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Being a woman of great faith and belief has always been something I've pursued for a majority of my life. Having a faith, such as being a part of a group that practices certain belief systems or subscribing to the "universe's plan," is not what I'm discussing here. I'm talking about being a woman of faith, a faith in and strong belief in God. Not lowercase g - god; but uppercase G - God, the God who created the Universe and everything and everyone in it. Yes, that God.
The pursuit of knowing God led me to church, worship services and to communities in which I could seek and know more of Him around others who also believed that God not only exists, but that God is not some Zeus-like deity sitting back in a chair in the clouds. He is in us, around us and desires a true relationship with us. This requires a measure of faith, in a world where our eyes and experiences may tell us something different such as that believing in God is somehow outdated, silly, or just downright out-of-touch with reality.
I've never been one to follow the crowd. Any decision I've made is one that I came to on my own. I didn't have to drink any kool-aid in Guyana. I didn't play with serpents. I didn't get guilt-tripped into belief by hell-fire and brimstone sermons. I came to know God existed for myself. Nothing forced. No coercion.
In the days and weeks that have passed, over 55,000 people in the United Stated have passed away from COVID-19, a virus that has baffled the smartest minds in our world. There are one million people (and that's putting it mildly) who have been diagnosed with the virus in the US. The numbers and visuals around the world are astounding, and many have had to come to grips with their fears and their identities within the past few months as life drastically changed overnight.
As of recent, though, something has baffled me and perplexed me, and I want to share it with you. You may find this offensive and that's ok too, but I hope you'll hear me out.
As I took a step outside of the bubble of my church building to get some fresh air and began to meet people of all backgrounds, beliefs, faiths, and more, I was struck to realize that I had been in a super bubble of endless conferences, fasts, robotic language, and cultural sameness. In many ways I drank the koolaid of bubble-ism, hosting bible and book study, staying late for prayer, leading women, being a mentor, participating on the prayer team, and saying YES to whatever I was asked to do. The church building was my second home and my life was static. Doing what had to be done. Praying on demand. Quoting scripture. Prophesying. Being just docile enough to be acceptable. Saying the right things at the right time and constantly being "on"... On, as in smiling and "praising the Lord" on demand. That is its own level of madness.
Deep inside, I knew that I was meant for even more... I never felt like I was doing enough or that I had the right look, the right family, the right connections to truly be in the circle of this particular evangelical church culture. I am not married, have no children, didn't grow up at the church, nor was my demographic addressed directly. I was single, 30+, black, and merely tolerated while many younger couples were getting married and having babies right on time. If it was a baby-making, marriage-building church, then I had missed it. Just didn't quite make the cut off and there's no rewind button for that. And, let's not forget the topic of racism or sexism, which isn't discussed at all.
Still I had this crazy faith that God could do anything; and year after year I counted on Him to stir up hearts, minds and the world. If only I could pray, fast, and believe more, then surely I, too, would receive my heart's desires. Surely?
When entrepreneurship called, I spent more time away from the church building. I quit the compulsory exercises and went on a walk with God through the challenging times of starting a business out in the unfamiliarity of the wilderness and serving people who needed support in improving their mental health and quality of life. I walked with God in the wild, and I saw him at work outside of the bubble of church culture. I needed to see that. I needed to experience the God that church culture sometimes suppresses and, dare I say, limits and relegates to Sundays only. They lock Him away and only bring Him out for scheduled occasions.
When COVID-19 began its attack in the US, I noticed something interesting -- everyone had to, in some way, step outside the bubble. Church services went online or nothing at all. People had to finally deal with their faith and belief for themselves. People had to come to know God for themselves, not just because of a Sunday sermon or small group. The compulsory exercises ended and people had to find their way to God without the culture, so to speak. What happens when you don't have a schedule and place to be at the church building, church coffee shop, church prayer service or hanging out in the church parking lot? You can choose to wait for that culture to come pick you up like a Lyft or Uber... OR you can come to know God for yourself (or not... because some of you reading this are not quite sure what you believe).
I never thought I would write this but in the midst of this season of uncertainty, I've noticed a "foolish faith" developing, where leaders of churches are defiant, opening church buildings for large services despite federal and state regulations, and speaking that God will protect people even when they don't social distance. Some pastors have died proclaiming that COVID-19 wouldn't dare touch them, and then it did. Some have declined to use the required preventative measures because to trust science and research would mean they didn't "trust" God enough (how false). Some church leaders across the world were reported to have instructed their congregation to drink liquid cleaning agents, because they said they were informed by God that it would not harm their congregation. They told their congregation it would protect them from the virus. Some Christian leaders and social media influencers have been noticeably silent after being so open and so vocal prior to COVID-19. Are they afraid to speak out? Perhaps they should be using their platform to speak up? Instead, they post messages as if COVID-19 is not a reality. And, their followers and fans, hang on their every non-word.
Wise decisions and conversations seem to have been replaced with foolish faith.
Why do I call it a "foolish faith"? It seems contradictory, right? To many who don't believe in God, faith is foolish anyway. But I've noticed that foolish faith, a faith that is human-constructed and potentially damaging, causes people to defy and deny safety and the value of human life. It causes certain people of faith to support initiatives that are not healthy, safe, or sane during this unprecedented time. A foolish faith is not what we need. Right now, we must embrace wisdom and the winds of change as we learn to walk outside of the walls of the church building and find our humanity again. His grace is as sufficient inside the church building as it is in the streets, in the solitude of our homes or among those "unsaved" "unchurched" "unruly" acquaintances many managed to avoid by hiding in the bubble of church culture. .
Guess what? The bubble burst and when it did, what did you do? Did you long to go back to your building? To the safe confines of sameness? Did you tell yourself you would wait for the doors to open up again rather than to develop your relationship with God right where you are? What have you believed and done? How have you regarded your belief and faith in these days? Did this virus stir up your belief?
I must say, that I do not desire a foolish faith, but rather I desire and pursue a faith that believes in the impossible paired with the wisdom to discern right paths. This is why I can watch Dr. Fauci, one of the greatest minds of our time, AND watch sermons by some of the greatest pastors of our time. This is why I can pray AND wash my hands, wear my mask and take part in preventative measures.
So, here I stand in faith knowing that COVID-19 will end. But I hope it takes the limiting, boxed-in views with it. I hope that people develop a true relationship with God, not based on a worship schedule, but based upon their own desire to grow closer with Him. I hope that many stop following leaders as though they are gods on earth, and start relationshipping with the Creator, Himself.
I have the audacity to believe that the beauty of knowing God for ourselves means that the church, not kool-aid churchy culture, can be everywhere. And if it were indeed everywhere, then the hatred, fighting, discrimination, and more could be met with love and change, meeting people where they are and supporting them in their journey towards a better life.
Sending you healthy blessings and positive victories,
This Dear Wednesday Letter was hand-crafted by Dr. Joy. Dr. Joy Well, mental health clinician, confidence catalyst, professor, self-sabotage solutionist and avid researcher is one of the quintessential experts on the connection between the mind, body, and immune system. Her doctoral work explored the experiences of women of color living with autoimmune diseases and how they function and experience the medical community and beyond. Once a shy, small-town girl with big dreams, Joy has found peace and purpose working with women of all ages to develop a fierce, faith-filled identity, personally and professionally. She is a clinician and entrepreneur in mental health private practice, seeing all ages, backgrounds, and genders. In her spare time, she enjoys music, movies, writing, and getting into mischief with friends. You can find Dr. Joy on social media @captivatingjoy.