Scary title? I felt a bit of a tremble run through my veins as I typed it. Could this provoke different responses? Sure!
The past couple days, I have followed a blog that I found through a friend. The blog shared thoughts on leaving the church as well as thoughts on staying in the church. What I found more interesting than the blog itself were the multiple responses the blog had provoked. There were responses of hate, anger and frustration. There were also responses of encouragement, hope and trust. People of all ages, denominations and titles shared their thoughts. If you’re interested in following that yourself, you’ll find it here and here.
While reading through these responses, I thought of my own experiences in the church. Growing up, my family wasn’t very consistent with attending church. Sometimes we’d go regularly for a few months and then we’d slack off and it would be a special occasion like Easter or Christmas that we’d go. As a young girl, it felt like it was really more about dressing pretty and sitting quietly than it was about knowing God.
I don’t know if this is typical for a Methodist church, but most of the folks in the Methodist church I grew up in were quiet frankly, old. This coming from my 6-18 year old self who saw very little other than white hair and wrinkles as I sat in the sanctuary snuggled up to my grandpa while his mouth dropped open to let out a quiet snore. Did he sleep through the services often? Yep, from what I remember, that was a regular part of our Sunday morning worship. I know I napped through the sermons regularly. Did that mean my grandpa loved God any less? NOPE! Not at all, in fact, he was one of the most Godly men I have ever known. There was more Christ-like actions and attitude in him than I have ever seen from any one person. Do I agree with everything he did or believed? Nope. But here’s the thing – he grew up in a different time than I did. His life and situations were different. Things were accepted then that most certainly are not accepted now and vice versa – there are some things we accept now that they would most certainly not have accepted then. Did he always make the right choices? No. But I saw in him, a man who lived for God, who loved God and who had the heart of Christ. That was enough for me to see that a person could make mistakes and it didn’t mean that he loved God any less, it simply meant he was human and emphasized the perfectness of Jesus and only Jesus.
I once visited a church – I believe they claimed to be a Southern Baptist church but they were nothing like the Southern Baptist church I have been a member of for years now. That particular church left me feeling afraid and uneasy about church and about God. I was afraid the preacher was either going to lash out and kill us all or fall over dead from a massive heart attack. I simply am not comfortable with the style of preaching he used and quickly knew that was not the church for me.
My husband grew up in our church. He has many fond memories of youth activities and a relationship with God. Is he a sinner? Of course. Did his going to church make him always choose the right path? No, not at all. We are all sinners and we will always mess things up and make mistakes. I believe the key in overcoming our faults and shortcomings is our ability to be honest with ourselves and with God. Can you openly admit your wrong? Can you go to God and ask for forgiveness? Can you forgive yourself?
As I said, my husband grew up in the church we go to. I have been a member there since 2007 but have attended since we got married in 1999. It has been our perfect church for many reasons over the years:
It’s where my husband grew up.
His family is there.
He knew everyone.
The pastor married us.
There are a lot of kids there.
It’s good socially for our kids.
There’s lots of young people.
There’s lots of people, period.
They offer a lot of activities.
They have a lot of classes to choose from.
They have a big Vacation Bible School.
My kids will have lots of friends.
I will have lots of friends.
Life will be perfect.
Those were my thoughts years ago. I went to church because I married Tony and his family went there and I was expected to go there as well. I went to church because our son could have lots of friends to play with and grow up with a large group of kids (remember, my old Methodist church and all the older folks? There were only about 5 kids total in our whole church). I went to church because the pastor had married us and I didn’t want to “look bad” because I wasn’t there.
I struggled with many things in the early years of our marriage. I struggled with a very deep, dark depression. I avoided everyone. In fact, I didn’t come to church and often sent our son with my mother-in-law so that he could have everything our church would offer but I wanted none of it. I didn’t *need* the church. In my mind, I could love God just as much from the comfort of my home. While that may be true, I wasn’t living it. I wasn’t loving God just as much. I wasn’t living for God. I was consumed by my own self-pity and darkness. No one knew me, sought me out or realized what kind of darkness I was struggling with. Was that there fault? Not really, but I guess it might have been nice if someone had noticed. Maybe I didn’t even make that possible. Where am I going with all this?
I was there for all the wrong reasons. Did you figure that out by my list? The sad thing is, I’m sure I wasn’t and am not alone. I am most certain there are many, many people there for the wrong reasons and many of them, like me, don’t even realize they aren’t there for the right reasons. It was like I was blind to what church was all about. I couldn’t see past the glitz and glamor. I couldn’t see beyond the idea of status quo. I couldn’t get past my shame. I couldn’t be honest about myself because I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted so I chose not to accept.
Until about a year ago, I was getting as much out of church as I did when I slept through it on the pew of the Methodist church I grew up in. I might as well have been sleeping, but, I finally woke up. Let me tell you, when God wakes you up, He really wakes you up. I went from sleeping to totally on fire for God.
I am awake.
I am alive.
I am excited.
I am driven.
I am focused.
I am consumed.
The church – helped me get there. I don’t know that there is any one, perfect church and certainly there are no perfect people in the church. We all have our stories, our histories, our faults, our shortcomings, our strongholds, our weaknesses, etc. but we also have our strengths and it’s the folks who chose to show their strengths and use them for God’s glory that helped me get to where I’m at. Some folks, who were weak like me, were also part of the stepping stones in the path God laid before me. He used other people to help wake me up. Were they all perfect? Nope! Were some of them in church for the wrong reasons? Most definitely! Did that make them any less capable of impacting someone else? No.
So, my point is, our actions and our beliefs are seen and heard whether our hearts are in the right place or not. Sometimes, our faults can help others see a path they don’t want to go down. We can learn from our own and others mistakes. Other times, someone says just the right thing at the right time and a whole new perspective opens our eyes. It’s when we choose not to be a part of it at all, that we are lost, or at least it was in my case. The time I spent hiding from everyone was safe and comfortable but yet I was miserable and consumed with darkness, anger, fear, anxiety, etc. The time I spent in the church was uncomfortable and has had many hurts, lots of drama, things I have had to experience not because I wanted to but because we are born sinners and because we make bad choices, we say the wrong things, we make mistakes and we are human. Putting yourself into a place with people whom none of which are perfect is at some point, without a doubt, going to lead to hurt feelings, drama and chaos.
Through all of that, I have found God. I didn’t find him at home, alone, in my safe, dark place. I found him through people who chose to lead me, love me and even those who hurt me.
Perhaps, it was more that He found me – in His home, rather than in mine.
Ephesians 1:18-23 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
© The Imperfect Princess at theimperfectprincess.com