I sat in the soft cushioned chair shifting my weight back and forth. I could feel my heart beginning to squeeze and throb. The pain of anxiety started creeping through my limbs. I glanced at my husband who gave me a knowing smile. And I shifted my gaze back to the woman at the front. As she continued on about their church and how it functioned. Going over their values, beliefs and ideas… I wanted to scream and run out of the room. But I forced myself to sit and just tried to focus on my breathing to avoid the near panic attack.
I remember thinking how church use to be the place I would go to calm my anxiety. I would feel peace as soon as I entered the doors. I remember just the very smell of the room would cause my whole being to settle and bring an elated feeling. But now in this moment, all I want to do is run out of this building. How did this happen? How did the place that once brought me so much joy and peace now become the source of anxiety and pain?
I grew up in the Christian church and over my 33 years I have had many incredible experiences with the church, religion and God. Some good experiences, some weird, some not so good. But I’ve never felt the way I feel today. I’ve always been able to justify difficult feelings I’ve had or pray away doubts. But today, I stopped. Today I heard it all before and realized nothing has changed in my 33 years. Different faces, different churches, but same old message: We welcome you as family as long as you serve our vision.
As much as they say they aren’t about themselves, that is ultimately what it boils down to. I began asking myself, why do I attend church? I personally attend church for two reasons: 1. Corporate worship. 2. Community. I don’t attend for the messages, mainly because I disagree with about 50% of what the Pastor says. But I’ve never let that bother me. I know I’m never going to agree with anyone 100% so I never expect that. I rarely ever feel like I receive much from the sermon part of it… but the worship, I love and the people, I love the people. Over the years I’ve gone without question because I’ve needed those two things in my life. I’ve needed them like the air I breathe. But here I am sitting in this church at a near panic attack asking myself is it worth it?
What changed? Well I did. I changed a whole lot over the last two years. It was been two of the hardest years of my life as well as two of the most rewarding years of my life. But during those two years, my view on God & church has done a complete metamorphosis. If you know me, you know I’ve never really had a close family dynamic. I’ve pretty much been on my own from 18 and never looked back. Because of that I clung to church family from the day I left my family. I’ve always needed to feel like I belong to something, to someone. I volunteered. I gave my life. I sacrificed so much to belong in the church family. And I did. I belonged for as long as I was serving. After serving for several years, my husband and I were offered positions at another church in Northern California. We accepted and immediately found family. The funny thing is the “family” from our first church stopped reaching out. Out of sight, out of mind. I wish I could say it only happened once, but this continued with our next church family as well. Once we moved to Nashville, the people we had done life with for years, no longer called. No longer checked in on us. Even when we reached out during our hardest year, no response.
Because all I’ve ever known was church, we found another church here in Nashville. We plugged in because that’s all we knew to do. I will say there was nothing overtly wrong with this church… but I felt the underlying message. We are family if you serve, give and stay with us… if you go outside of these four walls, relationship will not be continued. As I sat in the membership class, the main message was that ministry and church comes before everything else. Before immediate family, other friends, and the ultimate goal of ministry growth is the only thing that matters. That is why I was having a panic attack. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t’ sit there pretending this was all ok. I felt like screaming. But instead of causing a major disruption, we just stopped going. And guess what?! No one noticed.
I want to clarify, I am not bitter… oh I was. In all honesty I was very bitter and angry, not with one person, but the whole institution. I mean 33 years of this how could I not be bitter. However, now I’m not bitter, angry yes... but not bitter. Here’s why: I see that the people in it, believe every word. They believe they are doing the work of God. They believe that things are changing. They aren’t bad people, they just can’t see it. I used to believe the same thing. I used to believe that going to conferences, sitting in church, and giving everything to the Cause of Christ was going to change the world. And maybe it is, but what I saw too often was relationships broken, marriages broken, families broken, and unhealthy lives being covered up by misquoted scripture and in the name of God. The main reason we left was because the Church was more concerned about growing the “body of Christ” instead of healing the individuals within the body. More concerned about saving souls and growing their ministry/kingdom then living authentic real lives and growing in relationships.
It’s so easy as a Christian to over-spiritualize unhealthy relationships. Here’s what I mean, when we think we are doing the work of God, when we “hear” from God and move accordingly, no one can speak in our lives. Do I believe that God talks to us? Absolutely! However, I believe that God doesn’t give one-person ultimate authority, even in your own life. If you say God said, then no one can give sound advice… that is a dangerous way to live. You can mistake walking in faith, being persecuted, being one of the few to walk the narrow road, as God and completely disregard red flags and people your trampling over to get to what “God Promised”. The Promise becomes more important than the people.
From what I know about God, he is more concerned about how we love each other and create a healthy individual and unit rather then a ministry. Too many Christians are so concerned with everyone knowing how much God loves them that they take themselves out of the equation. How can someone believe God loves them, when we don’t show love. It’s easy for us on a Sunday to preach and amen the message of Love, but then in our everyday lives we don’t actively work on loving those who we are in relationship with. We don’t prioritize our families, friends and marriages. We don’t challenge our personal growth, because we are saved. So we walk around wounded and unhealthy, covering up the need to grow and learn how to function in a healthy society, because we are not of this world.
I have so many more words to share on this journey. So many different layers that brought me to this. I will do my best to be real an authentic in my current discovery. This is not every one’s truth… this is MY truth. This is my observation as someone who has lived and breathed the christian life for my entire life. With that being said I will leave you with this…
I would love to see a church that takes full responsibility for making the world a better place. That doesn’t hide behind the ideas of Satan or God. Instead says I believe God gave me the power to learn how to grow as a healthy individual. To have a healthy family. To honor those around me, even if they don’t’ have the same views. To love and understand people in all walks of life. And to not think that my ideas are superior to anyone else. Instead to see how we all can learn from each other. To see how maybe someone else has a missing key and honor that in them. To take responsibility for our faults, learn how to fix them and grow. To take responsibility for broken friendships, marriages and families. Stop blaming God or the Devil, instead take the initiative to more toward health in every area of our life. Because really at the end of it all, what is going to matter? How much we went to church, how many people we witnessed to, or how those closest to us felt loved, how we left a legacy of health, how our children will be healthy functioning individuals who love the earth and all humanity well. Individuals who take full responsibility for the lives they live. That is what I think the church should look like….
To be continued.