For those who know me, you probably know of my positive attitude and nature, my sense of adventure or the light that I can’t help but share with people. But for those who know me well, you know I’ve had a deep chip on my shoulder for quite some time now. I’ve been trying to find the words to describe the darkness that has leaked in and filled me over the last two and a half years. I suppose I’ve found them.
During college, I joined a church that I fell in love with, as many people do. The praise and worship band was made up of well-established musicians, so the music production was incredible and lively. The backdrops and stage were always lovely and matched whatever series was on. The message was always on point, and I left every Sunday full of joy, conviction, and enlightenment.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed the message, it felt very clique-ish. You know, like high school with different clubs and sports, interests and hobbies, beautiful snobs and sweet dorks, etc. After a while, I started to feel uncomfortable around some of them. It legitimately felt like asking to sit at the cool kids’ table at lunch, and they just kind of scoot over awkwardly to let you in because they know they should, but not because they really want to. I’ve never had much tolerance for shallow people, and showing your face in a building every week doesn’t prove you have any depth (#blessed). However, I did like many people there, most of them age 50+ or -2 (I really am an old soul).
Though I worked my tail off through school, I found time to volunteer at 8:00 am on Sunday mornings after working until after midnight nearly every Saturday night before. I eventually joined a small group to try and connect with the other members around my age to try to gain a true sense of community. Our elders suggested this because our church had grown to fill hundreds of seats over three different services every Sunday morning, making it difficult to genuinely connect with others between hustle and bustle of getting people in and out.
As any person would, I believed my church was my community, though most of the people in it never knew my name, or even tried to. So you can imagine my dismay when the most traumatic event of my life occurred, and everyone in the world seemed to show up except my church.
On October 29th, 2014, a tree fell on my dad while he was working. He was in the hospital for eight weeks (seven of those were spent on his back in the critical care unit), followed by ten days in a rehabilitation center, and months (that have now turned to years) of therapy and rehab. The first thing I did when I heard the news of the accident was text my preacher and email my small group leader to let them know what had happened.
Over the following two weeks, only three individuals from the church reached out. No one showed up to the hospital, no one called to pray over the phone, no one sent a letter or card, and no one asked where I was every weekend that I wasn’t there. But you can bet your sweet ass that my first Sunday back, I got the ol’ cringe-worthy, questionable stare by one of the greeters followed by the passive-aggressive, “Good to see you. It’s been a while.” I can assure you this gentleman didn’t receive a smile or even a response as my initial thought was, “No shit, asshole, I’ve been sitting with my dad in the hospital for two months, but thanks for being concerned enough to ask what has kept me away.” I then attempted to un-flush my cheeks and tame the fire the seemed to have blazed up my spine.
**I want to note that there was one woman that I volunteered with in the nursery every Sunday that reached out to me after a few months to check in, and I told her how much that simple gesture meant to me. I think she still reads my blog, and I don’t want her to think I have forgotten this.
I spent the rest of the service fuming in my seat, crying quietly because everything around me suddenly seemed as shallow as a puddle. The musical production was, well, just that—a production. The message about the tight-knit community of the church felt like a joke that everyone forgot to laugh at, and the scenery on stage was just something they spent good resources on to make the church look pretty. My safe place quickly turned to ash beneath my feet.
I tried to go back twice after that. Each time left me angrier than the one before it. I attended one small group meeting where no one offered genuine concern for my dad or my family, so I gave that up, too. That isn’t how your church, your community, or your people are supposed to make you feel. Before I knew it, my happy-go-lucky nature turned cynical. The cries of the church’s rejects grew louder as I finally started to understand how so many people around me had been burned by “God’s people”. My empathy grew heavy for those who had been burned much deeper than I, and the hypocrisy of church was more evident than I had ever recognized.
Naturally, I have questioned my beliefs, my faith, and my own ability to be present for others in need ever since. After all, if the one place that’s meant to heal people and show up when needed can’t do it, how can I? And what’s the point?
I’ve been asked more than once if I’m angry with God. I can say wholeheartedly that I haven’t once felt that way because it has offended me every time someone has asked. Not in a defensive way, but in a protective way. I understand that God isn’t “out to get me” and that shit just happens in life. We are promised nothing in this world but hardships and trials. The good days, even the mediocre days, are something to bow your head and say grace over. I understand this, but I don’t think many do.
My light dimmed drastically after all of this. I stopped smiling as much. I stopped pouring into others as I did before. I started clenching my jaw every time someone said they’d be praying for me because this is no longer a promise but a phrase. A strong sense of hatred crept inside me for everything that seemed superficial, and it’s amazing how many things in our glorified first-world lives are so absurdly superficial.
I stopped highlighting my hair. Makeup rarely brushed my face and I stopped caring for my body. I looked around and saw so much energy poured into appearing beautiful, but never truly acting beautifully. It’s a fact I tried to understand (or at least wrap my head around) for so long, but I have come to learn that I’ll never understand it, I just have to accept it.
The spiritual warfare I have experienced over the past couple of years has been incredibly draining. I haven’t been moved by the Spirit in the church since dad’s accident. (That’s not to say I don’t think it’s possible.) However, I have since felt the Spirit while I was immersed deep in nature, when I’ve genuinely connected with old friends and total strangers, while my husband held me as I wept under the crushing weight of the world (post on living with anxiety coming soon), and while I sat across from my auntie on her porch while she was taking a drag of a cigarette.
It’s possible to find God outside of the walls of the church, and while many would say the physical building isn’t the church, I would argue that most people who claim to be the church don’t show up as the church. I am as guilty of this as any, but I am much more aware of my short-comings after finding it in others because I so desperately want to be better than that.
I am happy to say that after all this time I am finally starting to see the light again! And as we all know, you can’t shine light on others without illuminating yourself.
I’m trying to be more graceful about the concept of church. After all, the church is made up of people. People are imperfect, broken creatures. We are all people and we all fall short. While it’s easy to pinpoint how others have failed us, we must then ask ourselves how we have failed others, and how we can avoid doing it again. If you want to spread God’s light, you have to be God’s light.
Though I’m sure this has ruffled some feathers, I hope it has caused you to pause and reflect. Sure, you may go to church, but are you the church? Do you care about the sheep in your flock? Do you go looking for them when they’re lost and nurture them when they’re sick? Or do you expect them to fend for themselves? Remember, if you don’t find them, there are plenty of wolves that will.
With love & light,
The Humble Lion