Disclaimer: this post might upset some people, a few of them being friends and family I care deeply about. The things said below are NOT, I repeat NOT, a judgment on anyone who may believe or act in ways questioned below. I’m writing this to express the frustration and emotion I’ve been struggling with for a few months. I’m not trying to take anyone to task.
I haven’t been going to church lately. My absence hasn’t been out of laziness, or guilt, or even busyness. I do struggle with lazyness, have plenty in my life to feel guilty about, and with working full time, planning a wedding, and writing a book, busyness would be a convenient excuse. However, for the first time in nearly a decade, I’ve stopped going to church because my desire to is gone.
The past few months, when a sense of obligation has dragged me to church, I’ve sat there, emotionally un-involved, full of questions and concerns. What is the point of gathering 300 hundred to 1,000 (or more) Christians in one place, once or twice a week? Most would say that reason is to worship God, but what does that mean? To sing? Other than David, who was a musician, who else sang in the Bible? Did Jesus ever sing to his Father? Did the disciples? There’s learning of course, and gaining knowledge and wisdom from scripture, but can’t we do that in small groups? Bible studies? Do we really need to pay expensive heating, cooling, lighting, and maintenance bills to sit in a giant building once or twice a week and hear something we could listen to in a living room? How do we justify raising money for things like lighting, sound, furniture, and air conditioning, when there are so many other places where that money could go? Like maybe to that person in the congregation, who’s wondering where their going to get the money for next months rent.
Maybe someone would tell me the reason for church, more than anything else, is community and accountability. Yet, for the past 4 months, I have been consistently absent from the church I’ve attended for three years, and only one person (other than the pastor) has said anything to me. No one has called, e-mailed, or asked me about my absences. Maybe the church is so big now, no one noticed.
Most of this frustration came to a head a few weeks ago. Not wanting to just cut out any type of spiritual direction or instruction all together, I was happy when someone invited me to a small Bible study that met in a neighbor of theirs home. I was, and still am, eager to find something spiritually satisfying that doesn’t have all the above baggage that church has been weighing me down with. Ryan and I showed up early to this persons house, and were happy to meet a whole group of people who were friendly, kind, and genuine. They asked us questions, and while we shared a meal together, we got to know each other. It was something that reminded me of what it must have been like when early Christians got together.
But then, we went to the living room.
The man whose house it was sat down, and, since Ryan and I (and a few others) were new, went around explaining what was about to happen, and what the goal of their meeting was. It was about this time that the atmosphere changed, and everyone started acting “spacey.” I’m assuming the proper term would be that they were, “drunk on the holy spirit.” Regardless, the thoughts and feelings they were sharing, and the atmosphere went from normal, to spiritually, “supernatural.” Kind of freaked me out. And I’m a Christian. I couldn’t have imagined what it would have been like for someone who was not a believer.
The worst part, that really bothered me, came after the worship music, and prayer, during which I was sincerely and desperately trying to “feel” something like the people around me were. I talked to God the whole time, and asked Him to make me not so judgmental, if what was going on around me was something He really was doing. Finally, the man leading turned the worship music off, and asked everyone to share whatever “revelations” God had shared with them. After a few people went, he looked directly at me.
“Emily, I feel like God gave me a prophecy for you. Can I share that with you?”
I nodded my head, half curious, and half freaked out by what he might say. I’d just met this guy an hour ago, and we were in a room full of strangers.
“I got this vision, of a giant white hot needle piercing your heart. It is puncturing your heart, and coming through the other side.”
Trying not to cringe, I kept nodding with as placid a look on my face as I could manage.
“The needle is so hot, that it’s sealing the wound as soon as it’s removed. It’s like it’s a surgeon’s needle, and I get the sense that God is saying that your heart is wounded, and he wants to heal it. He wants you to know that whatever horrible, painful thing has happened to you in the past he will heal.”
He stopped talking, and just kind of stared at me for a second. I think he wanted me to cry.
Searching my mind, I genuinely tried to think of something, anything, that his prophecy could apply to in my life. The thing is, I’ve been incredibly blessed and very few horrible things have happened to me. No one close to me has ever died, my family is wonderful, I’m in a loving and fulfilling relationship, and the worst thing that happened in my past – my broken engagement – God healed the pain from, years ago.
Everyone in the room was silent. As sincerely as I could I said, “Thank You”, assuming he was done.
His eyes stayed on me. “So, is there something in your past that this prophecy applies to? Can you think of what God might want to heal you of? Do you want to share, or am I way off base?”
It’s rare that I’m speechless. But this man I had just met, who was addressing me in a room full of strangers, asking me to publicly share something that, in his own words, was incredibly traumatic, left me flabbergasted. What if I had been raped? Lost a child? Abused by my father growing up? What if I had come to this Bible Study that night vulnerable, and scared of being exposed? If there had been anything, anything like that in my past, this man could have turned me off from God and Christians forever.
I paused. “Uhm. I don’t want to say your way off base, but other than struggling lately to love Christians, I can’t think of anything.”
The night moved on, and Ryan and I left after two and half hours, while people were still praying.
During the car ride home, he and I talked about what upset us about the Bible Study. How everyone changed when it was time to be “spiritual.” How they all seemed “spaced out” when it was time to talk about God. How, the most important part of the night seemed to be the “feeling” and emotional connection, the crying, or “spiritual laughing”, or “high” that some people claim to get from God.
He and I both agreed that what upset us, was that to some people in the church, this desire for an “emotional connection” seemed to outweigh any other aspect of their faith. Maybe it’s my Presbyterian background speaking, but it seems that it’s not really knowing or serving God that defines some Christians, but “feeling” him. That’s something I don’t understand. Granted, I’ve had plenty of nights where I’ve fallen on my face and cried because of something God put on my heart, usually his love, but the more I grow closer to Him, the more I feel like those experiences are part of the “milk” young believers need, not the substantial “food” adults subsist on.
It’s not when I’m crying, or listening to worship music that I feel God the most. It’s when I’m DOING something for Him. Maybe it’s as simple as having a conversation with a friend who’s an agnostic, or praying for a random woman on the street who is upset. Or even dancing at a club with a friend who hours before, told me they’re losing their faith. The times that my heart moves, and leaps, and feels God’s presence the strongest, isn’t when I’m sitting in some room or building, surrounded by other Christians, listening to a worship song. It’s when I’m engaging with, and interacting with people. Most importantly, it’s when I’m being normal. Me. Same tone in my voice, look in my eye, and same vocabulary as I’d use any other time. I’m not space cadet Emily, or “high on the Holy Spirit” Emily. I’m just Emily.
When I look around me, and see the friendships I have, with people on all walks of the spiritual journey, from staunchly atheist, to strongly agnostic, to vaguely spiritual, or firmly Christian, I realize that if it weren’t for how God made me, “normal” in my faith, and how I view God, I’d never be as attractive to non-Christians as I am. It means a lot to me to hear my agnostic and atheist friends tell me, “If all Christians were like you, we might believe different than we do.” I respect that, and agree with them. Which is why it’s getting harder and harder for me to sit in a church building, or living room Bible study, surrounded by people whose view on what it means to connect with God is so different from mine.
I’m not sure where to go from here, but I do know that I won’t be going there alone. I’m open to see if God changes my heart, brings a desire back to me for conventional church, or leads me to something different, where I can still be in a community of believers. Maybe something like this. Or this. All I know is I’m open, and I’m looking forward to seeing where God takes me.