Finding the Joy of Jesus at the End of the World

by | Feb 26, 2020 | Abuse, Uncategorized | 24 comments

Merchandise is Here!

For almost two years, my mom and my husband had been planning a cruise for the three of us to take to South America and Antarctica.

When we originally booked the cruise, we didn’t know that Rebecca would be having a baby just a few short months before we were supposed to leave for three weeks, or that the cruise would end up happening in the middle of when Rebecca, Joanna and I are trying to write the manuscript for The Great Sex Rescue.
But God knew what He was doing, because I really needed the break.
We arrived back last Sunday, and it was an amazing trip. My husband Keith (an avid birder) saw 173 new species of birds, including these two which I think he caught awesome pictures of:

White Throated Cacholote

White Throated Cacholote

White Throated Hummingbird

White Throated Hummingbird

And it was partly a knitting cruise for my mom and me–we went with a group that took us to some amazing yarn shops, including some by women’s collectives (and, yes, I knit that bag I’m holding).

And I did a ton of knitting, including this cardigan (that still needs buttons) that I’m hoping will be my comfy, around the house sweater:
Sweater I knit in Antarctica
(By the way, any fellow knitters who are on Ravelry, feel free to friend me! I’m just sheilagregoire). 
We started in Buenos Aires, visited Uruguay and Argentina and the Falkland Islands, and cruised around Antarctica, watching whales, penguins, and icebergs for 3 days.

A typical iceberg in Antarctica

Sheila with a penguin

Yes, that’s a Magellanic Penguin chick right there! (in the Falkland Islands)

Then we visited Ushaia, the southernmost city in the world.

(And I knit the socks I’m wearing here, too).

Finally, we headed to the fjords of Chile, and then home.

In Castro, with the houses on stilts.

It was truly beautiful, and I spent my time reading (including the book The Body Keeps the Score, which I posted about on Monday), knitting, and drafting out several chapters of the Great Sex Rescue.

But mostly I needed to get offline, because it’s been a hard year.

Right before we left we left, Focus on the Family issued a statement in which they deliberately misrepresented me, and said that they found Love & Respect a “biblically sound, empowering message for women” despite my open letter about Love & Respect and Emerson Eggerichs.
The Religion News Service picked up the story, and published a fair and balanced article on the controversy.
But in between talking to the press and posting about this and responding to so many comments and emails, I was spent.
I couldn’t have put it into words, until I had a conversation with Katie while sitting in a port in Chile (it’s amazing how cell phones can get such great reception half a world away!).
For background, my daughter Katie married a military guy that she and Rebecca grew up with and have known for years, and they live in a small town in Ontario. Shortly before they were married two years ago this week (happy anniversary, Katie and David!), Keith and I were speaking at a FamilyLife Canada marriage conference in Niagara Falls, and a couple pulled us aside and told us that they followed my blog, and wanted to invite Katie and David to their church. He was a pastor in that town, and they’d love to have them.
Well, Katie and David walked in and they’ve been there ever since. It’s a small church, but the community is wonderful, and Katie feels as if she’s found a home.
Before that conversation with her pastor, Katie had been to the church that morning for a women’s Bible study, and then she had worship practice afterwards. When she was done, she was wandering the hall, ready to leave, when the pastor came up to her, and they started talking.
And Katie shared many of the things that have been on her heart lately–about how disillusioned she’s been with the same things that have been bothering Rebecca and me about the church; about the way she’s been treated online; about how many YouTube Christian creators are setting up all kinds of legalism about marriage (don’t kiss til you’re married; excessive modesty; excessive wifely submission; etc. etc.). And about how horribly a local church handled sexual assault by a youth pastor.
It’s been tough.
And then her pastor asked a very pastoral question, which was just what Katie needed (and really, just what I needed). He asked,

“When’s the last time you felt the joy of the Lord?”

And Katie was taken aback. She said lately, whenever Christianity comes up, she tenses up, ready to go on the defensive to say, “what that person/church/organization did doesn’t represent the Jesus I know”, or “I don’t believe that way.” Christianity has become a major source of stress, because there’s so much that’s messed up.

And he suggested she try to find the times that she felt joy, and focus on that and do more of that.

I needed that, too. I’m a fighter, and I’m all fired up about the results of our Bare Marriage survey, which so far Joanna (my co-author who is doing all the stats) assures me are showing what we thought they’d show (along with some very interesting statistically significant correlations with vaginismus and sexual pain). I’m excited to write the book. I’m ready to go to bat for men and women who have been taught such horrid things about sex and marriage, and who need to find truth.
But can I also admit that I’m a little sad? Or even a lot sad?
It’s hard when Focus on the Family, an organization I always respected, actually lied about me. How do I process that? How do I process the fact that they ignored what hundreds (or even thousands) of you said to me and in our survey?
And I am hurt. I really am. I’m hurt that they think that I don’t matter. That women who are abused don’t matter. That the only person who matters is Emerson Eggerichs. I’m not just angry. I’m not just fired up. I’m really, really sad.
I’m sad that Christians say this. I’m sad that I find it hard to know who to trust now. And I’m really trying to process all this and hold on to Jesus all I can.
So it was so necessary for me to have three weeks where I wasn’t doing battle. I wasn’t having to respond to anyone. I wasn’t having to defend myself. I could just look at icebergs and at whales and think and pray. I could be quiet, without all the noise. And it was very, well, nice. Really, simply nice.

I didn’t have any great revelations, except that I feel more energized, and I feel like the task before me isn’t too big anymore.

But no matter how bad “Christian” organizations or authors or YouTube people or anyone gets, it doesn’t change who Jesus is.
Sometimes we have to work a little bit harder at finding Christian community that reflects Jesus, and in March I’ve decided I want to make that our series–how can we find that kind of community, like Katie did way up north in her small town? How can we find people who can support us and whom we can support where we can talk about the things that matter? How can we find good community for our kids, and even our husbands? And what should we do if we’re in a toxic community right now?
Because we all need to see Jesus as a person, and not just a cause we need to defend.
It’s too tiring to always be on the defensive. It’s too tiring to always be confronted with those who claim Christ yet act nothing like Him. We need real community around us who can call us back to Jesus.
And I’m glad I called Katie, who shared her pastor’s advice, even while I was at the end of the world.
What do you think? How do you find joy in Jesus when those claiming Christ disappoint you? What does community look like to you? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Tired of trying

    I can’t wait to see what you have for March…. I grew up very conservative (think Amish) and although my veiws may still lean toward the conservative side (independent baptist), I am so sick of the politics and hypocrisy of the church today. It really is sad. We haven’t had a church to call our own in over 7 years and we are so tired of trying new ones and looking for a good church. It’s sad that my kids aren’t growing up in a church community with people who care for them. My husband said if he wasn’t already a Christian, he wouldn’t want anything to do with Christianity if he was basing it off of how the churches act. We know there is never a perfect church, and since we live in the middle of nowhere we feel like we are out of options. I just want a church that is real. A church that cares. A church where Jesus comes first. And a church where people are on fire living for God!
    Forget about all the rules (woman can’t wear pants etc.) get rid of all the requirements (if you don’t come everytime the doors are open, your not right with God – maybe if churches didn’t have so many programs going every day of the week, we could come more often.) I hate fake people – all righteous on Sunday and live like a sinner the rest of the week…. I want a church that will feel like a home and family…. I don’t want to feel like an outsider that don’t have a place in the church click….
    What churches are out there that have consecutive veiws, but without all the legistics….. A church where people live out God everyday?

    • E

      Yes, the perfect church doesn’t exist. We moved from being part of a lovely community (church plant) to the Bible Belt. We have been “church shopping” for 8 years and it has been very discouraging. People just don’t care. I always expect to be welcomed with open arms, and I refuse to give up that expectation. We have Kindof settled on one church and really enjoy what is there for the kids. We are fine with their theology. Just a lot of cliques and we have never been invited to anything even though we’ve had several families over and Ive had coffee with many ladies…but then crickets. But Ibhave slowly become less bitter and have been enjoying trying to speak my truths (introvert) and making a point to welcome other new people that come to the church. I’ve met a really good friend that way. She since is done with that church, but we are still friends.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, cliques are hard! When you move and cliques are already established, it’s so hard to break in. I know that I’ve likely caused some myself. I’m just so busy, and I’m a creature of habit, so I don’t think of getting together with the newer people in my life. When I do have time, I tend to gravitate to those I know the best. It’s a good reminder to the rest of us to think outside the box!

        • E

          THANKs! I appreciate that so much. I have had to remind myself so often that people aren’t deliberately trying to leave me out etc: they are just too busy to even entertain the thought of starting a new friendship. Which I think is another issue in itself. ☺️
          I would challenge anyone in a healthy fellowship to start looking around on Sundays and see the other people there they have never met before. Maybe pick one and make a point of chatting. It’s ok to say, “I’ve seen you around for a few months and I have never had a conversation with you. How did you find the church?”

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            So important to do! Thank you, E!

      • Hopewell Baptist Church

        Hi, We go to a wonderful IB Church between Louisville and Cincinnati in Henry County. Our Pastor is a wonderful man, Preaches on the home, adults, and directly to the teens during the sermons. We have folks who drive 45 minutes one way and we are small in size, 55 to 65 most Sundays. I will try to put the churches website up . We are a friendly church and plenty of jobs in the area with factory’s. The Pastor and his wife homeschool all there children. If your close, we’d love to have you visit. He dont brow bet if you happen to miss, but might check on you. He took the church with 7 people and it was about to close the doors. He’s down to earth and him and his wife are easy to talk to . You can email him through the website it you like.

  2. Cara

    Wow. As I sit here almost paralyzed and feeling like I can’t breathe today, this hits home.
    I’m struggling in a different way but it’s still regarding the church. Not a church, the church. The church is the hardest group to “break into”. Especially if you are an introvert. Honestly, I couldn’t care less if it was just me but I have kids that need community. I’d be happy to just go to church and go home. Shouldn’t the church be the most loving and welcoming place? The group of people who most want to make people feel like they matter? And I know I’m not the only one that feels this way.
    Five years of heavy stress and no escape in sight have me feeling pretty low. Watching the kids struggle to find friends is just a nice bonus.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Cara, I’ve been thinking lately that we need many more expressions of “church”. If you read the New Testament, church was just a bunch of believers who did life together and cared for each other’s needs. They ate together. They talked together.
      Today “church” means a building that you go to once a week, where a bunch of people meet, where we sing songs and listen to a teacher, and then we go home.
      There’s no problem with that expression of church. But I find that the closest I feel to other Christians is when a small group meets and talks and prays about things, and that can be “church” too. It’s just believers who meet together and who know enough about each other that we can mentor each other and hold each other accountable and help each other. And we can reach the world together as we use our gifts together.
      But we’ve made church a very passive thing, rather than a relational thing, and some of us need more relational stuff.

      • Doug

        I wholeheartedly agree that small groups do the best job of revealing the spirit of the early church. My wife and I belong to a church with approx 4000 members. In any given Sunday, probably a third attend the service. Our leadership knows that is really too many people to have the supportive tight knit relationships that really foster well being, so they are strong advocates of small groups. We have a ministry dedicated to linking people together into those groups, but of course, anyone can start their own group with others. The group I belong to sort of grew on it’s own, first with a few couples and then them bringing in other couples, and the occasuonal single. We have mentored a few couples that were struggling as well.
        The church serves as the corporate arm, and obviously is central to fellowship, teaching and worship, but it is within those small groups where you see people living life together, and truly growing in Christ.

      • Mary

        That’s a really good point Sheila! The Church today has become so organisational that the simplicity of the New Testament pattern has been lost. You’re so right – back then they were simply doing life together, supporting one another and enjoying all that they shared together in Christ. They remembered Him simply with the bread & wine each week. They served Him devotedly and one another selflessly. And the whole world was “turned upside down” (Acts 17:6) by these normal people.
        I find myself really fighting the organisational nature of the Church today. It has become a power structure for men instead of a haven for the children of God. Leaders have become great and prominent men in society instead of humble but gifted servants of their God. We gather around renowned preachers and Pastors instead of around the person of Christ. And we miss out on so much of Him because of it.
        Even so, come Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20). When we see Him and are with Him forever, none of this will matter any more!

  3. Flo

    I experience joy in Jesus when I am in nature. Meeting people and helping people is a great experience, the feeling of oneness is great. But the forest, the mountain, the sea give me feelings I cannot even describe.

    • Doug

      I spent a lot of years where the only time I could feel God was in the mountains and the wilderness. I was so messed up it was the only place I could be at peace enough to sense him. At the same time, tho, I never would have had or known more if it wasn’t for the people who helped me see beyond that.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m a lot like that, too. I feel God best in nature. That’s not such a weird thing, really. Maybe it’s just a reminder that we need to get out more and just breathe. And then be revitalized there and take that with us through the rest of our daily lives.

  4. Nathan

    Our church also does small groups. They have different groups for different needs.
    And yes, we need to get rid of some the more ridiculous “rules”. God cares about what’s in our hearts and what we do, not what kind of pants or skirt we wear.

  5. Anon

    Our church is the place where I feel least safe because of all the spite and judgement and nastiness that goes on. My fiance and I got very down about it a while back, and then a Godly mentor from outside the church challenged us to look for the positives. That is what we are doing, and it is amazing how much it has helped.
    I also find spending time appreciating the world God has made restores my joy.
    Sheila, I hope your joy will also be restored by knowing how many people have been blessed by your ministry. I think in general, while most people complain if they don’t like something, it’s only a small percentage of people who actually say thank you for something good (remember the ten lepers Jesus healed?!) so for every letter, email or call you get to say that your ministry has helped, remember there are probably at least another 9 out there who didn’t get in touch!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, thank you so much! That’s lovely.

  6. Nathan

    I’ll add to anon’s post. Thank you for your work, Sheila. You’ve helped me help a friend and also helped me a lot as well. I hope you got “recharged” and are ready to go!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Nathan!

  7. Arwen

    I’m glad you enjoyed your trip, i can only imagine how beautiful and cold it was, seeing the pictures of you and your hubby wrapped up in jackets.
    Like your daughter Katie, i have been feeling tense lately whenever Christianity is brought up too. I’m really, really excited you’ll spend the month of March talking about community because i and many others can defiantly use those tips. I’m desperately trying to find a Church community but whenever i do something toxic shows up there and i have no choice but to look for another one yet again. Can’t wait for your series!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m starting on Monday with some general things, but it’s really in the podcast next week where I think we’ll be exploring the problem with toxic churches. There’s a lot of that right now, and I actually think part of it is a big mismatch between what people actually need, and what churches want to do to protect the jobs, etc. of those who are there.

  8. Doug

    Shelia, this comment is directed more towards you, than the group at large. I hope you do not take it as a criticism, but I do hope you take it to heart.
    I think you and I share a common ailment. I know it is something I struggle with, and I think I have seen it in your writing. I honestly believe you latch onto a cause so tightly, that it can do you harm. It doesn’t mean your beliefs are wrong or that your causes are un-just, but I do think it hinders your vision to a degree. You see some things quite clearly, things that others might miss, because you are lazer focused on them, but I think that focus clouds your peripheral vision. When what you are focused on is such a negative, and it is all you see, there is a danger of missing all the little blessings in the periphery.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I totally agree, Doug. That’s why I needed to get away for a time. I do believe that I am called to what I’m doing, and the book contracts that we have coming up are wonderful, because they’re part of the solution, rather than just pointing out the problem. But I think this is something that I do struggle with, and that lots of others do as well. It isn’t that I need to let it go; only that I need to turn it off sometimes.

  9. MidwestWife

    Yep. We moved away from a solid Christian community and didn’t realize how good we had it. We still are friends who people down there and there’s a fairly decent chance we will move back 2300 miles away , partially to be back apart of that Christian community. There’s a good example in the Bible of Mary walking days just to have fellowship and community with Elizabeth. I get it, I totally do. Once you find your Christian people, hold on them.

  10. Lami

    This article did not go as I thought it would.
    But, I needed it. Wow, Katie’s pastor asked such a great question. I need to ponder it more.
    In the past year myself, I have been very disillusioned with christians, churches and christian organizations. A well known pastor in my home country raped a woman when she was a teenager, and several other pastors came out to defend him and silence her. Other pastors refused to take a firm stance, eager to return to regular programming. He’s still pastoring a massive church in Nigeria’s capital city. No accountability or consequences. Only protests were organized and attended by some who were even non-christians. That left me feeling very disheartened.
    Sometimes, it can feel very isolating too. I’ve also gravitated towards a lot of deconstructionist materials, just to guard my heart against the false teaching that seems to pervade everywhere.
    It’s possible that I have lost sight of the joy of Jesus too. Sometimes the problems around us can feel so magnified.
    I’d suggest reading the Psalms too and journaling your feelings. I’m sure David has felt the things we feel too. I plan to do the same. I wish you great grace and peace for the work ahead of you.
    As per your comments about what church should be, I think you should read Pagan Christianity and The Untold Story of the New Testament Church. The author describes the culture of the early church which was relational and Christ-centred, rather that centred on the pastor’s charisma, as we have today.
    There’s a lot wrong, but Jesus is still good. We will keep focusing on him.
    Thank you Sheila.


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