From a young age I remember attending church on a regular basis. My siblings and I attended Sunday morning church, Wednesday night church, every youth activity, church camp, VBS, and choir event known to man. Missing church was not an option unless serious circumstances were taking place. Now, we can discuss whether or not a parent should or shouldn’t make their children attend church growing up, but that’s another conversation for another day. What I am here to discuss though, is how being in church killed my faith.
Yes, I realize that is quite a bold statement. However, for me at this time in my life, it rings truer than ever. You see, from a young age not only did I attend those events, but I was expected to be there. Not just by my parents, but also by many members in the church. See, me and my siblings were preacher kids. Every time we missed a beat somebody was waiting to take that as an opportunity. An opportunity to point out parental flaws, negative traits, create rumors, or simply snub their nose at us and have an excuse to not show up the following Sunday. Every act or behavior became so closely watched and managed by those around us. This caused us to constantly feel as if we were under a microscope. Due to that, I chose to always show up. I chose to always be involved, always volunteer, and always put a smile on my face even when I didn’t want too.
What I learned to do was to become really good at pretending. Pretending like I had great faith in all circumstances. In most of my adolescent life and the majority of my adulthood I had never let myself question my own beliefs. I never let myself explore my doubts when I had them. I had never been honest with someone when asked how I was doing or if I was struggling. Instead, I was always worried about how someone would perceive me. I was always worried that if I said “you know what, today I am doubting God’s grace in my life” that maybe somehow it would get back to someone who could use that as a weapon against me. This caused me to get really good at serving, really good at “making a difference”, and really good at lying to myself and those around me. What it also caused was for me to become great at managing people’s perceptions of myself and my family all while failing miserably at maintaining a relationship of my own.
I think that happens to many of us at some point or another. I don’t think this is specific to just preacher’s kids, or ministers, or ministers spouses. I think unfortunately, many of us are afraid to be honest and vulnerable about the struggles we face whether they are once in our life or on a daily basis. There is this misconception in the church that once you decide to become a Christian, or once you are baptized, or once you become a church member that you aren’t allowed to doubt any more. Suddenly, you are supposed to just believe everything you read in Scripture or believe everything your preacher says from the pulpit. Suddenly, life is supposed to just make sense and you are to always have faith in all things and never doubt. Well, I’m here to say I disagree. Having that mind set and feeling that constant pressure kept my faith from deepening when the opportunity presented itself.
The beauty in the Word, the beauty in Christ and in a relationship with God is GRACE. Grace for the moments of doubt. Grace for when we stray. Grace for when we stand and tell people, I am broken. For me, there are years of shame and hurt that I am working through as I face some of these things on a personal level. There are also years of pain from watching people directly and passive aggressively hurt me or those I love in or through the church. Unfortunately, even more so, there are years lost that I spent worried about tip-toeing around other people’s expectations. Instead, I should have been taking opportunities to grow and mature in my own hurts.
It is such a blessing to say that for the first time in a long time I am part of a body that hurts together when necessary. The church can be a place where your faith is challenged and strengthened. I have experienced it first hand by finding other believers that are honest in their struggles. I have experienced it by finding encouragement from those around me when I express doubt and anger. I have experienced it by recognizing how broken I truly am and by being reminded that I am not alone in that brokenness. What beauty I have found in a church and in believers who are also flawed, yet seeking a redemptive and restorative kind of love as opposed to a critical and destructive one. I hope that if you are a member of the body you are the type that grows faith instead of of hurting it. I hope that if you have been hurt by the church or someone in it, that you can find joy in knowing that in all things there are grace. I hope, I hope for change.