The Truth About Church (a voice from the past)

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This 2006 post came to mind just now as I work on journalling our family's journey. At this time I was visiting my soon-to-be husband in the US, it had been exactly a year since my break-up with a guy who denied that his porn addiction was a problem, and I was just at the point of deciding to leave his church in search of one where I'd feel more embraced. This post was sort of my last attempt to reach out to my church peers before leaving for good. I'm not sure, but the topic might be close to your heart also, which is why I'm pulling it from the archives for you tonight:

August 22, 2006:

Last night I hungrily watched and waited as Scott worked over the gas stove putting the finishing touches on our dinner as it sizzled in the wok. It was a beef stir fry with different spices and veggies, including bamboo, fresh ginger, sweet soy sauce, Indonesian dried hot peppers, and his favourite secret ingredient which I am not at liberty to disclose. Served over jasmine rice it was absolutely fabulous, and I enjoyed every last bit of it with my very own set of brand new re-usable chopsticks.

But during supper I let my mind wander to news I had received from home, and I had to fight the tears. It reminded me of an ongoing struggle that I've had ever since my family left Austria to return to Canada, which is namely the struggle to make lasting friendships with our peers at church. Sometimes we weren't in one place long enough to really make meaningful connections. Other times my brother and I were at the age where our peers were more concerned with popularity than reaching out to a couple pastor's kids. We've always been somewhat reserved, tired of changing church families every few years, sick of the politics and insincerity we've witnessed, and hesitant to reach out again and again only to be laughed at, or ignored, or simply tolerated by our peers.

I was reminded of a similar struggle I have felt in my current church, though now that I'm an adult I don't deal with the same kind of insecurities when making friends that I did as a child/adolescent. This time it's more about trying to break into established groups of friends, 'cliques', who felt complete before I arrived and will feel just as complete after I leave.

When I first began attending my (now ex-)boyfriend's church I was blown away by the love and down-to-earth compassion that I witnessed people giving to each other every Sunday morning. The Bible study group I joined was similar, where the worship was sincere and the desire for growth was strongly shared by everyone. I actually felt like a brand new "baby" Christian who was learning for the first time what it meant to live in Christian community with my fellow church members, where prayer and conversation about faith was not limited to Bible studies and Sunday morning services, but was made evident in all of our interaction with other people at all times. It really changed my outlook and made me realize how much deeper my faith still had to grow so that I lived it out every minute of my life, especially with my friends and family.

Two and a half years later, after my relationship ended, I was hurting terribly but the compassion, prayers and hugs I had seen other people receive on Sunday mornings were just not there for me, even though my entire peer group knew what had happened. I needed their support so badly... Surely, I thought, someone must know that I feel like I'm dying inside.

Then I gradually realized that I was no longer being invited to hang out with the peer group that I had gotten to know over the last 2.5 years. It hurt. I felt alone. So I decided to pour myself into my church community and did the first thing that came to mind - I helped to start a young adults group that would hopefully bring people together. I was looking forward to getting to know my peers, hoping they would get to know me as a single person again - no longer as just their friend's former girlfriend, but as their friend as well. Many showed up at first, but slowly the group began to dwindle. Even so I attended as faithfully as I could, and I still adored the community atmosphere at our Sunday morning church services. I wouldn't miss them for the world. Then one night, several months later, we had planned a potluck to which just a handful of young adults showed up. I later learned that a number of them had planned private party for that same night. My heart broke. The following Sunday, and every Sunday since, I have faced a monumental struggle in finding the motivation to attend church. Yes, they show amazing love and compassion, they pray for and embrace each other at the drop of a hat, but I realized I have to be friends with them before I will be sought out, prayed for, and embraced.

I don't want to fail to mention the exceptions - and there almost always are exceptions. One friend of mine who's been there since the beginning has made an effort to go out of her way to keep in touch with me, and she knows who she is. :) If it weren't for her I know that I would have left that church a while ago already. Then there's another friend I'm still just getting to know who arrived on the scene after I was already single and beginning to think about helping to organize the young adults group. She also knows who she is, and I appreciate her kindness very much as well!! There are a couple others, two very wise and more mature church members who make a point of connecting with me on Sunday mornings too, one of whom also reads this blog. ;) Thank you!!

I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but sincere gestures to reach out mean the world to me. I'm a former pastor's kid who's had to jump from one church to the next, who's had to fight shyness and loneliness over the years, deal with insincere attention from others because of my Dad's job, put up with petty popularity games among my Christian peers, say good-bye over and over again to the few real friends I was able to make then try to reach out again at yet another new church... I think it would be understandable that 19 years of this has left me somewhat emotionally exhausted. I am an introvert, I'm not bubbly, I'm not the life of the party, I'm not the kind of magnetic personality who attracts people to me very easily, yet I love people! And I wish that there was a way to get the average Christian church community to understand how important it is to reach out and genuinely welcome newcomers into their established friendship groups. I don't want to be seen as a ministry. I want to be surrounded by folks who see me as an equal and actually care to get to know me.

So after supper last night I was lost in thought about all of this. Scott was a comfort to me, but I also wished I could have been back home to offer my hugs and support to a friend who was struggling with the same loneliness...