The smiling faces. The laughter. The “It’s so good to see you!” and the “You doing all right?” while patting me on the back and continuing to walk toward their destination. I couldn’t take it anymore.
It took everything within me to muster a smile. I wanted to scream, “Do you see me? Do you REALLY see me? Because if you did, you wouldn’t keep walking! Because I’m not all right. Not even close. But you don’t see me. You only see where you’re going and what you’re doing. You only see yourself.”
So I quit going. I stayed home. I still read my Bible. I still prayed. I still loved Jesus. But church was too painful. I felt like a fake and a phony. I felt like I had to be perfect and joyful or I wasn’t a good Christian. I was in a dark place and until I could be happy and busy like everyone else, I just didn’t fit in there. So I reasoned that if I didn’t go, my pain might somehow become, well- less painful.
Then one Sunday I got a knock on my front door. It was Dave and Sue from church. I opened the door and they pushed their way past me into my living room with one simple question: “Where have you been?” They were good friends, so I answered honestly. Meekly, but truthfully, “Church is just too painful right now. Until I can get more of a handle on my life, I just don’t feel comfortable there.”
They situated themselves on my love seat, obviously intending to stay for awhile. I continued to stand. We stared at each other awkwardly for what seemed like an eternity until finally Dave broke the silence. “Look,” he said, “I know you’re really hurting. I know we can’t understand everything you’re feeling right now. No one can but you, because it’s your circumstance, your heartbreak and your emotions. But that doesn’t mean we don’t care. And it definitely doesn’t mean we don’t want to be there for you. You need to come back to church.”
I felt defensive. I didn’t want everyone to know what Jonathan and I were facing. It was okay for a handful of people to know, but if I broke down crying in the foyer, everyone would know my life wasn’t perfect. They would speculate. They would gossip. My image of unshakable faith would be shattered. Um, no thanks. My living room felt a whole lot safer.
Then Sue spoke, “We love you. People at church love you. Don’t shut us out. We know this is hard for you, but pushing everyone away is only going to make things worse. We aren’t meant to walk through life’s trials alone. You need to come back to church.”
Finally I sat down. I felt very loved in that moment. More deeply than the many Sundays I felt isolated in my sadness. They cared incredibly to knock on my door and say what they said. I realized the smiles, laughter, spiritual platitudes, and busyness in serving were my own self-imposed ideals of what “church” meant. For the first time in my life, I realized church was simply a place where I went to express my love for Jesus, love others, and allow them to love me back- in all my imperfection.
33 years of some personal, delusional ideal permeated my church experience before my liberation occurred. Now when I walk into church I am free. Liberated to worship my God like no one is watching. Free to love others who are hurting. Free to be imperfect. (Today I went to church with a raging eye infection and no makeup on- now, that’s free!) Okay, I did pick out a shirt to wear that specifically matched my glasses- there are still levels of freedom I have yet to achieve!
Dear one, I don’t know what your church experience has been. Maybe you’ve quit going. Maybe you’ve felt misunderstood, judged, unnoticed, or like everyone is so annoyingly perfect you want to puke. Maybe you feel like no one there “gets you”. But I want to encourage you to give it another shot.
Paul says you and I are “seated together in the heavenly places”. Whether or not you go to church, if you belong to Christ you are part of His church and you have a very special role to fill. One designed just for you. One He planned before the foundation of the world. One you will never discover if you isolate yourself from the church. You may not have a Dave and Sue in your life right now, but you probably won’t ever will, unless you, well, meet them at church.
Why do you think people quit going to church?
Why is it important to stay connected to a body of believers when it’s easier to “do church” at home alone on our TV or laptop listening to a sermon?