reclaim agency to move forward to heal the Church and to move to wholeness, we can seek community and resist isolation. Because I think that—when I was growing up at least—I was afraid that I didn’t ask Jesus into my heart the right way, and so I would ask in bed every night again and again, for hundreds or thousands of times, “Jesus come into my heart.” I wanted to make sure I was a Christian. And I think that when we decide to move towards Jesus and live our lives for Jesus, we can carry each other through seasons of doubt. I think that the church in health can do that. I think community can help to carry other members of the community through different seasons, and that’s such a beautiful thing, and that gives me so much hope. And then when we normalize doubt and expect seasons of doubt and don’t resist them, when we welcome doubt knowing it’s not the enemy of faith but it’s an invitation to clarity and curiosity, and to know that God can take it, it’s so freeing. We become so non-anxious. So I would encourage you to ask questions if you’re doubting and to move towards healthy curiosity with other people and to, again, not isolate but resist that.
My friend Pat used to bake communion bread, and he’d hold this big homemade loaf in his hands and stand up there at church service—this is in Indiana—and he would hold the bread and he’d say, “This is the body of Christ. Go ahead. Take a big piece.” And I love that image. Makes me think of all of the saints that have come before us, all of the saints around the world moving towards Jesus, everybody that will come after us. There’s this long line that we’re in, and we had come to the table, and we take a big piece, we dip it in the wine, and we joyfully celebrate that the table is long, that there’s room for all of us there. And so I just wanted to encourage you that as you move towards wholeness, to reclaim agency by knowing that all will be well in the end, by resisting the draw to make an enemy or someone othered, and to move towards community by resisting isolation. It’s such a beautiful and whole-hearted way to begin to flourish as Christians, and so just know that you’re not alone. If you’re joyful today, if you are celebrating and feeling like you’re in a healthy place with God, that’s a grace, and we celebrate with you. If you’re in a place where you’re doubting or estranged or scared or depressed or worried, those are the times when Jesus is close, and know that you’re not alone. If you can’t pray right now, try praying the word, “Help.” Any time I’ve done that, help has come through other people. And it’s been beautiful.
The verse I wanna leave you with is Psalm 18-19. “He brought me into a spacious place, He rescued me because He delighted in me.” I just want to encourage you to rest in the goodness of God, to know you’re not going it alone, and to turn towards and not away from Jesus as we pursue wholeness and the joy and agency that comes from doing the beautiful work of reclaiming the church and moving ahead together. Thank you.
Want To Dig A Little Deeper?
Check out Ep. 35 of our podcast: Can Spiritual Formation Anchor Us to Jesus and Each Other? With Sara Billups.