I grew up in church.
I began going to a Baptist church in my home town when I was in 7th grade because life was hectic and painful at home. My parent’s divorce had been final for about a year, my brother was really angry and violent; and I craved some structure, some guidelines, some rules of right and wrong. No one seems to do that better than the Baptists.
That first night of youth group was a bit nerve-wracking. I was a 7th-grader and the high school kids felt very present and very, very loud. I didn’t know where my place was but I knew that I would rather be at church than the alternative: weekly date night with my dad and brother. Odd girl out in that group, so church it was! Thus began my relationship with church.
This was the beginning of an unhealthy relationship for me. Some would wonder how a relationship with church could be unhealthy since it’s 1) not a person, per se and 2) it’s CHURCH. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to explain it fully, and while I hope you can hear my heart in this, I’m not sure you will, but I’ll try to tell…
I started to be overly available to church. I was there when the doors opened for any youth event. I was there on Sundays for most of the day and also on Wednesday nights. I was a part of the youth choir, girls ensemble, adult choir (for the Easter Pageant, of course), the youth advisory board (what WAS that??), camps, Disciple Now weekends, Refuge weekends, when Disciple Now became Refuge weekend; I was there with Milt, then Myles, then Mike. I soaked in the black and white theology, the right and wrongs properly noted, taking in what my pastor said and regurgitating it as my own thinking and believing whenever necessary. I would debate people, defend my beliefs, try to prove to them why I was right and they we wrong.
It was a lot of work.
The church gave me structure and guidelines of morality when I didn’t even know I needed it. Statistic show that because I’m from a family of divorce, with dad minimally present to me in my developmental years (ages 10-20) that I should be pregnant or have had a few kids by now at 28. I should possibly have some STIs. I probably should never have gone to college. Marriage would have been more likely than grad school. Because of the moral guideline given to me by the Baptist church as a developing human being, and because I clung to those rights and wrongs as the ultimate truth in how to live my life, I made it through my formative years without becoming another statistic. For that, my gratitude towards the church will never end.
I also worked for the church. It began in college, where I chose to go to a small Baptist college with a lot of rules and teachings of right and wrong. I studied to become a minister to girl’s, my dream of working in a youth department at a church and being a person for the girls to confide in, talk with, laugh with, learn about Jesus with, etc. The thing that kept me going during the year was the summers, when I could intern with a youth department and be reminded why I loved this work so much.
I wish I could fully explain that last summer. Forgiveness has been given and received by both parties, and I’m glad to have lived a different story because I truly love my life now and who I am discovering myself to be. That last summer was a game changer for me and I went back to college for my senior year, praying to God that I never wanted to work in a church ever. Ever.
So I graduate with a degree in Religion from the School of Christian Studies at my small Baptist college and I would rather do a lot of other things than work at a church… kind of my own definition of pigeon-hole. So I moved back home and worked at Starbucks.
And then I got involved with another church. This church seemed different; it wasn’t so much about right and wrong (or if it was, right and wrong just weren’t as prevalent as my church relationship growing up); it seemed that this church was about people, and loving the people that called it home. It was surreal, and from the first moment of attending a small group bible study, I felt this sense of home. I knew I needed to plant myself here, with these people, and do this thing. So I did.
I even took a job at the church because I thought it was different. Then I experienced just how much the same it was.
More pain, more heartache, more tears, more, more, more… it was too much, but I couldn’t leave because I had made this church, these people, my world. I made my world very small, gave all of myself to an organization, and watched it begin to crumble. I felt as though I was standing inside while it crumbled around me and I had no idea how to get out. Someone help me get out.
I finally got out when I
ran away moved to Seattle. Beautiful, lovely, Seattle; a city of healing for my heart and my soul. A lot of that healing has happened through my school, my community there, and therapy.
Dear God, thank you for therapy… and sunshine… and Seattle.
For two years now, I have not associated myself with a church. I have been to church only a handful of times, usually with friends, and I always, ALWAYS have resistance to the church, to the pastor, to the teachings, blah blah blah because I don’t want it. I don’t want to be a part of an organization that can hurt me so much again. I don’t want to get to know people. I don’t want to care about it, about them. My heart can’t take another break.
Because I always thought that church and God go hand in hand. It’s taken me two years to even begin to be aware that the church is run by broken people trying to connect with a holy God, and that people will hurt people – intentionally AND unintentionally. I needed space to see that I threw myself into church and allowed church and my deeds, jobs, attendance, works at/for/with church to define me. I needed to see that I also had fault in these abusive relationships with these churches. It was not all the church’s fault. The church may have worked me to the bone to do “the Lord’s work” but I threw myself into it with all of myself.
It was not all the church’s fault. It was not all my fault. We are both to blame (and that sucks because I so desperately want to be blameless in this story).
Which brings me to now…
This semester I have three classes: Theology, Hermeneutics, and Prayer. I seem to be jumping back into my college days but with a twist: this ain’t no Baptist seminary. I get to write papers over my beliefs on sin; my own hermeneutical lens; how do I practice prayer. Me. I. I get to express what I believe… which also means I get to figure out what I believe. The professor’s are not telling me what is right and wrong, they are giving me space to decide what I believe to be right or wrong, and they will even embrace my acknowledgement and acceptance of the in between.
My hope, fear, expectation, trepidation is that this semester will be my new beginning with Church. My eyes are more open and I know that the church will not, cannot save me. It will not define me. But it can be a lovely, holy part of healing in my story.
That is my prayer for my third year of grad school.
Congrats for reading through this whole thing!