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:
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?