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“God is in the in-between.”
When I first heard this phrase, my mind immediately went to middle school dance chaperones telling kids to “save room for Jesus” when slow dancing (in other words, “Don’t grow up too fast!”). This phrase felt strange to me. I had been told told that it was in church that that we find God. Sure God is always with us, the argument went, but we feel God’s presence most when we’re with other Christians.
While I do believe that our faith is strengthened when we worship with our fellow Christians, I don’t think that should be the only time that we expect to find God. I am constantly surprised to find faith and community in the most unexpected of places.
My experience growing up in church was a whirlwind of angel wings, palm waving, and “Jesus Loves Me.” I always had the best attendance at Sunday school, and I sang in the choir every year from first grade on. I think it’s safe to say that my parents and teachers were deeply invested in helping me develop strong, steady, Christian By the time I started high school, I had a web of support under my feet, a patchwork quilt of the smiles and love of my church family.
My roots began to take shape the day I was baptized into the church that I still call home.
I graduated high school with an incredibly strong faith. I had served as a member of our session, preached at my final Youth Sunday, and led worship three years in a row at Montreat Youth Conferences. The next step was to conquer college. I was sure it would be no match for me, especially with the strong community I had developed throughout my faith journey. Famous last words, huh?
My first year of college was a brutal one. My parents dropped me off in the brand new state of Michigan, where I knew no one, and drove on home. I received care packages and cards from my church family, but it sometimes felt like that web of support I so relied on had been pulled out from under me.
Fast-forward to Easter of 2012. On Easter Sunday, I learned from my mother that my grandmother was sick and only had about a week left to live. Right there, with chocolate still sticking to my fingers and jellybeans in my mouth, my faith began to crumble. One week before my birthday, I got the final call from my father: she was gone.
It’s hard to go through the motions of school when all you want is to go home and stop thinking about death. I stopped going to the chapel services on campus. Honestly, I just stopped caring about God at that point. Sure, I’d had strong roots, but they felt like they were shriveling as I questioned their depths.
On Easter Sunday, I learned from my mother that my grandmother was sick and only had about a week left to live. Right there, with chocolate still sticking to my fingers and jellybeans in my mouth, my faith began to crumble.
This isn’t new stuff. People always talk about experiencing crises of faith in the darkest moments of their lives. The bigger question is – what happens next? As for me, it’s been two years since my crisis of faith, and I have been working to regain my roots in the church. And I’ve had some real success; my church family is amazing and supportive, and I continue to be cradled by the faith they instilled in me.
However, after my crisis of faith, I began to experience my faith elsewhere as well. Like those moments when you see the sun’s rays coming through the clouds, and you think ‘If this isn’t God, I don’t know what is!’ Or when you pick up your Bible and it flips to your favorite passage because you have worn down the spine.
I began to find these special moments in new and unexpected places. A foundational experience in this time of expanding my faith was my participation in Project Burning Bush, a two-week program at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. Each day at Project Burning Bush had set time carved out for Sabbath. During our Sabbath time, we were told we could do whatever we wanted to, so long as we did so with purpose and faith. To be honest, for the first few days, I thought that the only way top practice “good Christian Sabbath” would be to read the Bible during that time. However, while Bible-reading gave me great insight, I learned it wasn’t the only place where I could experience I faith. I also found significant inspiration in service and music.
Community service was a focal point of Project Burning Bush and has been a huge part of my life as a whole. When it came to service projects at my church – from serving Christmas breakfast at homeless shelters to handing Christmas presents to children – you name it, I did it! In Richmond we spent one of the hottest days working to clear an abandoned lot so it could be used for recreation by some local youth. Ankle deep in poison ivy, surrounded by abandoned houses, with not a church in sight, I distinctly remember feeling God in that moment. In that opportunity for me to share work with friends and serve strangers – people I will likely never see again – God was present.
However, after my crisis of faith, I began to experience my faith elsewhere as well.
Participation in the work of social justice – in my own community and elsewhere – has left a significant mark on my expanding religious roots. While I may not always serve in the name of a church or my religious faith, I always serve in the name of God. This knowledge gives my roots the freedom to grow. I may be in a place where sun through stained glass doesn’t dapple your skin, I may not be able to hear the rumble of an organ, but God is there with me in that moment. God is in the in-between.
God is also present for me when I listen to music. I know many people have the hair-raising experience of listening to a hymn or song and feeling it speak directly to them. I know that I am regularly overwhelmed by the power of music. Whether or not it’s explicitly related to faith, music in its most raw sense reminds me of the glory of a God who can create such a masterwork as music; it gives me the chills just thinking about it. My experience with music will not replace the plush pews and quiets whispers of church, but it allows me me to expand the roots of my faith and find God anywhere – even curled up in a warm ball on my bed or huddled over my laptop during final exams with no end in sight! Music stirs me when I see my congregation dance during Jazz Communion Sunday and when I hear a Mumford & Sons song come on the radio and whip through my hair as I drive with the windows down.
I know this is not the last time I will lose my way in this jumble of life and question my foundations. But I also know more now about what is important. I can look down and see my roots.
My experience with music will not replace the plush pews and quiets whispers of church, but it allows me me to expand the roots of my faith and find God anywhere – even curled up in a warm ball on my bed or huddled over my laptop during final exams with no end in sight!
My roots began to take shape the day I was baptized into the church that I still call home. They haven’t stopped growing since, and they probably never will. Some of my roots were formed singing “Here I Am, Lord” in church with that all-too-familiar catch in my throat. Others grew when I ripped up a stubborn root in that abandoned lot in Richmond and heard cheers from my fellow workers. Some are nestled in there from canoeing with my father down a mirror of a river, some from serving communion to a home-bound couple in my church.
No matter where these things come from—a powerful movie quote, that song trapped in your head, the sound of hundreds of voices joining in song each Sunday—our faith is strengthened. In those moments I smile and remember that funny phrase “God is in the in-between.” As it turns out, the in-between is anywhere and everywhere. You just have to let it take root.
AUTHOR BIO: Jocelyn Kirk just finished up her junior year at Alma College in Michigan. Though she spends most of her year up north, Jocelyn is a native of Louisville, KY. Jocelyn will be starting her senior year in the fall with double majors in Secondary Education and English and a minor in Math.
Read more articles from the young adult issue.