Currently I’m reading a book called “Searching for Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans. She was raised in a religious home and was a model child in the church growing up. However, when she went to Seminary College she began to doubt some things and eventually left her home church. I know that by the end of the book she is back in a church again but I don’t know which one or how she gets there yet. She makes some statements that certainly resonate with me even though our experiences are different.
She writes of her involvement in her church as a young person:
“I’m not sure I can ever calculate the value of that community, the sense of belonging and of being loved. It never occurred to me that such a fire could be washed out.”
Just as I never ever thought I would leave the meetings.
She also writes:
“There are recovery programs for people grieving all kinds of things….or books on how to cope…but no one really teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith. You’re on your own for that.”
For me, I didn’t lose my faith but I lost my group.
Later she says her fellow Christians didn’t want to listen to her, or grieve with her, or walk down that frightening road with her. They wanted to fix her. Boy, I could relate there. No one has ever asked me how I got from Point A to Point B. This is a large part of the reason I started this blog. I want people to know how I got from Point A to Point B. It was that important to me.
The author went on to say,
“Looking back, I suspect their reactions had less to do with disdain for my doubt and more to do with fears of their own. They weren’t rejecting me for being different, they were rejecting me for being familiar, for calling out all those quiet misgivings most Christians keep hidden in the dark corners of their hearts and would rather not name.”
I think this is true of the friends and workers as well. I’m sure many of them have asked similar questions like I did, or had similar doubts and fears but they are terrified of anyone knowing. I get that.
She goes on:
“I was so lonely in my questions and so desperate for companionship, I tried to force the people I loved to doubt along with me. I tried to make them understand.”
I think an important fact here is that we as friends and workers or ones who are former friends or workers think of our experience as uniquely ours, when in reality, we are finding out that others in other groups felt the same thing and experienced much the same thing. That was an eye opener, I remember. For instance, the author of that book wrote about her experience and further said,
“I wasn’t the only one who was lonely on Sunday morning.”
She tells about having friends who struggled for years to disentangle themselves from abusive, authoritarian churches, and others who were kicked out for getting divorced or for being gay. She said that wasn’t her story though.
“I have no serious injuries to report, no deep scars to reveal. I left a church of kind, generous people because I couldn’t pretend to believe things I didn’t believe any more.”
That is my story as well. I didn’t leave because I was offended or mad or bitter. I left because I didn’t believe in the same things the group did and I no longer could pretend to.
Elizabeth Esther recently wrote on her blog a post about “When loneliness threatens to swallow you whole“. She writes about the empty hours that result when you leave a church you’ve been in your whole life. What do you do with your Sunday’s?
“The unscheduled hours often felt like a cavernous vacuum. We didn’t know how to live our lives without someone telling us what to do, where to go, when to arrive, and when to leave. What did normal people DO with all their spare time?…I’d told myself that leaving The Assembly was the solution we’d been waiting for, that freedom was all we needed to create our new-and-improved lives. I’d assumed that I could easily cobble together a patchwork quilt of belonging. If I drank Diet Coke, wore the right clothes, attended a thriving megachurch, and made friends with Southern California Christians, I’d find my place. I’d find my home.”
(~excerpt from Girl at The End of the World, page 152, 154)
Here’s one thing I know for sure: loneliness is real and it keeps coming back.
Perhaps loneliness is a kind of homesickness. What if my loneliness is homesickness for God? What if loneliness is homesickness for home I’ve rarely known, a home more Person than place? I’ve tried to assuage this homesickness with everything other than God.
I feel she is right and it is definitely worth spending some time thinking about.
And then there is trying new churches. Rachel (Searching For Sundays) explains:
“I scoffed at the idea of being taught or led. Deconstructing was so much safer than trusting; so much easier than letting people in. I knew exactly what type of Christian I didn’t want to be, but I was too frightened, or too rebellious, or too wounded, to imagine what might be next. My cynicism protected me from disappointment, or so I believed, so I expected the worst and smirked when I found it. Perhaps the most unsettling thing about a new church is the way the ghost of the old one haunts it. For better or worse, the faith of our youth informs our fears, our nostalgia, our reactions, and our suspicions. I measured every new experience by what I loved or hated about evangelicalism (her previous church) which put all these good churches filled with good people in the rather awkward position of a rebound boyfriend.”
I doubt there is a one of us who have come out of the meetings who haven’t struggled with this issue. Finding fault with every other church was so much easier than letting new people in. And do we ever get away from the ghost of our meeting background haunting everything new? I don’t think so. There are no perfect people, no perfect churches.