Apologies – this is a long one and I’m not really sure it goes anywhere!
As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’ve been a church goer my whole life, and I started out at a Church of Scotland church in Hamilton. From birth til around 12/13 years old it’s where I spent my Sunday mornings and whilst I have mixed memories of it, it’s ultimately where I grew up, and I’m grateful to still be in touch with a couple of people who influenced me and looked out for me back then and still do now.
I started attending the Salvation Army when I was 13ish after my Grandpa died as company for my gran, and decided I quite liked it. Again, I’ve had very mixed experiences in the army but the point of this post, as I’ll get to eventually, is that I’m grateful for it being a part of my life.
I’m quiet natured and very introverted, so in a way my childhood church suited me well. Weekly services, limited interaction with others, and people were pretty reserved. It was easy to blend in, and I liked that. There’s still a lot of me that finds the army garish and just plain bizarre sometimes, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I was brought up being accompanied by a church organ instead of a brass band. (Something I do really miss sometimes, although the organist herself was one of my biggest influences and favourite people, so maybe it’s her I miss more!!) There were no flags or uniforms, no testimonies or mercy seats, and there was certainly no spontaneous clapping or tambourine playing during congregational songs. (Anyone who knows me well knows how much I detest both of these things!!!)
I get frustrated on a weekly basis at the army, as so many little things seem to be made out to be far more important than the real reason we’re supposed to be there. (I’m well aware that this is a universal problem for all kinds of organisations, certainly not just the army or even churches, but that it happens everywhere!) I guess in the army it just feels like, to me anyway, that the extra things meant to enhance worship (band, songsters etc.) and the associated rules can often end up a hindrance. (What are the band playing? Have you got the right music? Where are your epaulettes? Why have you got nail varnish/earrings on with your uniform?) Don’t get me wrong, I know why the main regulations of the Salvation Army came into place, but my usual, pedantic reaction to certainly the latter couple of questions is “would God really mind that I forgot to take my nail polish off?” Or “I don’t think Jesus minds that my hair’s touching my collar”.
I’m certain I can’t be the only one who finds this. Surely we all have much bigger, much more pertinent things to work on and focus on, like being a better Christian, or better person? Nobody’s perfect, but I think it’s more important to be a good person and make sure your values and behaviour are correct rather than worrying about whether everyone else is wearing the right colour of tights or something else equally trivial.
This wasn’t and isn’t supposed to be a rant, honestly (even if I am partial to a good rant quite often!!). I wasn’t slagging off the army at all, local or globally. When I’m not grumping or doubting I really quite enjoy it, I just think it could do with a few tweaks here and there with less focus put on the trivial things. There’s so much potential for so much good to be achieved, but I think a lot of the time, we need to start by fixing and engaging the people inside our church buildings, or we have no hope of engaging those outside! (I even have some ideas, I’m just not brave enough to voice them!)
When I started writing this post I was really aiming to say that sometimes I feel like I don’t and never really will fit in properly in the army. But maybe I’m wrong, or maybe it’s okay either way. Because the holy part of me wants to say that I fit in just fine with God, so as long as I’m worshipping him and talking to him, then everything else is irrelevant.
The other thing I wanted to get at, is that without the Salvation Army, I’d probably be a very lonely girl. I might not be quite sure where my place in it is just now, but back when I first started coming, I did. I’m super introverted and school was not my favourite place, not by a long shot. I didn’t really know who I was. I was awkward and I’ve always hated getting into trouble, so I was a model student for sure. “Polite, conscientious girl who could speak out more” is what my report cards read every year. But when I found the army and music schools in particular, I began to find who I really was. I felt accepted, welcomed even, for just being me. And I’m grateful for that, because it’s helped me build confidence and become the person I am today.
I was also reminded today of how grateful I am for the people it’s led me to having in my life. Obviously Matthew, but that seems an obvious one. He’s my guy, and he makes me me. But I’m also hugely thankful for the wonderful friends I’ve made thanks to the Salvation Army. Friends who I would not have met had it not been for the army. (And even if I had come across them somewhere, I’d have no doubt been too shy to talk to them, but thanks to the army my confidence has grown massively!) In school it seemed weird if you had friends who were the year above or below, but now I have friends who range from almost a decade older and younger than me. They each support and encourage me in different ways, and I’m grateful for everyone one of them.
I’ve really really struggled lately believing in God, and believing that it’s anything more than some made up stories created to give us some purpose and make us feel less alone in the world. And feeling like I’m not really sure the Salvation Army is working for me hasn’t helped that at all. But something today (and I can’t explain or work out what!) has made me determined not to give up hope on it all. I need to stop focusing on the reasons I think it can’t work, and explore the ones that say it does. I’m a doubter and that’s not gonna change, but I need to use the doubts to encourage me to explore and understand it more, not reject it altogether.
Positivity is key here I think, and that’s the next step, so it looks like I’m back to these words:
“I thought I did what’s right
I thought I had the answers
I thought I chose the surest road but that road brought me here
So I put up a fight and told you how to help me
and just when I have given up the truth is coming clear
You know better than I
you know the way
I’ve let go the need to know why
For you know better than I.
If this has been a test I cannot see the reason but maybe knowing I don’t know is part of getting through
I try to do what’s best,
and faith has made it easy to see
the best thing I can do is put my trust in you
For You know better than I you know the way I’ve let go the need to know why for you know better than I.”