I always feel really comfortable walking into a church.
I realize many people feel quite the opposite. I think I feel the way I do because I’ve had unusually good church experiences.
I had a solid youth group in my teen years. Meeting my pastor in late high school/early college was a serious gift…he understood me really well and helped me through a ton of grueling, angsty transition at that point in my life. I moved halfway across the country when I was 22, and I landed at a church where the pastors are strong but down-to-earth leaders, and are always willing to listen to me when I have feedback or, again, when I’m just struggling with life.
I even randomly went to a church service in Burma once, and the pastor repeated the Bible reading in English so I would understand it. I felt very cared-for.
I’m lucky that my churches have never shamed or ostracized me. They’ve never marginalized me for being a woman. But that doesn’t mean it’s always been fun and games. I spent a lot of my life waiting to find a certain deeper kind of community that I expected would be the obvious, natural, quasi-instant thing for people who share deep spiritual beliefs.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had, and still have, a lot of great friends I’ve met through church. They’re awesome people. And the community I was disappointed to not find instantly—we’ve definitely gotten closer to it over time.
But the reality is I’ve spent a lot of years in churches feeling lonely. Wondering why deep connections didn’t happen faster. Wondering why church people don’t have an extra drive to fight through hard things and keep standing together. Wondering why, when we’re all there to follow this radical guy named Jesus, that we aren’t also a little radical about our relationships and community too.
My own church pains aren’t the point here, though. The point is that even someone who’s had a ton of good church experiences, has also been let down from what she thought church was supposed to be.
So what do we do with this? Those of us who have been severely hurt or mildly disappointed by a church, or somewhere in-between—how should we make sense of it? Respond to it? Move forward from it?
Having been a Christian for a while, the ‘typical Christian answers’ pop into my head. Like, “Christians aren’t better people, they just know God forgives them.” Or, “this is an opportunity to learn to love people better when it’s hard.”
I believe that stuff. But when I’m hurting, those answers don’t really help. Which actually makes me realize that I’m asking a deeper question—one that goes something like, “God, if I have to deal with 100 years of hard stuff on this planet, couldn’t you have at least kept that out of the church? Couldn’t the church have been the one perfect haven, with perfect community, so that I can always count on some relief from the “hard” before I have to go back out and deal with it again?”
And I don’t really have an answer to that one either.
But I do think that sometimes I use my disappointment to build walls. I close myself in so that all I can see is my disappointment, and that’s all I’m going to keep seeing. And it defines my experience. Because when you’re hurt, there’s some twisted solace in telling yourself, “Well, at least I know that’s how the world is.”
Sometimes it takes years of living inside those walls for it to occur to me, “maaaaaybe there’s more to the world than I think I know.” And when I have the courage to pop my head over my walls—or to set my disappointment aside and be open to something else—people and the world tend to surprise me. This is especially true of my experience in the church. Just when you think nobody cares, someone does. Just when you think everyone’s against you, somebody isn’t. It doesn’t usually happen how I want it to. And it more often than not, it doesn’t make the pain go away. But it’s enough to make it through whatever I’m facing. For at least a few more days.
And maybe that was the point of church all along. Not to be a haven from all the bad stuff, but to be a place where you know—at least in moments—that you’re loved, and you’re not alone.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!