There are days in which I feel like discussing things here that are totally unrelated to weight-loss, and today is one of those days. I tend to work through feelings as I post them here so today I feel like sharing something personal that I don’t normally discuss.
If you’ve been here long, you may know that my dad was a preacher when I was growing up. I grew up going to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night and usually at least one additional night for some kind of Bible study or youth group. I spent a lot of time in church, and I saw a lot of things that I didn’t like.
As a teenager I still attended church at every turn, but when I was 17 or so, I decided that I didn’t want to. I did anyway because I had to, but I found myself increasingly fed up with the hypocrisy and politics of church.
My late teens were the worst years of my life for reasons that I may never be comfortable sharing here. I was dealing with my parents’ recent divorce among other horrible things, and I vividly remember driving around town, trying to figure out how I could end my life without it hurting too much. I remember being unable to imagine what it would be like to celebrate my 30th birthday. (It was awesome, by the way.)
I remember walking into a Bible study one evening and hearing my friends/fellow church-goers gossiping about my problems. I remember being disappointed and beyond mortified. Life was hard, and I was keenly aware that the church was the last place I could go for support.
I needed peace and assurance that everything would be okay, but I didn’t find that. Instead I faced gossip, judgment and condescension. The meanest, most judgmental people I knew were from the church, and I decided that if that’s what church was about, I didn’t want any part of it.
Over the last decade I have continued to distance myself from the church. I go when I visit Dad, or when it’s important to someone in my family. I’ve gone on occasion over the years, but I haven’t been a member of any church or organization since my late teens. For years I felt so much anger toward the church that I couldn’t have a conversation about it or about God without becoming a condescending jerk.
Almost a year ago I met someone who had been through similar experiences growing up. He’s a big part of a church here, and the day I met him (through Shannon) I made it clear that I did not like church and that I likely wouldn’t go. He made it a point to know that he wasn’t pressuring me to. We were both really upfront about it, but I worried that he might judge me or dislike me because I didn’t go.
After a few months of assuming that we’d never be close because I was a cursing, non-church-goer, I began to realize that he was my friend. Over time I stopped waiting to see him roll his eyes or judge me because he never did it, and he continued to disprove everything I thought about people who go to church.
When he started dating someone new recently I started spending even more time with him because I really like her too. I connected with her immediately, and when she mentioned that I should come to church, I said “okay.” I’ve told Jeff and Shannon more than once that I was strongly considering showing up on a Sunday morning, but two weeks ago I did it.
Visiting this church had been on my mind for quite a while, but it took several months for me to convince myself to go. In my mind I knew what church was all about, and everyone always says that their church is different. Jeff said that too. He said that I would walk in and not feel condemned or judged, and though I wanted to believe him, I didn’t.
I’m not sure what changed two weeks ago, but I decided to show up. I got there a few minutes before the service started, and I was a little nervous. I think I was bracing myself for the realization that this church was just like the rest of them, but that realization never came. Instead, I found myself nervously embracing what was happening in me and around me, and by the time the service ended, I knew I wanted to go back.
It’s hard to make sense of my feelings surrounding this church, but I can sum it up by saying that I didn’t leave feeling “preached at.” I know that sounds ridiculous when speaking about church, but I felt like the pastor taught from the Bible rather than shoving it down my throat.
I went back last Sunday, and again, I felt a little nervous. Somewhere inside my head I wondered if the prior week had been a fluke, but I felt just as welcome, comfortable and fulfilled as I did the week before. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had a church home. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a church home, but I’m open to the possibility that this church could become that for me…and soon.
It’s hard to release the doubt, fear and anger that I’ve held on to for so long, but for the first time since my uncle prayed for me, I felt that God was there. I felt safe, and I did not feel judged. Maybe it’s because so many people there have been through similar experiences, or maybe it’s because there are genuine, God-loving people in the world. Maybe I am just ready to embrace it.
I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about my place there. When I’m part of that service, it feels like I’m where I’m supposed to be. It feels like a place in which I can continue to heal and grow, and for now, that’s more than enough.
Do you attend church regularly? What made you decide to attend or not attend?