Going or Having?

“No man is an island, entire of itself.” – John Donne

Note: This post is in response to A Fractured Faith’s blog post “Stay At Home Christian”. To avoid confusion or context issues, I highly suggest reading it here before reading this post.  

Why go? Maybe it’s because I’m from the South, but I believe I know a few folks that would get antsy at somebody even asking such a question: “Why should I go to church?” Well, because it’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re a Christian, right? What kind of heathen would even ask that?

Put your stones down, people. Chill.

That kind of answer doesn’t work for me. It almost makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when someone proposes that the primary reason for doing something is because it is simply the thing that is done.  To me, that rationale is a logical merry-go-round, and I imagine there’s plenty of thinking Christians out there that see it the same way.  Potentially, it may seem taboo to call it into question, so they may not even bother to ask, instead opting to just not go to church at all.

I get that. I’ve even been there. Getting to the point where you don’t even want to be around Christians? I hear ya, loud and clear. But I would suggest a subtle but important change: I don’t think it’s so much being around fellow Christians that bugs us, it’s being around church people.

Fair warning to readers: you might want to watch your toes, but keep in mind I’m just as guilty as anybody here, and probably more so at that.

AFracturedFaith says this:

“They all seem so nice and happy and smiley. Everything is perfect and wonderful and ‘nice’. They have no concept of personal space and will hug you like their long lost brother the first time they meet you. Then ignore you the following day in the street or not reply to your mid week text message, desperate for a little support and fellowship. Then hug you the following Sunday again like some sort of holy Groundhog Day.”

Holy Groundhog Day. That’s what church is meant to be, right? Perfect and wonderful and nice. The real kicker is this: desperate for a little support and fellowship. What are we missing here, folks? People are hungry as ever, but they’re hungry for something real. Perfect and wonderful and nice is not a real reflection of our lives or ourselves. Where do we get off thinking that we’re pointing the desperate in the right direction to get spiritually fed by putting up the nice and wonderful facade?

“Church and Christians seem like barriers between myself and God at the moment.”

To take the question a step further: how did we get here? How did we, whose lives should be a light in the darkness pointing others towards The Way, become the barriers?

So what do we do?

I say we all stop going to church.

Seriously. Stop going to church and start having church. Start being the Church. It’s a lifestyle, not a routine occurrence. It was never about where it’s at, it’s about what happens there. It’s never been “For where there are pews and pulpits and bulletins and pastors and worship music and fog machines and pipe organs and offering plates and stained glass and strobe lights and altar calls and projector screens and hymnals…there am I in the midst of them.” Nope.

It’s simple. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) That’s church. Unity centered around Christ.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think we can still have that with all the extra stuff I listed previously. I’m not telling you to go throw away your hymnals or pull down your projectors. But according to Christ, that stuff isn’t a necessity for His presence. I sometimes wonder if the laundry list of requirements we as church-people tend to add to our services do more distracting than focusing. How often do we as a church really examine our routine and ask “Are we called to have a routine? Are we called to be comfortable?”

That’s all a routine is, y’know. Comfort. We know what to expect, we know what’s coming, everything happens according to our plan. We make our church our way. And then we wonder how someone might see us as barriers to God.

The bottom line is that we’re all imperfect, we’re all broken, and we’re all in the same boat. And all of us imperfects put together, whether under a steeple or in a living room, will never equal a perfect. So it’s no use pretending. Who else are serving with our pretense but our own selfish ego?  Why aren’t we all just as desperate for a little support and fellowship, and especially for the presence of Christ, when we have church?

And if we aren’t desperate, why are we even there?

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9 Comments on “Going or Having?

  1. “I think some examples of what you mean by “ways of doing church, structures, language” etc. would also help me. Mainly just so that if I see or hear them, I can at least be aware that those particulars could potentially be an area of difficulty to folks around me.”

    –I think for me the main one is the general idea that humans are basically and inherently bad and worthless. I know no Christian comes right out and says it, but phrases like “God loves the unloveable” sure do make it sound that way. I believe Jesus came to to show us that we indeed are NOT unloveable. That we are inherently worthy. God is our biggest champion and he is on our side. He champions us more than we do. I think one of the biggest things that could have helped me as a younger Christian is if people gave up the language of despicability. Christians shouldn’t be trying to convince people they are awful, vile sinners. We should be telling people they are worth MORE than they give themselves credit for. They are worth more than having to be angry all the time. Worth more than having the blunt our sadnesses with alcohol or shopping or food. Worth more than selling our bodies for love. The idea that God loves us kinda because he has to, but doesn’t really like us. The only way he can stand to look at us is through Jesus, and that’s really just because he sees Jesus, not me. No. I think that’s a lie. Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full. That means becoming Christlike, but it doesn’t mean being an automaton, or giving up your personality. I believe God like me for me. He wants me to be the best version of me, through Christ. The structures are really just any evangelical structures (that type of song, referencing those books) simply because it puts me back in that space. By the way I’m not dissing evangelicals or anything here. I fully realise that the reason I interpret those phrases that way in the first place is because I had a fundamental lack of love and attachment from a very early age. I’m not saying evangelicals think God hates everyone. I’m saying that sometimes the way they talk tends to reinforce that idea in people who already have it.

    I think the other thing is sort of an unspoken expectation that you just chuck a bible verse at a problem and it goes away. There doesn’t seem to be much recognition that the Christian walk is one long process. I wish I could give specific examples for this one, again maybe I’v just been projecting it this whole time onto the church and it’s really just my issue. But I’m willing to bet other people do feel that pressure.

    “There’s nothing about Christ’s teaching, example, logic, etc. that is legalistic, self-righteous, self-reliant or self-hating, and He was quite regularly at odds with the legalist/self-righteous group of His day, the Pharisees. Therefore, any “collective community” that falls into those categories, by definition, cannot be “Christianity”, but rather some perversion of it. ”

    –Point taken.

    __

    It isn’t our place to proclaim judgement on those that don’t follow, as that would make us legalistic as well. However, I think it is completely acceptable to examine them to determine how their attitudes and actions align with the teachings of Christ, but only after we first examine ourselves in the same way.

    –Yes, I agree. I was referring to myself with the comments I was addressing here. The reason I sometimes have trouble with church is because of how it makes ME feel, think and act, not because I think anybody else is bad or wrong.

    __

    “But what I do know is that, for me, when I start feeling that way, I have to have to have to take time out by myself to realign with what I know is actually true about my God.”

    ” I guess the context of your statement makes it seem like a negative thing that church would drive you to a place where you need to realign with God, but I can’t see how realignment is ever a bad thing. You may not have meant to imply it as a negative, so if I’m completely off-track with that just let me know.”

    — Yes, OK, I see what you mean. I was kind of saying it as a negative but I see your point. This past year I have really been in a rough time as I’ve begun sorting through my past trauma and this has caused some relationship blowups within my family. So I ended up at the end of the year taking a few months away from Sunday church. I think church should drive you to want to spend time with God and realign. But I don’t think church should make you hate yourself or think that God hates you, or to be so panicked that you can’t safely drive hom. That’s what I mean by realign, to get back to that knowledge of love and safety. And I really want to reiterate – nobody at my church believes that God hates them. Nobody is telling me that. It’s just that I am so fragile right now that the slightest breath of wind lets that voice of hate come back. The truth is that I don’t feel safe at church, and that causes me to derail and not in a good way. It’s meant to be the safest place, but for me, for some reason, it’s not. I think it has something to do with the unauthentic-ness of it that we’ve sort of been discussing but I’m open to the idea that it really is just all me.

    __
    The second thing I want to key in on are these:

    “…there’s no way that I can help change anything if I’m struggling against a wrong way of viewing myself and God that is so fundamental to the faith that we have.”

    “…this is me desperately trying to make you aware that some people feel fundamentally broken all the time.”

    “We come to understand that real love isn’t love “because”, but rather love “despite.” With that love in our heart and soul and mind, we are equipped then to turn around and love people the way we’ve been loved by God: unconditionally.”

    — I guess this is what I was trying to say. When I’m at church, I start doubting that I am unconditionally loved. This puts me in a prideful, self-defensive position that makes it impossible for me to love others or even myself unconditionally. I haven’t yet figured out how to hold onto the truth of God’s unconditional love while at a traditional Sunday service. Other gatherings of the church are fine. That’s why I wish church meetings were less ritualistic I guess.

    ___

    “The realization that I came to was that in letting that fear hold sway over me, I was once again limiting God into someone less than He is. If I’m afraid of being alone, do I really believe that God is always with me? And even further, why do I think that I need additional love and acceptance beyond the perfect love and acceptance God has already provided me? The truth is I don’t, but I have to choose to believe that.”

    –I definitely have this problem. But it does take a long time. Pretty much my entire focus right now is simply trusting that God really loves me and that I’m really loveable. The fear is hard to kick without that knowledge. Sometimes I have it and sometimes I don’t. But what I do trust with all my heart that God is walking with me in the process, that he knows I’m not going to get fixed all in one go, and that he’s for me. He’s patient and he wants to teach me and see me succeed at that. And if that means I sometimes don’t go to church and instead stay at home and comfort and nurture the little child that was abandoned and alone in the dark for so long, I think he’s OK with that. I honestly believe that’s what he wants me to do. To stand up for that little girl who was all alone, who nobody talked to, who nobody comforted.

    __

    “To take this a step further, perhaps outside the context of Christianity: that whole fear of not being accepted or loved is pretty useless anyway. That fear doesn’t change the fact that we have absolutely no control over what other people do and think. I can fear all I want, but if someone else wants and chooses to accept me, they’re going to. If someone doesn’t want to accept me and chooses not to, well that’s totally up to them, too. My fear is completely disconnected and has no effect on their ability to make their own choices. So in reality, my fear is really a self-inflicted suffering: it affects no one but my own self, and it has no bearing on the outcome. Logically then, I wonder why should I even bother? Just tell the truth all the time, and if people gravitate away from me, well…were those really the kind of people I needed in my life anyway? My experience with this has been that most people are far more accepting than I imagined them to be…this brings me to my conclusion:”

    — sure, but thinking logically about fear doesn’t make it disappear just like that, at least not for me. You have to really do some inner work before the gospel truths actually become believable.

    __

    “Boom. You nailed it right there. That is really the key to all this: we have to be willing to listen to each other, to really listen to each other. A big part of my vision of the Church is a group of people that are a living, breathing “space” that is conducive to exactly that: listening. Call me an optimist, but I don’t believe there is any barrier between people that can’t be overcome by genuine listening. ”

    –I like this vision. I hope it comes to fruition more and more.

    I also think there is a flip-side, in we have to be able to go to the dark places and really be honest about ourselves with others. It’s great if people learn to really listen, but if no one is saying anything then we’re essentially in the same place we started, aren’t we? So we need people like you. Being brave, being open, willing to be real with those of us not quite ready to be real and give us the chance to practice genuine listening. The tough thing about it is that, for as long as the church lacks awareness, it will take people like you to be the initiators, the ones that take that first step and open the door to those conversations. Like you said, that means you’ll have to be safe, be patient and understanding with people as they adapt to this kind of change. True, it’s way more than you can fix all on your own, so don’t worry about fixing the whole system. Find one person that is willing to learn, and work with them. Sure, one may not make all that much difference, but even one has the potential to make all the difference.”

    –Well, you are right I suppose. I hope I can be courageous enough to do it. It’s tough enough online! I suppose I would be in good company.. Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Psalms…

    “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

    “By the way, I sincerely appreciate everything you’ve shared. Replying to your comments has definitely had me doing a lot of deep thinking and reflecting. Thank you for the opportunity to engage!”

    –Thank you as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • @raindrop I get where you’re coming from with the worthless/unlovable thing. I’ve been there, viewing myself that way. I was locked up in a self-constructed cage of guilt and shame that I wouldn’t let anybody see, and I was petrified at the thought of allowing anyone in, including God. I think the way I came to understand the principles of Christianity actually reinforced my guilt/shame/hiding/worthlessness mindset. Like you said, it wasn’t that it was anybody’s fault, or that the church was trying to teach me to think that way, yet somehow I wound up in that place. Maybe church wasn’t a direct contributor, but it certainly didn’t help. In a church environment, I was “fine” on the outside and raging on the inside, consumed by the idea that God couldn’t or wouldn’t use me because I was too messed up; because I didn’t “live up to the standard”.

      I say this up front, hopefully to communicate that I understand at least the concept of what you’re talking about, but even with my own experience I have to disagree with you on the idea of “worthiness”. Perhaps you and I just have different definitions of the word “worthy”, and that’s where the disconnect is. But for me, “worthy” teeters far too close to the idea of “deserving”, and there’s no Scriptural basis that I’ve ever found for us deserving God’s love. Are we inherently bad? I think A) humankind is inherently separated from God (see Romans 3:10-12/Psalm 14:2-3/Eccl. 7:20), B) God the source of goodness (see James 1:17), and C) to be without Him is to be without any goodness (see Romans 7:18). So to connect A) to C), we would be “inherently without goodness”, which is just a wordy way of saying “inherently bad”. I think “inherently sinful” is the most theologically accurate way to put it. So if this is taught in a church setting, I cannot point to Scripture and say that teaching is false. Scripture affirms the idea that we are inherently sinful (my translation of Romans 3:12 actually uses the exact phrase “all have become worthless”.)

      Further, inserting the idea of our being “worthy” into Christianity makes God’s apparent plan seems illogical. Why did an innocent Christ have to go through the humiliation, physical abuse, punishment and torture if the people He did it for were already worthy to start with? If we’re worthy, what’s the point of the cross? What’s the idea behind salvation? “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved…” Saved from what? What do worthy people need to be saved from? Are we worthy of God’s love, but just not worthy enough for eternal life? I don’t see how both could be true simultaneously. My understanding is that from God’s love extended God’s grace, and it is “by grace we are saved”. Therefore, by default God’s love IS the salvation. So if we already are worthy of it, we’ve nullified the purpose of Christ. Who am I to nullify Christ and the work He did on the cross? Even if by some stretch of my imagination I could have been worthy BEFORE Jesus came, once He was crucified the bar for worthiness would’ve been raised impossibly high, because I could never be who He was and still do what He did.

      This obviously doesn’t eliminate the fact that, for both you and me (and imaginably many others), this information ended up being harmful rather than helpful. Personally speaking, I choose to believe that everything the Bible says is there for a reason, so by that I’m constrained to believe that, although the information was harmful, it still must be true. I also don’t believe that there is anything in the Bible that was put there to harm me. So where does that leave us? If the information can’t be false, then there must be something wrong with my understanding of that information that caused it to be harmful to me.

      For me, that was exactly the case. I believed that I wasn’t acceptable, wasn’t wanted, wasn’t able to be loved by God. But that didn’t line up with Scripture, and that belief doesn’t hold water. The truth was that I was separated from God by nature of being inherently sinful, but He wanted me so much that He provided a way for me to get back to being with Him. Why would He want me? Not because there’s anything great about Preston, but because we were designed to glorify Him. When He extends grace to us and then subsequently transforms our lives out of that grace, He gets the glory. When such a thing happens – one who is not worthy being adopted as a child of the King – the only explanation there can be is “No one could do such a thing but God.” It’s not about us, it’s about Him. My erroneous beliefs stemmed from me thinking this whole thing was about me, when it isn’t. I’m the broken one, sure. And I say, “God, I don’t deserve to be given any hope.” and God says, “I know. But here’s the hope I’ve provided anyway: my Son, shamed and sacrificed on your behalf.” How can I not come away from this rejoicing? Without the fact of our unworthiness, the Gospel seems far less powerful.

      You mentioned more than once how a Christian walk is a process, and I absolutely agree. It’s meant to be one that is life-long, and I’ve only arrived at the understanding that I have as a result of Spirit-filled process. Maybe my response here is exactly the kind of language that sets you back, although I genuinely hope it is not. I have no desire to be insensitive to where you are in your life or your personal struggles, and I’m certainly not trying to dismiss them by suggesting you just “add more Jesus” or throw Bible verses at your problems expecting them to go away. Perhaps I’m no better at listening than some of the church-people we’ve talked about. My process is far from over, and I’m glad I serve a patient and forgiving God.

      “Then we will no longer be…blown here and there by every wind of teaching…Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:14-15

      One last question: since I’ve dedicated so much thought-time to what we’ve been discussing, do you mind if I use some of this conversation as a source for a follow-on blog post to “Going or Having?”? I wouldn’t mention the specific details of what we’ve discussed or your name (unless you want me to), but I would like to explore one or two of these concepts in a post all it’s own…

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      • Hi Neal, I’m going to be totally honest here and say I only read the first few sentences of your reply and then skipped to the end. I’ve cried each time I’ve read and responded to your posts and since I’m on my way to work I haven’t got the energy to really grapple with your post in the same way as usual. I think you’re right in that I’m using the word worthy differently to you. If God didn’t think I was worthy he wouldn’t have rescued me from sin. And yes you’re right the kind of language you were using there is exactly what I’m talking about. I’m past the point of caring if I sound theologically correct. As far as I can tell my take on things also matches up with scripture, I’m just putting different words around it than evangelicals do to keep it from destroying me and instead enable me to grasp hold of the truth of the gospel. I could spend time prooftexting with you, but I don’t think its an effective way to debate and I think it will only encourage you to do the same which will further distress me. That’s another part of evangelicalism I’ve moved away from.
        I’ve also made a promise to the little girl part of me not to let anyone tell her she’s dirty, unworthy or unloveable and I’m keeping that promise here. If God has declared me clean I will not let anyone tell me otherwise, even if they quote the bible to do so. I will not get sucked back down into the mire that makes me feel unclean and unworthy and separates me from God and from love. That little girl had God on her side the whole time, and He’s still for me, not against me. So I’m choosing to be for me.
        That sounded perhaps like I think you were attacking me; I don’t, but I did need to get angry and defend myself against the accusing voice – you could say it was Satan or that it comes from me, or maybe both. Just know I understand you were not intentionally trying to make me feel that, but please consider the effect of your words the next time someone expresses a sentiment like mine. To avoid more distress to myself I will make this my final reply.
        You’re welcome to make a post on this although I would appreciate you not using my name. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Actually I have one more thought and its this: When someone confides to you that they struggle with feeling unworthy, that is not the time to hit them with prooftexts about how unworthy they are. That was an opportunity to affirm God’s love and grace. Next time I encourage you to do so.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It is interesting, isn’t it? Most of the times I read about Jesus going to “the church”, the people there were not comfortable with him, his words or his actions. His followers, on the other hand, who were called to be the Church, may work so hard (in today’s time) to invoke comfort in His name that they betray the truth of who he is to all believers. “A stone to make men stumble and a rock to make them fall.”

    I took the time to read the Fractured Faith post and many of the comments. I am not the brightest candle on the cake but it would appear to me that both the runner and the pew sitter are serving the same god. One that doesn’t disturb me or put me through uncomfortable situations…because he loves me, of course.

    Tell that to Peter, James or John as they listened to Jesus pray to his father that they not be removed from this world but protected from the evil one. What a comfort that must have been! Especially when a few moments later (according to John’s account) they are surrounded by soldiers, after dark, in a remote place, with one of their own “church” betraying every thing they had believed in. How much more uncomfortable could you get?? And JESUS LED THEM THERE!!!

    Sorry man. Spend time alone daily with Him. We all need that. To neglect it is to put a tourniquet on a viable limb. But to remove yourself from other broken people is to restrict His life flowing through us as branches of the same vine. Two or three is enough. One gathered in His name can never pull it off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • aaargh! Yes!! This is sooooo right! I came here via a pingback from the original post and this really rings true for me. I had an incredibly bad year last year, and going to church just started making me super anxious. I started having panic attacks. So I haven’t been going, but I have been going to my ladies group from church. To me, that’s more like church. We eat together, we pray, we laugh, we support one another. We talk about REAL THINGS. It’s not the routine. I love this, don’t go to church. Be the church. But how do you get the rest of the church to get on board with that. When I first started going to this church it wasn’t routine. It was about the people. And then the church leaders ran out of energy and I think you’re right, they hid in a routine. It just started to be like every other church I’ve ever been to and I couldn’t do it. It was putting me back into a really unhealthy, works-centred headspace where I looked down on other people and beat myself up all the time. I’m don’t ever want to go back there, but it’s where regular church makes me go. So how can that be where God wants me if it makes me get further away from him? Sorry for the ramble, this is just really getting to me at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • @raindrop Thanks for sharing, I really appreciate your honesty! I think there are quite a few people out there in a similar boat as you, and I’m not sure how aware of that the “church-as-we-know-it” is. But I do think we ought to be aware of it, and I think it needs to be addressed. I think one of the keys to this issue – what people with the “I want church but not like this” outlook – is just what you emphasized: people being real with each other. I think many churches get caught up in wanting to be appealing to newcomers, so they put up a front that says “Everything is wonderful here!” There’s a lot of different angles we could approach this topic with, but I’m sure the truth of the matter is somewhere in the middle of all of those.

        I’m going to be totally honest with you. I’ve wrestled all day with your question, as it’s one that I think is the essential question we should be asking: How do we get the rest of the church to get on board with that? I think the essence of that is “How can we change people?” This is the reason I struggled with this. The simple answer is you can’t. You can only change yourself. Via the change in yourself, you may be able to provide a positive influence that might lead others to change. But that is no gaurantee, especially if that leadership isn’t done with intention.

        I guess what I’m getting at is that this whole thing starts with us as individuals. What that means is that when one of us recognizes this sort of thing, be it a problem, a need, an inconsistency, then it becomes our responsibility to take action and do something about it. A harsher way of putting that would be “If I see a problem but choose to do nothing about it, I am part of the problem.” What would that action look like? I think it depends on the individual. If I see there’s a issue with people focused on going to church instead of being the church, well then the thing I should be after myself to do is be the church! If I’m not willing to do that, how can I ever expect anyone else to?

        Personal change has everything to do with perspective: how we look at things and how we think about them. I look at the kind of church dynamic that you described, and my thought is “How can I rearrange my thinking in a way that could influence positive change here?” The “going to church” frame of mind is one of consumption: I go to get something for myself. “Being the church” shifts the focus outward: You go to seek to give what you have for others. If the church body has fallen into lack of energy, salvation-by-works, and comfy routine, my guess would be they are tapped into the wrong source, that source being faith in their own power instead of God’s. Therefore, they need God, they’re trying to make it without Him, even if unconsciously. They’ve taken their spiritual eyes off of Christ and become distracted by seeing other things as more important.

        So then the course of action becomes apparent: they need to be pointed back in the direction of their Savior. To be told “Look, look! See Him? He’s all you need. Believe in that, trust in that, have faith in that – that He is all.” What if we looked at our church bodies as a mission field, a people desperately in need? You ask how can that be where God wants you if it takes you further from Him. I think God always wants us closer to Him, but He knows that letting us stay comfortable doesn’t accomplish that. God is a God of challenging: look at Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Daniel, David…the list goes on, even to Christ Himself. He never asked them to stay in their comfort zone, that was never part of His plan. If we recognize ourselves getting further from God, that’s our immediate cue to lean harder into Him, to reset our focus onto Him.

        I’m not sure if this was the sort of answer you were looking for, but I hope you’re encouraged by the fact that you are not alone in your experience of church-as-we-know-it. Let’s keep looking for ways to be the-Church-as-we-should-be.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hey Preston, thank you so much for your thorough reply. I love that you are engaging this. I totally hear what you’re saying and definitely agree that the only person you can change is yourself! God changes people and he sometimes lets us be privileged to be part of that, but we don’t control it. Your challenge to think about how I can change the church by being that change, what actions can I take is a really good one to keep me on track. I definitely know that this is something I need to work towards in my journey and I thank you for that challenge.

        I think what my comment didn’t quite express clearly is the part you addressed about ‘how can God want me there if it takes me further from him’. What I was trying to say there is that because of my personal history, certain ways of doing church, certain structures, certain language (generally evangelical type expressions) actually catapult me right back into the legalistic, self-righteous, self-reliant, and yet at the same time self-hating type of Christianity that I had before. It’s not that it’s uncomfortable and so I need to lean into it or that God is asking me to just lean on Him and push through. It’s that it’s actually dangerous and unhealthy for me. It literally makes me backslide. I don’t think that it’s inherently something wrong with evangelical expression. But what I do know is that, for me, when I start feeling that way, I have to have to have to take time out by myself to realign with what I know is actually true about my God. Unfortunately the language and structures distract me from the grace and during the service I can’t hold on to the truth. I start to become a worse person, and there’s no way that I can help change anything if I’m struggling against a wrong way of viewing myself and God that is so fundamental to the faith that we have. Does that make sense?

        I have made my church leaders aware of this issue and they know that this and a few other reasons are why I’m not attending much at the moment.

        Side note about discomfort, I’m always uncomfortable because I’m pretty much always anxious. I am aware of this about myself now and am working towards healing. But ‘feeling uncomfortable’ is a profoundly unhelpful way for me to know whether something is a good thing for me to do or not. My benchmark at the moment is that if I’m doing something simply because I’m afraid not to, I shouldn’t do it. And that is where your comments are really accurate. I always have to gauge whether I am refraining from going to church, or from saying how I’m feeling in the moment, only because I am afraid. I could definitely be braver. But the hard thing is, in a group of people who don’t express themselves that way, doing that is incredibly difficult. Last time I went, I let myself be vulnerable and I cried in the middle of the service. I actually kind of went into a trauma flashback type space. I spoke to the pastor afterwards and that was good, although I’m not sure I expressed myself right. But it’s terrifying to be in that place, especially with a background like mind where I have no trust that people really want me around. Confronting things or being real when you have that fear is hard. And again, I don’t know for sure whether that was the right thing to do or not. Should I have just held it in and pretended to be happy like everyone else? I don’t think so because that’s part of what is so toxic. But no one wants to bum everyone else out, and sometimes I feel like that is pretty much all I do if I’m being honest all the time. I mean it’s not like I’m never happy ever, but there were times last year when I felt hopeless for weeks on end. You can’t just bring that up over and over again with a bunch of people who are happy, or who are trying to be happy. You just can’t. And it’s way more than one person can fix on their own, it’s a whole system.

        I don’t think there is a lot of awareness about how to talk to traumatised people in the church, I think that is a big part of the problem. That was part of what I tried to express to my pastor. And even the comment you made about leaning in to God, and my response to it, like this is me desperately trying to make you aware that some people feel fundamentally broken all the time,. There’s a part of me that truly hates myself, and sometimes Christians are really eager to exhort people and tell them to try harder. They don’t realise that for people like me, it just makes us beat ourselves up more. I think the fractured faith blogger is in a similar place to me in that. It’s exhausting just trying to keep that at bay, and when Christians tell you that you need to try harder or push more, it’s almost impossible not to give into that voice. But the voice is lying. The only answer is looking at God, trusting God and resting in God. And sometimes I can’t make that happen at church, there’s too much going on, too many echoes to contend with. I hope what I’ve just told you makes sense and doesn’t come across as defensive or ungrateful. I think what you said is great there’s a lot of good truth in there for me. But I also think if the church really wants to engage with the type of people who are leaving church or even faith all together, we have to be safe for each other. We have to be willing to go to the dark places and really listen to each other. To say ‘tell me your story’ and then not get freaked out or try to change the subject when it gets hard to hear. At the end of the day, that’s what I really long for, and that’s the type of person I long to be. I’m really trying hard to be a safer person myself as well. Don’t know.
        Thanks anyway, I sort of went on a journey with this comment so I’m impressed if you made it this far! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • @raindrop I appreciate your clarification. I certainly have a more in-focus picture of where you are coming from now, although I think some examples of what you mean by “ways of doing church, structures, language” etc. would also help me. Mainly just so that if I see or hear them, I can at least be aware that those particulars could potentially be an area of difficulty to folks around me.

        For starters, I want to address the legalistic, self-righteous, self-reliant, self-hating “type” of Christianity. I completely understand what you’re talking about, so I don’t want you to think I misunderstood or misconstrued here. But I believe that language is incredibly important to how we think, so I think we should choose words carefully. What I mean is this: “Christian”, by it’s most basic definition, is simply a “follower of Christ”; His teachings, His example, His logic, His instructions…an individual that follows those things. “Christianity” then, at it’s most basic definition, would be the “collective community of Christ-followers”. There’s nothing about Christ’s teaching, example, logic, etc. that is legalistic, self-righteous, self-reliant or self-hating, and He was quite regularly at odds with the legalist/self-righteous group of His day, the Pharisees. Therefore, any “collective community” that falls into those categories, by definition, cannot be “Christianity”, but rather some perversion of it.

        There are substantial portions of the self-proclaimed “Christian” community that are most assuredly all these sorts of things, but there are also portions of that same community that are truly striving to follow Christ. If we use the same expression to describe them both, we lump those few that follow in with the many that do not. It isn’t our place to proclaim judgement on those that don’t follow, as that would make us legalistic as well. However, I think it is completely acceptable to examine them to determine how their attitudes and actions align with the teachings of Christ, but only after we first examine ourselves in the same way. Not saying that examination should expect perfection, but I sincerely believe there would be an evident difference in people putting forth a genuine effort to live in Christ versus those who are not. There is a valuable distinction to be made, and often we miss the opportunity to make it.

        Now, honestly, I don’t think any of that really makes a difference in regards to your specific circumstances. So I’d like to key in on a few things you’ve referenced about yourself here…

        “But what I do know is that, for me, when I start feeling that way, I have to have to have to take time out by myself to realign with what I know is actually true about my God.”

        So, I don’t know the extent of what you mean when you say “time out”. You may mean you have to take a week off from being in a church setting, or you may mean you need months to get your alignment straightened out again. I don’t really know. But either way, I think you’re already close to the answer. All of us, always, need constant realignment. That realignment has never been the responsibility of pastors, or worship leaders, or even our fellow Christians. It’s about the private walk, an on-going relationship with the Father. “Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort.” (Dallas Willard), meaning our salvation isn’t dependent on what we do, but God does desire our efforts in maintaining a relationship with Him. The Church was never meant to replace that one-on-one relationship. Even if our church-life was perfectly healthy, all of us still need to be constantly and consistently making private time to realign ourselves with God. I guess the context of your statement makes it seem like a negative thing that church would drive you to a place where you need to realign with God, but I can’t see how realignment is ever a bad thing. You may not have meant to imply it as a negative, so if I’m completely off-track with that just let me know.

        The second thing I want to key in on are these:

        “…there’s no way that I can help change anything if I’m struggling against a wrong way of viewing myself and God that is so fundamental to the faith that we have.”

        “…this is me desperately trying to make you aware that some people feel fundamentally broken all the time.”

        My goal here is not to diminish your situation or your struggle, but I believe the first statement is inherently false. Wrong ways of viewing ourselves and God, regardless of whether that’s placing ourselves above God through personal pride or placing ourselves outside of God’s ability to love by loathing ourselves, are fundamental to our very existence. All of us, regardless of whether we feel it or not, ARE fundamentally broken all the time. All of us are struggling against false understandings, all of us should be wrestling with the consequences of our fallen nature. I certainly struggle with a combination of such mindsets: one being that I can accomplish things without God and the other being that I’m not good enough for God to accept me the way I am. In both instances I’m choosing to limit God into someone that He isn’t, fashioning Him into my personal false god, instead of choosing to believe that He is who He says He is.

        The thing that is fundamental to our faith is love: first loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and then loving the people around us as if they were our own selves. Honestly, if we really manage to do both of these, I think it would be impossible for things NOT to change, as it’s an extremely radical lifestyle. I think loving God with everything that we have will bring us to the ultimate realization that while we are not worthy of being loved, we are able to be loved by Him AND truly loved by Him unconditionally. We come to understand that real love isn’t love “because”, but rather love “despite.” With that love in our heart and soul and mind, we are equipped then to turn around and love people the way we’ve been loved by God: unconditionally.

        My next focus is this:

        “Confronting things or being real when you have that fear [of not being wanted] is hard. And again, I don’t know for sure whether that was the right thing to do or not. Should I have just held it in and pretended to be happy like everyone else?”

        To this I say: absolutely not! I’ve yet to find anything in Scripture or in Christ’s teaching that justifies pretense. If I’m “pretending to be” like this, what am I really doing? I’m simply lying with my behavior. And over and over again, Scripture emphasizes the truth. Speak it, live it, and believe it. But you are right: it takes courage to tell the truth, and it’s not always easy. Personally speaking, I think my fear in telling and living the truth stems from wanting other people to accept me and want me, and that they may not do either if I’m honest and transparent with them. The real me can be an ugly thing, and like you say, I don’t want to bum people out, or in my case have them pull away from me because the truth about Preston is too much for them to handle. It was a fear of being left alone.

        The realization that I came to was that in letting that fear hold sway over me, I was once again limiting God into someone less than He is. If I’m afraid of being alone, do I really believe that God is always with me? And even further, why do I think that I need additional love and acceptance beyond the perfect love and acceptance God has already provided me? The truth is I don’t, but I have to choose to believe that.

        To take this a step further, perhaps outside the context of Christianity: that whole fear of not being accepted or loved is pretty useless anyway. That fear doesn’t change the fact that we have absolutely no control over what other people do and think. I can fear all I want, but if someone else wants and chooses to accept me, they’re going to. If someone doesn’t want to accept me and chooses not to, well that’s totally up to them, too. My fear is completely disconnected and has no effect on their ability to make their own choices. So in reality, my fear is really a self-inflicted suffering: it affects no one but my own self, and it has no bearing on the outcome. Logically then, I wonder why should I even bother? Just tell the truth all the time, and if people gravitate away from me, well…were those really the kind of people I needed in my life anyway? My experience with this has been that most people are far more accepting than I imagined them to be…this brings me to my conclusion:

        “We have to be willing to go to the dark places and really listen to each other. To say ‘tell me your story’ and then not get freaked out or try to change the subject when it gets hard to hear.”

        Boom. You nailed it right there. That is really the key to all this: we have to be willing to listen to each other, to really listen to each other. A big part of my vision of the Church is a group of people that are a living, breathing “space” that is conducive to exactly that: listening. Call me an optimist, but I don’t believe there is any barrier between people that can’t be overcome by genuine listening. You make a very good point that there is a lack of awareness within the church with how to talk to traumatized people, and I certainly agree. I think the most practical solution to that is leading people to the place where they are able to really listen.

        I also think there is a flip-side, in we have to be able to go to the dark places and really be honest about ourselves with others. It’s great if people learn to really listen, but if no one is saying anything then we’re essentially in the same place we started, aren’t we? So we need people like you. Being brave, being open, willing to be real with those of us not quite ready to be real and give us the chance to practice genuine listening. The tough thing about it is that, for as long as the church lacks awareness, it will take people like you to be the initiators, the ones that take that first step and open the door to those conversations. Like you said, that means you’ll have to be safe, be patient and understanding with people as they adapt to this kind of change. True, it’s way more than you can fix all on your own, so don’t worry about fixing the whole system. Find one person that is willing to learn, and work with them. Sure, one may not make all that much difference, but even one has the potential to make all the difference.

        “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

        By the way, I sincerely appreciate everything you’ve shared. Replying to your comments has definitely had me doing a lot of deep thinking and reflecting. Thank you for the opportunity to engage!

        Like

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