Going to church makes me nervous. There. I admit it. It’s a thing—something I didn’t actually realize until just recently when we switched churches. Our family is now officially in what I call church transition, and it’s highly uncomfortable—for me at least. It’s amazing how sitting with a bunch of new people every Sunday in a new location translates into an inherent amount of reshuffling in our family’s life. It’s also socially vulnerable and awkward.
The kids have been troopers. Pretty much. But it’s all still so new: new people, new leadership, new youth group for the kids, new church routine and flow.
Change is hard. Period.
Church change is even harder. Double period—especially with my previous church issues.
Our three-year season of attending a mega church just ended, but it certainly had its perks of anonymity. These anonymous perks became a much-needed sanctuary for me as I healed from previous church pain. A forty-minute drive plus thousands of people in one building translated into a covert and community-disconnected church experience for us. It was JUST what I needed. I needed a place to go where I could be a bump on a log. I needed to just receive and heal and worship.
And so I did.
I came. I worshipped. I learned. I left.
I did miss the community involvement a little bit. I only knew a handful of people at our mega church. I missed connecting spiritually with others. But the previous church arrows were still lodged deeply in my back and I needed to work them out.
So I took time off from talking to new people during my mega church time—aside from the 30-second, initial meet-and-greets. It felt too fake. It felt too vulnerable. It seemed to take an exorbitant amount of energy to try and connect any more than that with a bunch of people I wouldn’t see again.
I was just tired of the social game. Tired of playing church. Tired of performance Christianity. And until I could just be real and be myself again around people, I didn’t want to do it anymore.
So I didn’t.
I reconnected with God alone instead. I recalibrated spiritually at home and in nature. I went through a long period of detoxing from toxic Christianity. No more additives or fillers. I wanted the real deal. I wanted a holistic God experience that wasn’t saturated with man’s tradition, interpretation, judgment, manipulation, or easy formulas.
Taking a break from the church community thing was hugely healing. I spent that time untangling from my traumatic church experiences instead.
I asked God and myself a lot of questions during that time. What part of my church experience was really God? What part was tradition? What painful experiences were just man’s control issues playing out under God’s name?
Finding God was the easier part of my journey. Detangling from my past was harder. I spent hours soul-searching, as God helped me unravel issues from both my childhood and my adult church experiences.
I realized a childhood full of helicopter and drill-sergeant parenting had predisposed me to accept controlling and punitive modalities of spiritual leadership. I found that the care-taking coping strategy which had served me well in childhood had actually turned into codependent enabling of family and friends as an adult, along with an inability to say no or have boundaries. I was an easy target for people with manipulative or judgmental tendencies.
I experienced enough connect-the-dots epiphanies during this church respite and received sufficient healing that I thought I might be ready to give the community experience another shot. I knew going into it that no church would be perfect. No community of imperfect people was going to have it all together.
I knew that each individual in that community would have their own redemptive story currently in the making, and that social interactions would sometimes just be awkward. But I had gained a lot of compassion and understanding for my own heart and the quirky coping mechanisms and elaborate fig leaves it often hides behind, so I was willing to chance it.
Embarking again onto a smaller church community is a vulnerable, risky thing for me. I’m no longer hidden among the masses. It’s an act of faith. It’s me following God’s recent clues of where to go. And it feels new and uncomfortable. Nobody really knows me, even though I’m surrounded by a ton of acquaintances. It doesn’t feel like home yet. And I’m having to learn all the new church ropes…again. It’s awkward.
Changing the familiar is a really hard thing to do.
But isn’t it ironic how it’s in those very same socially-awkward, vulnerable, and new places that God shows up? I know He has my back this time. I didn’t truly believe that before in my past church experiences. I’m no longer trying to prove my value to anybody. I’m not trying to defend my reputation. I’m no longer saying yes to every request or putting on shoes of performance Christianity in order to gain the approval of God or man. I know my identity now. I know my calling. I feel stronger in my spiritual core.
So yah, I’m attending church again. But it’s with a new mindset now. I’m choosing to embrace the awkwardness of community once again, because I know God’s design is for us to be in community with one another. But I’m not looking to them to meet my needs. This time around, I know where my help comes from.
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).
“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another….” (Hebrews 10:24-25).