Saturday, January 24, 2015
I've Left (c)hurch #Messy
The Outcast and The Hurting
She sat across from me at the local coffee shop. Bleach blond hair, sun bronzed skin, and a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She'd been burned. Badly. She had also made some mistakes. Admittedly.
Nevertheless, the pain ran deep and every now and then I could catch a glimmer of it in her eyes.
I could detect the lump in her throat when she skirted around sensitive topics. It was my job to listen. To love. To empathize. I did the best I could, but in the end she left. Past hurts piled up, present struggles loomed large, and church just didn't seem to be the place she could count on. It was not a huge surprise to me. Working for a church I had seen it over and over. People left. It's just how it is.
The problem was, I always thought something was wrong with them.
That they were the broken ones. I always thought is was their theological misunderstandings or their frailty that kept them from entering into community. That prevented them from staying. I realize now it was so much more. So much more complex.
If I could say I'm sorry to everyone I ever considered to be wrong because they left the church I would. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for "taking sides." My heart aches over broken relationships.
I've since come to realize that side-taking leads to division. Someone has to win and sadly, someone has to lose. Have mercy on us, the church, the body of believers, the ones entrusted with so great a gift. I recognize we're not perfect, I'm not perfect, but we can do better. I can do better.
This is not a cookie cutter meditation on why people leave the church. It is a story. It's not everybody's story. It's mine. But I've been around long enough to know that it will likely resonate with someone else. I believe we are more alike than we are different, all with the same heart, the same receptacles for love and pain. The same desire to be a part. To feel accepted. To know love. I hear a lot about millennials leaving the church and while those numbers are indeed high, I'm convinced it's not just young people. It's anyone who has been hurt, isolated, marginalized, made fun of, considered irrelevant, taken advantage of. I don't think they're any different than others who leave. They come searching for a place that's real and transparent, freely admitting their own junk.
They want someone to say, "We're just as messed up as you - now let's have communion together."
I find myself on the other side now. I find that I have been hurt, badly wounded. And, I have made mistakes. The scars run deep, I'm not recovered. The pain is near and familiar. I don't want it to be, but it is.
So I've left. I've left church. I have alluded to it previously but now I have come to grips with the fact that it's true. The questions and doubts have grown in my mind and my heart over the course of the last several months. I try to find safe answers. Theological explanations. Justifications. I come up empty handed.
Now I find myself fighting to trust that the gospel is true.
I cling to the faith God gave me.
And, I count on the fact that what I can't do on my own, the gospel will do.
I started running. It clears my head. It makes me feel good. I write. I work. I enjoy my family. I love my husband. But, I don't go to church. It's o.k., and, I believe it's o.k. with God. I know that might scare some people. You might even doubt my salvation. That's o.k. too. I'm older now and honestly, I don't care much what others think anymore. God has made promises in the gospel that should freak us all out. If we were to actually live what we believe Jesus taught about freedom we would all be questioning everyone's salvation.
I recall a conversation I had with a young woman last year. I hadn't talked to her in a while and I had not seen her at church in a couple of months. When I called to see how she was she simply replied, "I stopped going to church." I could hear the authentic desperation of her afflicted soul.
Truth and transparency tumbled out of her heart and I found a fellow sojourner who gave me the freedom to be honest. I will never forget that conversation.
We didn't solve the worlds problems or even find a way back for ourselves, but somehow the world got a whole lot smaller and the gospel got a whole lot bigger.
That's why I won't stop being honest about the reality of struggle and pain and desperation. If it helps one other person, so be it. Transparency scares some, but I can only speak to the freedom I have found in being who I am, and the freedom other's have given me as a result of their honesty about who they are.
Sometimes, we just need a time out. That's what I'm doing, taking a time out. I'm not wallowing in guilt about it. I'm not rushing to find a solution. I'm not worried or hand-wringing or anxious. I believe if Jesus was present in the flesh, he just might go running with me on a Sunday morning. We'd be surprised to find that he might not necessarily be in a church service. Blasphemous? I don't think so.
This is what's on my mind these days. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Let me paraphrase that a bit.
God shows his love for me in that while I'm taking a time out, Christ died for me.
God shows his love for us in that while we are judging others, Christ died for us.
God shows his love for us in that while we are leaving the church, Christ died for us.
And, God shows his love for you and for me in that he never gives up on us, never leaves us, never forsakes us.
Maybe you will find a soft spot here to rest your weary head.
Maybe you will find that you're not alone.
Maybe you will realize, even for the very first time, that it's o.k.
God's not mad at you.
God is for you.
His grace is big enough for doubts, questions, frustrations, pain, hurt and sorrow. And, just maybe, you will find that in the midst of your story, just like mine, the gospel is true. You will see Jesus who does not condemn you. Jesus who weeps over you. Jesus who loves you deeply. Jesus who, despite the back-turning you have experienced, will never turn his back on you.