I go to church, but I have not gone regularly since I was seventeen years old.
Around the 2008 election, I began to hear the hissing whispers of what now seems to define the Evangelical Christian movement on the cultural landscape: You have to be a Conservative Republican. Pro-life and Anti-Abortion. Do not support marriage that does not involve a man and a woman. And having sex before that means you will not have anything to give to your future spouse (especially if you are a woman). The Bible is clear on X, Y, and Z. If you don’t fully believe in any of these things, you must not truly love Jesus.
That led to an even bigger question: should I believe these things because I feel that they truly right? Or have I just been spoon-fed every Sunday to do/say what a pastor tells me to?
I froze, spiritually, as if merely speaking that out loud turned me into an outsider. I was terrified to bring it up with anyone, given the friendships I’d cultivated since that first summer at a youth group camp were beginning to fade and I feared being brushed off and simply told to “check the Bible.” It seemed much easier to just sleep in, rather than try to sing words that sounded hallow or nod along to a message aimed at the absolutes rather than those who dare question and investigate.
God and church. Church and God. Such an intertwine was all I had known back then, and needed to take time to untangle.
College made me both curious and apprehensive to see what faith looked on campus, attending various groups and giving each one a genuine try. There was an emphasis on being different, and I already was fighting a separate battle with unintentionally standing out in the face of ignorance. There was always something off about the atmosphere, a superior us versus them mentality. I was only a freshman, and didn’t want to get pitted against a place I was just beginning to love and would be at for the next four years. I would attend Sunday services every so often, but continued to keep lingering doubts to myself. I wanted belonging, but not enough to risk rejection.
I was far from the pews, but not from the foundation; I still prayed regularly, kept a journal, and read the Bible. I knew that I needed God, but I also needed to see what that looked like between Sundays. I had lived a shelter life as a young girl, and didn’t want to be confined by four walls while on my own. I still had many a spiritual conversation in bars, coffee shops, and even after a weekly summertime tradition of The Bachelorette. I’m grateful for the friends that reassured me this season was normal and human and nothing to be ashamed of.
A transitional nudging led me to one of the most popular megachurches in my local area, yet real connections were sparse, and I kept wondering if I would ever find a gathering place to call home, especially as I was evolving into adulthood.
Writing this, home seems to look like a hodgepodge of different cultures and ethnicities, neighborhoods that have their own distinct vibe and flavor. Whenever the fundamentalist/progressive divide becomes apparent, I remember how important it is to be aware, but not afraid (at least to the point of running away from real community). I don’t see the point in debating, because ultimately we can have the same beliefs but different convictions on how to live out those beliefs. I’ve learned that it’s okay to disagree with those you admire, and still gain knowledge and wisdom from them. But yet I cannot deny what has been tugging at the core of my soul for a long time:
There are some things that are just between a person and God, whether it has to do with their body or their sexuality. Sometimes, “speaking the truth in love” means simply listening, and remembering that we humans have a limited perspective in comparison to the One who created us.
Leaving church (for however long) does not equate to abandoning God. Yes, we are called to gather together, but that is no reason to invalidate wounds, pain, and abuse caused by it. There will be seasons where Jesus Calling and online podcasts feel safer than walking through sanctuary doors.
Anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental health struggles have absolutely NOTHING to do with a lack of faith. Pastors are not the same as doctors or psychiatrists, and be wary of those who act like they are. It is wise to seek counseling, and it is just as wise to take medication if you feel moved to do so.
If you don’t want to be lumped in with those that feel they need to hate certain groups of people in order to be “good Christians”, then stand up and live out who you say you are.
I am still wrestling with a lot, especially when it comes to gray, or even flat out bad theology. I don’t like the term “broken” because of how it was used against me as a young girl by those that bullied and ultimately misunderstood me. Phrases like “hungry” or “thirsty” often make me want to draw closer to God than the former; reminding me that I still desperately need Him without feeling less than human.
I could never be an atheist; I have been through too much and experienced enough miracles to know that we didn’t just get here by simply appearing out of nowhere. There is something much bigger than you and I, although I cannot pretend to understand or comprehend all of it. That is why faith is often referred to as a mystery.
Funny how when I first started attending church, I sought out a safe place from what I had no control over. Nearly ten years later, I find myself in similar circumstances, though my brain is still a sponge.
I still have questions and am skeptical at times, but the beauty of faith is being able to discuss it all on a deeper level and be able to grow from it. Wherever my journey takes me, I trust that what is hurt will lead to healing, and what needs transforming will lead to grace.