If you told me in 2004 that I would stop going to church, resent Christians and be separated from my relationship with God by 2005, I would probably have laughed.
I had been going to church since elementary school, had given my life to Christ at a summer middle school camp and was on fire for Jesus. There wasn’t a thing related to church that I wasn’t involved in. I listened to mostly Christian music, ran a Bible Study, was president of Campus on the Rock at my high school, lead announcements at my high school ministry and was at church three days a week.
But that was the problem – I was burned out, exhausted, and overwhelmed with the weight of choosing to focus on college-prep or church activities. I knew the only one to talk to would be my youth pastor. We sat in his warehouse office – full of books and Bibles – and I eagerly waited for his answer.
“Maybe the problem is that you’re not focused enough on God, maybe you’re not involved in enough ministry,” he said. To say I was upset would soften the blow I felt in that moment. He went on for almost an hour, but the damage of his first statement blocked my ears to any other advice that followed. I instantly felt alone. I felt like no one, especially church people, could understand what it was like to be overwhelmed and lost as a Christian girl in high school.
It was at that moment that I decided to drop church and anything related. I stepped down from church leadership, handed over my presidency at Campus on the Rock and left the church. I can’t say this felt bad – it felt wonderful. My resentment felt empowering and my bitterness fueled my focus in school.
It saddens me that looking back at this moment, I still remember the overwhelming relief of giving back the burden of service. There was a small tinge of upset at walking away from friendships I’d made, but to my surprise many of the church friends I had, forgot I ever existed. If I wasn’t in church, I wasn’t in their group anymore. (Looking back now I realize this is teenager behavior, not a reflection of Christians in general.)
I graduated high school, went to a community college, transferred to a state college in another city and worked part time. Church was a distant memory and church friends were estranged.
I still prayed, although it was few and far between – and definitely kept a secret. My mom was the strong Christian force in my life and in some warped way I felt like this was enough. Christian by osmosis. I felt like if she prayed over me and was the guiding force in all the advice I would seek that somehow I would be OK.
It wasn’t until I graduated college and was working full time that it really hit me. My relationship with God shouldn’t be guided by my relationship with religion. There wasn’t a “Do this or Else – God” billboard hovering over my life. I missed Him and He was waiting for me to come back.
I went a few more months until the pangs of loneliness and the desire for a deeper relationship with God finally took over. I decided to look up a local church and just go. I psyched myself up – telling myself it didn’t matter what types of people were there – it was the fact that I had to go back home. I even convinced myself that I didn’t have to get involved in any ministry – I could just go and be fed.
One condition I set up for myself was that I wouldn’t go the first day alone. I needed at least one other friend to go with me so I wasn’t the weirdo sitting alone in the back.
Being new to the area I lived in and not having church-friendly people in my life, I decided to throw it out to my acquaintances.
Tom, a guy I had hung out with a few times over coffee, who often said things like “Faith is important, it really guides our lives”, fit the bill. I called him up and asked if he would join me and before I knew it I was waiting for him outside the church.
The setting was overwhelming, tons of people, loud music and only a few empty seats. I cried during worship as God broke my pride and welcomed me back with open arms. I sat motionless and let the sermon wash over me. I did look over at Tom every few minutes to make sure he was enjoying it as much as I was but he was a tough read.
It wasn’t until after the service, when he and I sat in a small diner and went over the sermon that he revealed he was a Scientologist. It sounds like a punch line – “a Scientologist and a Christian walk into a church” – but it was the single most important moment in my life.
He and I spoke at length at the differences between our faiths and the similarities in their purpose. He explained that Christianity encouraged him and we were able to discuss our fears and successes in relation to faith. We parted ways and lost touch after that night – I don’t know if it was my defense of Christianity or my lack of interest in Scientology – but he always stayed present in my mind.
Here I was looking for a buffer between the church and me when in reality he was an opportunity for me to share Christ’s love.
Since then I still go to church and have been slowly getting back into ministry. I’ve learned that service does indeed have seasons and that we need to take time off to be fed by worship and the word so that we may go back out in strength.
Working with ministries like National Back to Church Sunday I understand the fears and frustrations most Christians feel after leaving the church. It helps fuel my desire to continue to invite people back.
Church doesn’t bite – people do.
It’s been a battle to learn that people, even Christians, will expect too much and let me down, but now that I’ve accepted this and grown stronger in my faith, I’m ready to face the calling.