Leaving the church [but not really]
Joe and I are starting a cult.
Just kidding! But that is what I am afraid that some people will think we’re up to.
The thing is, neither one of us can stomach going to church anymore. Both coming from evangelical backgrounds, we’ve struggled with major guilt for not going, and for not wanting to go. We’ve flitted around several churches for years, trying to get involved, hoping that our deep wounds would heal if we just sat there politely, standing when the pastor instructed us to, and smiling if anyone looked our direction.
This was an ill thought out plan. Now we’re dealing with wounds on top of wounds, which have festered for years. Both of us have deep resentment toward church, for different reasons, some of which overlap.
So walk away, right? Forsake the religion of our childhoods and start over. Atheism is so hot right now, and so is Zen Buddhism. Many of my friends, even the ones I met in Christian college, have left Christianity altogether. While I can’t say I haven’t been allured by this option, there’s something stopping us, and it’s not fear. It’s Jesus.
We’re not ready to let go of Jesus.
With the new year before us, I’m excited about the changes ahead for my family. We had the obvious epiphany a few months ago that we won’t get better until we start to talk about this stuff. So we are. After burying the hurt for years, we’re broaching it often, talking and listening and praying for each other. Our families got earfuls around the holidays. My dear friend and I – who is dealing with much of the same stuff – have written essays to each other over text messaging, processing our thoughts and delayed reactions to stuff we were taught 10 years ago, stuff we’re finally seeing as toxic.
One such text message conversation (which we have dubbed #textmessagetheology) revolved around the Christian philosophy that was forced on us in our teen years – namely during missions trips with Teen Mania Ministries – that dating is sinful unless you are dating your future spouse. They told us that if you date someone but ultimately do not marry that person, you essentially are having an affair with somebody else’s future spouse. They taught us that with each relationship we enter, we give away a piece of our heart that we can never get back. I think this thought may have been made popular in evangelical culture by the 1997 book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Joshua Harris.
My friend tells me that this rigid thinking paralyzed her from dating not only in her teen years, but through the bulk of her 20s. Now approaching 30, she has only recently begun to enjoy casual dates without feeling like an adulteress. While the teachings didn’t quite have the same effect on me – I had a couple boyfriends before Joe – I know they contributed to my picture of God as a video game programmer who will only bless you if you are following his very specific and blueprinted will for your life.
Just in the last few years, after detoxing from those teachings, I’m able to see that God isn’t a formula. That relationships can be meant to be for a lifetime, or a season, to teach you something about yourself or the world. That our capability to love is infinite and our hearts are not like an economy of an apple pie with slices that you give away forever. This is not to say that some relationships don’t leave you hurt or damaged, because they do. But telling teens that they are being adulterers if they date someone who doesn’t end up being their spouse a practice in manipulation and a grasp for control. I am finally calling it out for what it is.
So this year, as I process this stuff with family, friends and my faithful readers, Joe and I have decided to start a gathering…group…dare I say church? Or a “Listening Circle” as Emily Maynard writes about today at A Deeper Story.
For now, it’s a Thing We Haven’t Named, and at this Thing, which we will host in our living room, we will meditate on scripture and share our stories. So far, we are the only two members – but I’m officially inviting all of you who read my blog to join us on Wednesday nights. We do not have all the answers, and if you think you do, we don’t want you around. Kidding, sort of. All I’m trying to say is don’t come looking to us for a prescription for your life because we don’t have one. What we can offer though, is a safe place to seek Jesus together.
Just from the tiny bit I’ve shared on this blog, I know I’m not alone in the journey. So please, if you can relate to any of this post, comment or message me. I think part of our healing necessitates us to reach out to others in similar spots.