I am employing the word “sojourn” in a very intentional way as I reflect on my current status as an individual who has traveled a long way to attend seminary. To be certain, I have physically moved quite a distance in the past five years in pursuing education. I essentially spent the first eighteen years of my life on Aquidneck Island, in Southeastern Rhode Island. Shortly after graduating high school, I journeyed south to the former capitol of the Confederacy to attend the University of Richmond. And now, at the age of 22, I find myself a week into a 13-month lease on a Saint Louis, Missouri apartment, anxiously waiting for my studies to begin at Covenant Theological Seminary. I have now lived in Rhode Island, Virginia, and now Missouri, yet I am struggling to find my home.
In high school, I was a day student at a private boarding school. The people that I felt closest to during high school were the ones that did not actually live in that town. For many, returning home during college breaks meant reconnecting with parents and friends. For me, it was spending time with my parents. I came to know the Lord in college and for most of college (even at times now), returning home is not simply difficult because the lack of fellowship, but because it is difficult not identifying that physical location with the person I was before Christ took control. I intellectually grasp that in those moments I am forgetting the sufficiency of the Cross of Christ to eliminate all my guilt, but I struggle to sense that fully. One of the underlying motivations for attending college far away from home, out of New England was the shame and guilt I felt before I first felt His love cover over it all. Coupled with the growing feeling that I was not coming home, but rather than visiting my parents, I do not find home to be in Rhode Island.
As someone who grew up attending Catholic mass with my parents, and came to know the Lord on a college campus, apart from a local church body, it was easy to identify the people that the Lord put in my life as my spiritual home. I still held an infantile view of the local church in God’s mission and my life. On top of that, I was trying to (and continue to try) figure out where I landed. I began at Third Presbyterian because my first close Christian brothers in college went there. Shortly after that, I grew close to a campus minister who was part of Every Nation Campus Ministry, and for a short season I attended Harvest Renewal Church, his spiritual home. As I began leading Young Life, I moved to another church, Hope, that met in the auditorium at the school I was placed. And eventually, I returned to Third where the brothers in Christ that I met with weekly for over two and a half years were. And occasionally, in the last semester of college I attended Redemption Hill, a newer church plant in Richmond, where that campus minister was now pastoring. All in all, I attended four churches…and belonged to none.
Now, I find myself far from the East Coast from those close friends that I gained on campus and through Young Life. To be honest, I am not alone here. My apartment is 10 minutes from CTS and only 5 minutes from my girlfriend and her family. When I first found out where Covenant was, I was certain I should not go there. It was a short drive from the girl that I pursued (with no result) for several years, and I was convinced that my brothers in Christ would see through any explanation for attending Covenant. Somehow, as I began looking at Covenant, God put it in her heart to actually consider a relationship will me. We now find ourselves together in the same city trying to be mindful of God’s timing, but also conscious of the purpose behind dating.
OK, just started talking about that girl and lost my train of thought…
We’re back! Over the course of my senior year, God began to convict me of the self-serving view of the local church that I held. As He started beating out the notion that I could love Him, but not His bride, He also filled me with a desire to belong to a local church, to serve a local church, to be under the authority of a body of elders. Those desires surfaced as I was just months from graduation.
As I sat in my apartment this afternoon, I felt lonely. I felt disconnected. Right now, my gospel community is my girlfriend and her family. They have been incredibly gracious and hospitable, but I feel like a “Lone Ranger” Christian right now. It hurts because I know that’s not God’s intention for my life–our lives. I do not doubt that He will provide an incredible gospel community at Covenant, and I know that their are several Christ-centered, missionally-focused churches in the area, but the great longing in my heart to be a part of those communities has also produced an ache in me that I am not yet.
I know that mixed into all my emotions at the moment I am forgetting the sufficiency of His grace, but I am also reminded that “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Even now, I trust that He is at work in my circumstances. In finding myself alone at many points in the past several days, I have found a desire to be a part of His local church more so than I ever have! I find myself looking forward to 10 a.m. this Sunday in way that I have never experienced! And if that is all that is produced in me out of this experience, then it will certainly have been beautiful in its time.