I wonder how many other people share my addiction? I’ve sat in churches all my life and for most of that time I’ve had one kind of “experience envy” or another. We’d have guest speakers visit our country congregation who’d been “rescued from their life of sin” and “delivered” from gang membership, drug addiction, lives of crime and violence and even evil spirits. As someone who was born into a Christian home, and who knew no other way, these stories were so foreign to my faith experience that it didn’t feel fair. Surely my own testimony was never going to be something that would inspire others to have a radical life-transformation?
Why not me?
As I grew older I got to attend various spiritual retreats. These were always designed to help the participants have a “greater experience” of God and the Holy Spirit. And while I did sometimes experience God’s touch during these times, the touch was always gentle, non-assuming and not at all spectacular. Again, I felt this wasn’t fair. The people around me seemed more emotional, more euphoric - and dare I say - more caught up in some kind of hysteria? Their eyes shone and their faces beamed as they stumbled over their words trying to communicate what God had done in their lives. The quiet message I heard was almost always, “Be still.” I felt ripped off. It seemed to me that God was playing favourites. Why wasn’t I overwhelmed… overcome… over-the-top?
I thought I’d finally settled into the fact my faith was designed to be something quieter and low-key. I’d tried, and mostly succeeded, in accepting my path was meant to be that way and for a long time, the church I went to suited that quieter more consistent practice… but about two years ago I visited a friend’s pentecostal church and it put my desire for sensational experience back on the front-burner. It helped that the preacher’s message on that first occasion spoke directly to my circumstances but the reason I kept going back was because the work of the Holy Spirit was more evident… And by evident - I mean that folks flooded to the front to be prayed for and then some of those folks ended up lying on the floor, speaking in tongues and receiving prophetic messages.
Be still. Just rest.
I wanted in on the experience. I held onto hope my circumstances could be drastically transformed if I went to that church. I joined the throngs who rushed forward for prayer but I stayed on my feet and didn’t fall to the ground, my mouth didn’t fill with strange syllables and I didn’t start speaking a new God-language even though I really wanted to. I did get messages meant for me. Guess what? God still seemed to be saying, “Be still… Just rest… Leave it to me!”
My quest for spectacular experiences was destined for disappointment. I ended up feeling disappointed AND inadequate. My faith was bought into question because the church taught that people who were filled with the Holy Spirit would speak in tongues and that people who attended would be blessed financially because they tithed religiously… I grew afraid I was missing God’s blessing because, as a single mother of four, I had made the decision to pay my rent first. If I hadn’t been trying so hard to do it all the right way, perhaps I would have started to think I was too flawed for God to bless…
A seemingly endless quest
The pressure grew too great so I left. And when I left, I took something with me that I didn’t have before… cynicism. I’ve become cynical about where the quest for an experience leads. It doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. The endless quest for an experience simply makes the seekers more and more desperate when the experiences they do have don’t line up with the experiences they were hoping to have. The friends from that church, and others like it, are not growing faster, struggling less or blessed more than those I know in lower key, more quieter churches.
It seems pretty clear that actively seeking radical experiences is not the way forward for someone like me. Perhaps it’s best for me to start listening to the message that keeps repeating itself in such a quiet, unassuming way?
“Be still… Rest… Leave it to me.”
Catherine Joy is a teacher, life coach and single mother of four. She loves trying to keep all of those balls in the air but fails spectacularly at times. Perfectionism and people-pleasing seemed to be written into her DNA but she's slowly releasing expectations imposed by others and settling into a more generous view of a loving God at the same time. Catherine's goal is to experience life in lots of different places and to use every wrong turn as an opportunity for learning. She resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
See previous articles by Catherine Joy