Ah, I’ve been meaning to post a real update for a few days now, rather than just continually reblogging stuff that I’ve seen floating around. In this post, I’ll give a quick update on my non-churchgoing experiment as well as a quick, preview of a life update in general, since I feel like a lot has happened since my arrival here at SIL (but then again, a lot happening seems to be the theme of my 2015 anyway, so go figure). In addition, I hope that anyone who’s reading this is having a marvelous summer. As usual, regardless of whether you know me personally or not, feel free to get in contact with me, whether that’s through an email, message, or following the blog and commenting. I love connecting with people, and I feel like I almost haven’t had time for that this summer! Alright, so in terms of my churchgoing experiment, it’s definitely been an interesting experience to say the least. As of today (which is a Sunday, conveniently), I either haven’t been to church in 6 weeks or 0 weeks. In case that doesn’t make sense, I went to church this morning, because I was back at home and I felt like it might be good to see what it feels like to be back after a significant period of time. Results: lackluster and strange. Lackluster because I didn’t have this magical moment where God showed me that going to church was actually awesome and that I should start going again right away. And strange because while I genuinely missed it, I also found myself questioning why I was there the whole time.
Let me explain. (But brace yourself, because my thoughts will likely be all over the place.)
The original reasons behind starting this experiment were twofold. One, the more noble reason, was that I really wanted to focus on seeking the Lord for myself and finding out what it really means to be a Christian without someone constantly checking up on your making sure you’re “doing everything right.” I wanted to figure out what it meant to be intentional with your faith. To an extent, I partially succeeded in this task (but I mean, can you ever fully complete that task in this lifetime anyway?). I discovered that I really had to fight to carve out time for Jesus and that I needed it and wanted it and relied on it. That was fantastic.
On the other hand, the second, and less noble reason for starting this experiment was honestly that I was fed up with church, or at least with the church that I had been going to. The place that I had been going has a pretty firm, conservative view on homosexuality and LGBT people that I knew well, and I was honestly beginning to feel a lot of tension and hostility in the atmosphere. Coupled with my past experiences in the youth group of this church, I really couldn’t bear to be there every week, mentally and emotionally.
The last few months that I had been going, I constantly felt like an outsider whenever I went, even though I had been going to this church for several years with my family. I prayed that God would give me an open mind and that I would learn what I was there to learn, but I would still end up cringing and getting angry whenever LGBT people or homosexuality was brought up, because I knew that it would be insensitive in some way or another. I continually wondered what all of the people around me would think if they knew about me. Would they look at me with pity because I was “broken?” Would they remind me that I was supposed to be celibate for the rest of my life?
By the time I decided to stop going to church in general, it was all I could think about whenever I was there, the fact that all of the people around me probably wouldn’t accept me if they knew about me, that they would want to try and fix me, that they would tell me that my experiences were invalid and a result of my dysfunction and sin in the world, that they would say that my love is broken and disordered because I fall in love with boys while telling my friends that their loves are beautiful because they don’t, that they would think less of my faith, that they would only see a three letter term in place of an actual person.
In the end, I decided to take a break because I was bruised and battered on the inside. The institution of the church was no longer a safe place for me, because I felt like I constantly had to put up a front and a mask whenever I was there, something that I’ve sworn I would never do again since middle school. I always want to be real, and I didn’t feel like I was allowed to be real at church.
What this reminded me of is something that I’ve said to a couple of friends off the record and also want to say here. For the past year, I’ve really felt like the community I have at Bethel has been my church more than any formal church I’ve been to. The people that I’ve interacted with there have been willing to be real with me. We’ve had long talks about what Jesus is teaching us in life. We’ve cried together and held each other’s hands while we’ve walked through painful, difficult times, and we’ve been crazy excited together when things go even better than we ever expected. We’ve also had long talks about things that we believe and why, and sometimes we haven’t agreed. But the biggest thing for me is that it hasn’t affected the way we see each other. Even if we believe different things, we don’t see it as one of us having to be wrong and the other having to be right. We don’t see it as having an impact on our salvation or how good of a Christian we are. All it means is that we disagree, and sometimes that’s a really beautiful thing.
All of that being said is just to contrast my experience between a "real" church and what a lot of people would consider to be "not a real" church. I’m really not trying to lift Bethel up onto a pedestal or slam the church that I had been going to. I’m just trying to report on my own personal experiences over the past several months, hoping that maybe someone feels the same way and maybe this helps them. The church that I had been going to is not a bad church. My own personal experiences and beliefs have just led me to the conclusion that it is not where I fit in.
Here’s the long and short of it.
I stopped going to church because it hurt too much to be there. Today, I went back to church (albeit a different one) expecting to have some kind of epiphany that didn’t happen. Presently, I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be intentional as a Christian, now focusing on what it means to have an authentic, church-like community where you can be real and disagree without thinking that the other person is more sinful or broken than you are, and where you can genuinely love people who believe different things than you.
So, I guess the message of this post for anyone reading is that it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to feel hurt and left out to dry, even if it’s by the church, and it’s okay to take a break. It doesn’t change the fact that you love Jesus and that He loves you. It just means that you’re figuring out what your own faith looks like. And I consider that to be a good thing.
Anyone else have similar experiences or stories? And as a side note, if anyone has churches in MN to recommend, let me know.