All ALONE ~ in a Crowded Church

Man alone in a field with a cross

Feeling Alone in a Crowded Church

Sometimes Church feels like the loneliest place on Earth!  Much more lonely than simply being alone!

Usually, I love being in Church.  I find comfort in worshipping God with others of the same faith.  I enjoy studying God’s word together, praying together, and singing together.  Most of the time, I feel very much at home in Church.

But then, there are the times I’m hurting or grieving, and feel like I’m all alone in the middle of a crowd.  Surrounded by people who are supposed to be my family, but seem to have no idea what is going on in my life, at the moment.  Watching people putting on their church smiles and positive attitudes, and wondering do they ever feel pain or sorrow like I feel?

Lately, it hasn’t been that way at all.  Lately, I’ve felt increasingly connected to my church family, and especially to my Sunday school class.  However, I can remember many times of feeling loneliest sitting in Church.

Last week, I encountered a courageous lady on-line, whom I know only as ttm.  ttm was sharing her experiences with someone else on a WithoutWax post regarding a recent news story of racism within a church.  Fascinated by her ministry of simply being a friend, outside the bounds of the conventional church, I asked her to tell me more about her ministry, which she graciously did.

I want to share ttm’s story with you, for two reasons.  First, because if you have ever felt all alone in the middle of a crowded church, it might be an encouragement to know you are not the only person who has felt this way.  In fact, you are probably not the only person feeling all alone on a given Sunday, in your own church.

Second, I think ttm’s story will challenge how you think about Christianity, what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to minister to others in the name of Christ.  Her story may even inspire you to start ministering to someone else, right now, out of the pain you have experienced.

Here is ttm’s story, in her own words:

Hey, Joe,

After growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family who attended the local church three times a week, plus being active in community Bible studies and other outreach opportunities and attending a very conservative Christian liberal arts college, I am quite surprised to find myself standing firmly within God’s palm of love but outside the parameters of church at this point in my life. Although I have moments of clarity, most of my “Christian certainty” has morphed into something more like astonishment at the mystery of who God is and how God continues to work in my life in ways I don’t understand.

Several things have contributed to my descent (or ascent or simply adjustment, depending on how you define it) from Bible thumping world-changer to people hugging listener. The most devastating was a divorce I did not want and had to work through while being preached at, pitied and pamphletized with pithy statements and theological stances of divorce by those who still went to bed at night in the arms of their “greatest blessing from God.” I had to learn to answer my child’s questions with honesty but in a way that wouldn’t damage his relationship with his dad. I had to try to cobble together some kind of future career (Ha. Definitely still working at this one!) while continuing to honor the promise to home school my son all the way through high school. I had to try to redefine family while not getting drowned in the sadness that sometimes swelled up out of nowhere. All of these things were humbling–because I saw how often I am prone to anger and bitterness, to wanting the easy road, to shrugging and just giving in to the desire to curl up and die. Without God’s help, I know that I would not be here today.

That said, God wasn’t always easy to find (still isn’t). And one thing I began to feel is that the “static” of church–our pastor’s notions or the notions of those from whom he stole sermons, the beliefs put forth in my small group, the system itself with all of its expectations to be in unity and to accept the Groupthink–got in the way of me really walking my own path with God. So, I finally left.

I begged God to meet me in new places–and surprisingly I began to really notice and to FEEL God’s presence in secular music, movies, conversations at work and at the grocery store, blogs, the silence of midnight, etc. I realized that the I AM THAT I AM is so much bigger than the color by numbers, engineered vision we have created of who God is and isn’t. And in this understanding, I realize that perhaps it’s okay to stop pounding people with theological precepts and to stop figuring out who’s in and who’s out.

I realize that it’s okay to just be who I am–letting the I AM shine through this broken glass. I have been broken and pieced back together much like a stained glass window. When you inspect each chunk of glass, you will find bubbles and bumps and inconsistent color. But when God shows up in those brighter moments and I let the love shine through–I know that it, I, we are breathtaking (and so is every single person with his or her unique image).

Right now I’m planted in fertile ground. My son is an atheist. I have coworkers of all religions who are currently dealing with suicide of a parent, possible STDs and unwanted pregnancies, potential jail time for various offenses, difficult and failing marriages, looming bankruptcies, dying parents, and many other deep issues. Because I know how it feels to really hurt, to wonder if God gives a damn, to be blasted with trite Christian platitudes, my behavior has changed.

I honor the free will of people. Jesus didn’t “hard sell” himself. He had a pretty small evangelism budget (of course, the ultimate cost was exorbitant.) He let people think, believe, and act however they wanted to. He may have chided a bit or offered explanation–but more often than not, he answered questions with questions and gave an invitation to hang out for awhile. Scripture doesn’t say so, but I imagine Jesus was a hugger. And he offered love to every one even if they didn’t convert (and he already knew who would and who wouldn’t choose the way.)

So when people want a soft place to land, I shut up and listen and offer a hug. And then, whenever the Spirit in that mysterious way of connecting us all, lays that person on my heart; I ask God to show up for them in a way that they cannot help but notice. They may never become a Christian. They may never attend church. They may keep on living in sin forever or rejecting the gospel forever. But in my opinion, they still deserve that moment of joy and love and peace when God shows up just for them.

In my opinion, God is so much bigger and more loving than we can understand. He redeems ANY person, ANY situation, ANY messed up plan. And our moments of amazement at that are so few and far between. But lately, I really try to celebrate that when I get a glimpse.

So, here’s today’s glimpse: My ex-husband is coming into town for a few days to hang out with our son. Normally, they get place about an hour away. That’s been great for me because I, like many people, love better from a distance. But, this time they want to hang out around the house for a good amount of time. And I am finally (after 10 years) ready for that. Over the past few months, I have intentionally renewed a friendship with my ex. Not just a polite civility–but an opportunity to reconnect as friends after all that we’ve been through. It’s a start. It will take time. But I believe that eventually even THAT stained glass image will offer something to someone who just needs a glimpse of God’s amazing and mysterious ability to redeem everything. :^)

Sometimes, we have to step outside the conventions and more`s of the church establishment, in order to take our next step in drawing near to God; to find the comfort and kinship that comes only from hearing the Holy Spirit whisper His love to me.

Just today, I saw a post on Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, where Jamie tells a story similar to ttm’s.  Feel free to link over there to read Jamie’s story as well…just don’t get upset at me for Jamie’s choice of colorful words and phrases…gotta love her candor!

God makes a home for the lonely;
He leads out the prisoners into prosperity,
Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land (Psalm 68:6).

What about you?  Have you ever felt incredibly ALONE while sitting in a crowded church full of fellow believers in Christ?

 

9 thoughts on “All ALONE ~ in a Crowded Church

  1. I’ve been up/down both in/out of church… the only truth I have found in any of these places is God’s word… I may not always agree with it but my opinion doesn’t change His consistency. We live in a world where most people think they can just take what they know about truth and apply it how they choose. I have lived there also- Failing to realize how they came to know the truth! How they have grown into the truth! Forgetting how/why that truth has set them free!
    There is no feeling like the return! To know His LOVE!

    Pushing in to God does not equal pushing away from others! We must continue to follow His commands Love God/Love Others… it is a command and it ensures we are never alone!

    • Hey, Michael! Good to see you here!

      Thanks for the insight. I absolutely agree with you, that following Christ and drawing close to Him always results in, and is reflected in, loving others. Not only did Jesus say that loving one another is a new commandment He has given us, but also that it is the mark of being His disciple.

      What I found fascinating about ttm’s story is that she clearly has both drawn closer to God and more expressive of her love for others, yet felt it necessary, for now, to minister outside the conventional church, rather than thru a church establishment, in order to reach this point.

      Although I have never been in ttm’s exact position, I have been close enough to be able to relate.

      Yes, God’s word is truth. However, God’s word is also often quoted in such a manner as to misrepresent the truth.

      John described Jesus as being “full of grace and truth.” Too often, within the church, we come across as being full of judgment and dogma, rather than full of grace and truth. Sometimes that is the message being put forth; sometimes it is the message being received; most often it is a bit of both.

      Sometimes, in order to hear the Holy Spirit, we have to take a step back from the church for a while, and dig into God’s word for ourselves, allowing the Holy Spirit to breathe life into His Word.

      For ttm, that meant actually ceasing church attendance, for now. For me, it has meant learning to adopt a new understanding on various scriptural topics, while allowing others the right to retain their views.

      For a while, that meant holding my tongue when opinions were expressed that differed from my own, which tended to create an emotional distance. Lately, I have become more vocal about what God has shown me while still being respectful of other views, which has resulted in feeling more emotionally connected.

      • Yes, I agree brow beating is never the answer. My statement of remember the truth is not a statement that I feel someone should tell them (whoever “them” is) the “truth”.

        If given the opportunity to speak the truth from a position of love, in love, I feel it is appropriate if the other person trusts your heart. If love and trust are present both parties don’t necessarily have to agree.

  2. Joe, you said, “Yes, God’s word is truth. However, God’s word is also often quoted in such a manner as to misrepresent the truth.” And that is EXACTLY what I felt was happening at the church I was attending. There was such a strong devotion to the pastor and to his interpretation of Scripture that it was as if those things were paramount to even God.

    Yet once I started digging deeper than the three to five point sermons with catchy little acronyms (which were repeated ad nauseum to the point where my son once elbowed me in the rib and leaned in to whisper “This is the fourth time I’ve heard this one” and provided the bullet points before the pastor had finished the introduction), I realized that just maybe the pastor might be getting it wrong or only getting a part of the truth or, more likely, that he had a vested interest in making sure that we all bought into his particular interpretation of it.

    When I started researching some of the passages for myself by using websites such as studylight.org and really considering how other Christians were interpreting the very same passages, I realized that I might have been suckered into drinking the local Kool-Aid. Although attempts were made to shame me into staying or to guilt me into coming back to the congregation for corporate worship and ministry; although I was called a backslider, someone uninterested in what God had to say to me and even a heathen, I just knew that I couldn’t go back. I did attempt to attend at least two other churches–one with a small group that I was a part of for about a year and half–but it was the same thing all over again. The pastors seemed to want us to do one of two things–either check our own thoughts at the door and accept without question what was being taught OR question to our heart’s content but never out loud in a way that might prevent other people from accepting what was being taught without question. If I did the first, I hated myself for dumbing down my own thinking. If I did the second I hated myself and the pastors for making me a hypocrite. So, within the system, I couldn’t win. And when I accepted without question, there WAS no need for God… it was all figured out already in a pretty little package supposedly wrestled through by the pastor and God. (But how did I really know if any praying, wrestling, or anointing had occured? I just had a flashy, acronymized sermon with some awesome media embellishments…)

    I decided that if God really is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, then He must be able to find me wherever I go, to teach me whatever I need, to sustain me in relationship with Him, to woo me back to church if that is where I am meant to be, and to chastise me if needed. When I was struggling the most with my post traumatic church disorder, God led me to I John 2, and I was especially struck by verse 27 which states that we have no need of a teacher because the Spirit is enough. Joel 2:28 also speaks to the idea that there is no intermediary needed between God and man–the Spirit speaks directly to hearts through dreams and visions.

    I have said for awhile now that I no longer believe that the institutional church as we know it is meant to last forever. God has consistently changed how and where His/Her/Its presence has been: in private paths in a garden, in visitations in and around tents, in a tabernacle, in silence for 400 years, in a temple, in people’s homes and in jail cells, in a church… I don’t think it’s that farfetched to wonder and believe that God might change the way worship is meant to happen yet again…

    Thanks for the opportunity to continue dialoguing about church here at your blog, Joe. I love hearing the perspective of others about all spiritual topics…

    • Yes, I’ve been in churches like you’ve described, ttm. Actually it’s all too common for a pastor to shut down anyone who disagrees with his perspective, or questions his understanding of scripture.

      Right now, I consider myself very blessed to be in a church with very sound biblical teaching and encouragement to dig into God’s word.

      My perspective of God’s view on various topics has changed over the years. I consider this a good thing, reflective of growth and learning. After all, if my views were intended to remain constant there would be no need for Bible study, prayer, and life experiences.

      However, I also realize that my current views could be considered controversial by some, including many people I highly respect. So, for several years I was very quiet about my emerging view points, which had begun to result in feeling isolated from the rest of the congregation.

      When I finally started speaking out, I was pleasantly surprised, first at the positive response by my Sunday school class, and then at how encouraging and supportive my Pastor has been.

      Well, this comment is getting lengthy. So, I’ll think about how to craft my thoughts into future posts…

      I think you are a very courageous woman, and am proud to call you my sister in Christ. Keep shining His light, and I hope to hear more from you, in the future.

      Thank you, so much, for sharing your story!

  3. When my daughter died, it was almost impossible to wrap my mind around it. What kind of God would let this happen? Was he unable to do anything, or unwilling to do anything? Church mostly left me enraged as they spoke of either God’s might or his caring. And don’t get me started on the miracle of healing their pet!

    It definitely didn’t help for people to tell me how God would use this to make me a better person. I would rather burn in Hell than to have my daughter lose her chance at life.

    In the end I had to accept that only God can know God’s purpose. These are the times when I have to accept him as unknowable. For the first time, I started to realize why God told Job about all of his great mysteries. It wasn’t to tell him I am all powerful, but won’t help you. It was to shoe him that God is truly incomprehensible to our minds.

    At Easter, I realized that God had called Mary “blessed” when she would have to watch her own son tortured and killed. The “blessed” was that the time he was alive was all time with her. I, too, was blessed by this measure, and no ater what, I was grateful for that time.

    • Jonathan, that is a horrible grief to bear. I still miss Hannah, too, though I know not nearly at the level you do.

      Thank you, for expressing so eloquently, “that God is truly incomprehensible to our minds.”

      In dealing with my own sorrows, somehow it all seems more bearable when I realize that God chose to share in our sorrow and pain. He did not hold himself aloof, watching us suffer “for our own good.” Rather, he chose to become a man, himself, to experience the sorrow of life in this world, to mourn with us, and to suffer and die as one of us.

      I love you, my dear brother!

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