“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” – Colossians 2:2
United in love, encouraged. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, which more than anything tended to be a dumping ground for parents to bring their kids to do things like “holy girl scouts”. I dubbed it that because I’ve clearly blocked out the real name. Then when we were too old for that, it was getting plugged in to youth groups and doing extracurricular activities where the girls were most definitely separate from the boys. Don’t hug boys, you’ll spread pheromones. Pheromones most definitely lead to sex. Cardinal sin. Drinking. Smoking. Midriffs. Cardinals sin ya filthy animals.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. Not by much though. And, I had to unlearn a whole helluva lot.
This post stems from the numerous questions I received regarding the last post I wrote insinuating that the church can cause heartbreak, that it did cause heartbreak. So let me explain. It’s actually been a post in the making for a while, but because it’s close to me and I have a lot of opinions about it…I needed to wait and lament until I could be truthful and tactful and not just emotional. Forgive me if it comes off as judgemental, that isn’t my intent. My intent is a call of action to do better, to be better… as humans, as people, as the church.
Here’s the deal. The church let me down numerous times. I grew up under the guise that I wasn’t enough. Ever. Not just at church, everywhere. My family. My friends. School. My own mind. I was made fun of for being too short, my face was too big for my body. I was never the girl who the “good” boys liked and even was asked out as a joke, in front of my other friends. Kids are *cuss* man, and my life is basically a John Hughes movie. That stuck with me.
The not enough-ness that I feel constantly was only heightened by the churchy people. Rebuke. Condemnation. Legalism. That’s what church was to me for a long time. A place where I felt I never fit in because underneath, I was always a little bit broken, a little different.
So, I finally went to different ones and saw that it didn’t have to be this way. They didn’t all look the same. But, silly me. I went back. And let me tell you… when people show you who they are, believe them the first time. I returned because I felt needed, and I felt useful and important. But, little by little I found myself slipping away into a person that I just wasn’t. I attended more Bible studies and served more and more, and more. Because, being needed fills the void of not enough-ness for a little while. Until it doesn’t.
I think I’ve written about this before, but I was straight ill for about two years in my early twenties. My last year of undergrad was just the worst. I had walking pneumonia twice and if I wasn’t at work or school, I was in bed. Because of the breakdown of my immune system, almost everything else broke down. I became severely depressed. I’ve struggled with that forever. But you would never catch me chatting about it up until this point. It was like wearing that not enough-ness on my sleeve for the world to see. At this point it got to be too much. So, I went to talk to someone. Several someone’s actually, because some people are just *cuss*. And when I did, I was told that the way I felt, that it was my fault. I didn’t pray enough. I had unrepentant sin in my life. My eyes opened. What a load of crap. People hide behind legalism and rules because they are afraid to face their shit…sorry, *cuss*.
I started to back off. I started to do less. And you know what… no one cared. No one called. No one asked me where I had been. Not a single person seemed to care that little by little, I stopped showing up. As I sat in a main service one day, I started to have a panic attack and right then and there, I left… and I didn’t go back. And from that day, I never stopped talking about what I wanted and what I felt. Because it’s not wrong to feel any of the feelings…or to talk about it.
The truth is, church is full of fallible people. It’s a place where the broken should feel safe to become mended. It should be a place for people to be seen, heard and understood. That in all of our brokenness, we still matter. A place where everyone feels loved. A place where you literally function like a body and when one of the parts isn’t functioning properly, you feel it.
It is preached that the church is one body, symbolic of a unity with Christ. That is not really an analogy I’ve ever gotten or understood, but I think it boils down to the church is supposed to be a representation of who God is. God is love. God is mercy. I have to believe that because in the darkest days of my life, especially the very early ones, that’s all I had. A still, small voice that said “keep going.”
I’m not the only one who feels this way. And this is not the only church. I’ve gone to many. It’s the south, ya’ll. You’ve had to stumble into one by accident at least.
Many buildings that are too big. Many people who plaster on fake smiles and pleasantries. I get it. Kindness is hard. Authenticity is hard. Caring is hard. But, don’t go. You don’t have to pretend you care. At the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.
Too many times people lump the building with the body and the body with who God is. My faith has never and will never be in the church. I felt really guilty for that for a long time. We’re taught that the church is synonymous with who God is. It’s a lie.
I’m not perfect. I’m completely fallible. But I would like to think I own that. I just want a little authenticity. Not a place that makes you feel completely insecure to be who you are, really. A safe place.
So, what am I looking for? Community. People who get it. People who actively seek diversity, acknowledge their feelings, care about people, care about their city, care about anything other than what dress they’re going to wear on Sunday morning or where they’re going to brunch after. People who serve. People who love. People who notice if you’re not there, and they bring you back. Broken people who acknowledge their brokenness. A place that will accept ALL my friends, not just the white, straight ones. Jesus ate among the sinners, he was near to the broken-hearted. Where are those people. That’s my church.