Being a Christian is not popular these days. That is, being a Bible believing Christian is not. There are many people who call themselves Christian but have no idea what the Bible teaches and some who do but believe what they want to believe instead of what it says. Having said that…I struggle with my Christianity. My spiritual walk is a battle but I never struggle with doubt. No, my battles are weakness in the flesh. Anger usually. And also I like my wine. Those are the two things I need the Lord’s help with. So this is coming from a Christian who doesn’t think she’s perfect and whose shining moments of faith are often in her darkest moments.
But I’ve been reflecting on the American church lately. I work among Christians everyday. And being Christian and living the Christian life and being a church goer can often be a struggle in and of itself. Church is social. There is a code to fitting in and every church is a little bit different. It’s like moving into a new neighborhood. If you don’t fit in, it shows.
And when a person’s life is in transition, it’s sometimes really hard to “FIT IN” especially at church. Here are some reflections on my experience to give you some hope that things do get better.
This is what happened to me…
DIVORCE = lose your married friends. Period. They don’t ask you anymore because you don’t fit into the mold. Before my divorce I belonged to a very large group of married friends. I was included in every invite. I lived, breathed, and worked among them. But I started to find out about planned camping trips after they happened. It wasn’t over night, but there was a very slow retreat that most people took. Not all I’m happy to say. But definitely the men were no longer my friends. Now that I was single, I was not an appropriate friend to have. It was hard losing everything that made sense about life AND lots of friends too.
The reality was that this church was all glitz and glamour. It was a mega church, had hundreds of employees, a very recognizable pastor who I worked with closely and who was a good guy. But it took an hour to get into the church parking lot on any given Sunday. There were crowds for everything and everywhere. Events were big, with lights, camera, and action. It was a spectacle. Yes, there was good solid preaching. But there was also a lot of sub-culture code. It was like being in high school all over again with the cliques, and popular group (which I belonged to), hair styles and what I hated most the kisses and hugs. Lovely people. But social pressure to belong and fit in was pretty high. And because there were so many people it was easy for a group to disassociate with you – there were plenty more to replace you. So I moved on to a new church.
DATING = you have to keep your private life private. Period. There are too many people who want to gossip about you. It’s human nature. And there are too many people who have opinions about what you SHOULD be doing. So just don’t share in casual settings with casual friends. Know the close friends who will keep your confidence and share with them. This reality made it very difficult for me to feel comfortable at my new church. For whatever reason, I didn’t even try to get involved. I went faithfully and was encouraged by the messages and learned a lot there. But I didn’t do much socially. There were happy families, groups of ladies, groups of men, but none of it felt right to me. All nice people. Asking people who you don’t know about their lives like you are invested somehow in how they are doing was too much for me. I was FULL up with my own stuff and I frankly didn’t have the emotional room to let anyone else in. And my life sounded like a soap opera. Saying your divorced got the worried sad look with the head tilt. Saying you were engaged and then abandoned got the pitiful, worried look like I was some pathetic puppy. If I even started to talk about it I would cry anyway so what was the point in telling anyone about it. I remember sitting in the pews listening to a sermon about love and thinking that part of my heart was dead. There was no way I would ever trust someone enough again to love them. Never. And who wants to know someone with that dark a heart. I went on a few dates and as men would fall in love with me, trying to put their best foot forward, I looked at them with jaded, cynical, mistrust. There was no way I’d let my heart fall for them. They were trying too hard. And that is far too weighty a conversation to have with people you are just meeting. So it was easier for me to just not meet them. I came to church after it started and was the first one out the door when it ended. But I met a man who was different during that time. Someone who did not want to impress me. In fact he did almost the opposite. He tried to warn me away. So we became friends instead. Friends who built up trust little by little. And then I fell. Hard. Once I learned that I could trust again…that part of my heart opened back up for business.
My second church was more family focused. Everyone belonged no matter what you dressed like or looked like. Just a bunch of normal people trying to make church real. It was a great place for me because I never felt pressured to be involved. They let me come and take in the Word that I needed to hear. My boy friend loved it because he too could take in the learning without the pressure to engage socially which he didn’t and still doesn’t have time for. Our pastor married us and it will be a memory for me that I will cherish for the rest of my life. We started a new life in a new town as a new married couple.
SECOND MARRIAGE = you have hope that maybe next time you’ll fit in again. That is where I’m at right now. My life is settled again. It’s no longer in transition and maybe just maybe I will be able to find good church friends again. I still have my tried and true Christian girlfriends. They never left me. But I’m talking fitting into a church again. THAT is harder. And maybe I’m at a time in my life where that will work again?
We found a new church in our new town that has definite possibilities. It’s different from any other church I’ve belonged to.
Solid preaching and teaching for sure. But it’s an inner city church. It’s literally across the street from my house. It takes 10 seconds to walk into the doors. What a huge difference right there alone. It is also the smallest church I’ve ever belonged to. There are about 50 in attendance on any given Sunday. And the people are from all walks of life. Elderly, sick, black families, white families, hispanic families, there are some crazy homeless people, some normal people, people who look like they belong in a biker gang. There are also people at every stage in their Christian walk. I don’t get the sense at this place that there is an expectation that everyone has their stuff together. The struggle can be discussed. And encouragement will follow, instead of the social pressure to belong. So I have hope. There is no glitz, no glamour, nothing to draw you in except a genuine desire to be Christians on the inside in whatever package you are on the outside. I might actually go to a woman’s meeting when they come up. I might actually start serving again. And I’m kind of excited about it. Maybe I can start making a difference and helping people again instead of having to pull back and nurse myself and my life back to health?
I hope. I have hope and there is hope for you too.