Still reflecting on the previous night, our family was forced to put the group processing on hold. Jamie would be heading to Manchester, Tennessee with the youngest three, to stay at a RV park that wouldn’t completely bankrupt us. (Thanks to the generosity of those kind people the previous night, our family had enough money to get us through the next 10 days.) Sydney and I were headed to Nashville for the first of many meetings, including an invitation to a local small group at The Belonging.
If you know anything about The Belonging, and anything about me, you might find the acceptance of that invitation a bit peculiar. For a lot of reasons, some of which I’ll get to down below. But, the invitation to this particular small group came from someone our family has come to adore, and trust, so we accepted the invitation.
One of the reasons I have such a hard time with stuff like this is because it’s easy for me to make judgments of people based on the theology and adhered practices of their church. It’s been ingrained in me to believe that anything deviating from how I was raised is wrong. (I also want to be VERY clear: some theologies and practices ARE wrong and deviating from the truth will have HUGE consequences for both the false teachers and those placed under their care. But, in my opinion, not everything falls into that category… for instance, whether someone plays drums or an electric guitar. You might be willing to die on that hill, but I am not.) With this specific church, my wrestling went deeper than musical preference. Much deeper. But on salvific issues, we seemed to be on the same page.
Here’s what I can say about that night. The people were amazing. Period. They came from all walks of life. Some from affluence and some struggling to make ends meet. While many of the participants were probably in their mid-thirties, there were also college students and those entering into retirement. Different races, ages, economic demographics. It was beautiful. And they were welcoming. Many made an effort to make sure Sydney and I felt at home and included. A twinge of conviction was starting to creep in. Maybe I had been too harsh in my appraisal of the church. (Confession: I already discussed this with my friend. I told her my reservations, specifically, where I was struggling, theologically speaking, with her church. She GRACIOUSLY acknowledged my reservations and still wanted me to come.)
But, the visit also wasn’t void of tense moments, like when a woman talked about praying for her mother to receive the gift of tongues. I could feel Sydney’s body tense up. Or when someone mentioned receiving a vision. (Things were going SO WELL. Why do you have to go and ruin it, Lord?) But, even in my discomfort, I witnessed some of the most beautiful examples of love. There were several times in the evening when someone would share a personal struggle or prayer request and someone else in the group would stop the conversation and pray over that person. No one was writing down a list of prayer requests to be prayed over at the end, or to be emailed out during the week… that may, or may not, be prayed over. In that moment, they immediately felt the need to pray and just did it. Right then and there. It was beautiful. Maybe chaotic at times, or disjointed, but beautiful.
When it came time for Sydney and I to share about our story, I couldn’t. I’m not sure how to explain it. Maybe it was a need for confession, or just transparency. But, I felt this need for them to know how UNCOMFORTABLE I was. Not because it was about me. It was more about wanting to dig in deeper. Looking back on it, I really think that night was when the Lord planted the ie of church unity on my heart. What does it look like? With whom can we seek out unity? Are there limits on unity? If nothing else from this trip, I’ve learned that conversations are desperately needed when it comes to things like this.
I know what scripture says about tongues. I don’t deny its existence. Discernable languages with interpretations. I’ll even give you the private prayer language between you and God, but what I was witnessing didn’t fall into those categories and I literally told them that I had to fight against my desire to run out the door. Seriously. I told them that my theology obviously doesn’t align with theirs on certain issues and I was really wrestling through it. Later Sydney confessed that she couldn’t believe I did that. I mean, I guess it’s a little rude to be invited into someone’s home and tell them their expression of faith makes me want to run as fast as I can out of their house. But, it was the truth. And, more importantly, it was where God had me. Like I said, that night the Lord revealed a bigger piece of this adventure to me.
What does unity within the body of believers look like?
How they responded was almost as surprising as my confession. They told me they appreciated my honesty and my willingness to push in and to engage in a conversation many people refuse to have. (It’s a lot easier to distance yourself from the unknown than to push into the uncomfortable.) Before we left, my friend’s husband asked if their small group could pray for us and I said yes. But, he told me it was going to be “Belonging Style.” I told him that I didn’t expect anything different. And, I didn’t. But, that didn’t mean we were ready for what was coming next.
Sydney and I sat on two chairs in the middle of the room and people circled around us, laying hands on us. It was similar to the previous evening, but more intimate and orderly, weirdly enough. Everyone took turns to pray. Some in tongues. I had to fight off the urge for my body to stiffen. I was taking deep breaths, but not too deep, because, honestly, I didn’t want to offend the people praying over us. There were prophetic words and visions. I actually have a video someone took, but haven’t watched it. It was too much for me to take in. Too much to process. (I’m convinced the Lord likes to laugh at the craziness of our lives and how we handle it, or don’t handle it.)
After the small group ended, Sydney and I finally made our way to the car. She looked at me and said, “What was that?”
I don’t think I verbally answered. I remember widening my eyes and shaking my head, but nothing audible escaped my lips. She carried the conversation back to our friends’ house in Nashville. They happen to be Catholic. Talking to them about our experience made everything seem more surreal. Catholics and a Southern Baptist talking about prophetic visions and speaking in tongues.
This unity thing… it was going to be complicated.