Update: This post is one of the most read on the blog, I think because it hits such a nerve with so many people. I’ve received so many comments from people who have had similar experiences, for all kinds of different reasons.
It wasn’t difficult for me to write this post because my feelings were incredibly raw at the time. Publishing it, however, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Talk about writing naked!!
Since I wrote this, my family has changed churches and attending worship has become much less stressful for me as a result.
If you’re feeling discouraged right now by your church experience, I hope this post will at least remind you that someone else has been there, too. And that there is hope. Even if you feel that a congregation of worshippers has abandoned you, the LORD has not left your side. Be encouraged, dear one.
When You Don’t Feel Like Going to Church Anymore
I don’t feel like going to church right now.
That’s about the most unlikely sentence I can even imagine for a girl like me.
I love church. I’ve always loved church.
With few exceptions, I’m always at church. . . every Sunday. . . for most of my almost 45 years.
But now, right now, at this time in my life, I have to confess:
I don’t want to be there.
It all started so slowly. . . like a frog in a pot of tepid water. Happy to be right where I was, thank you very much.
But unlike the frog, I noticed the rising temperature. Slowly but surely, the heat increased. And now I’m flailing, struggling like crazy to jump out of the boiling water and get the heck out of dodge.
The body doesn’t lie.
- It gave me a clue when I was afraid to walk into the building.
- When I started having panic attacks as we pulled into the parking lot, I began to sense something was terribly wrong.
- When inhaling and exhaling became like pushing a piano up a steep hill, when I lay in bed at night unable to release the tension in my shoulders, when I chewed my fingernails to nubs — I knew all was not as it should be.
I had to quit the praise team. There is no singing for me there. It breaks my heart, but the sound refuses to come out. My vocal cords are quite literally paralyzed, and my lungs simply won’t fill with air, no matter how many tricks I try.
I squeak by on shallow breaths, enough to live, but not enough to sing.
The last couple of years have been a painful, transitional time in my life. Not the most painful I’ve experienced, not by a long shot. But difficult and trying nonetheless.
So many fellow church members have supported us, helped us, loved us, through heartache and struggle, joy and celebration–throughout our years there as a married couple and a new family.
But now it’s different. Hollow somehow.
It hurts, like a tender purple bruise that keeps getting bumped over and over again.
Maybe I’m expecting too much. I try telling myself this is just how it is.
Everybody says, “How are you today?” and “Just fine, thanks,” and “God bless you,” and “I’ll be praying for you.” Me included. This is the way church works, right? Treading our legs to keep our heads above water so we never have to dip below the surface.
And yet something deep inside me knows that’s not how it’s supposed to be.
God is healing me and He is up to something big and I’m not quite sure what it is yet. I so desperately long to be a part of a community that shares and loves and builds up, and church was that for me. But right now, church feels like a settling place of complacency. A worn out, creaky, lopsided recliner that’s seen better days. A place where the unspoken policy is “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Unless, of course, your neighbor’s best friend’s great uncle is having gall bladder surgery this week, so we definitely need to add that to our prayer list.
I’m not trying to make light of anyone’s prayer concerns. But in the midst of the welcome and the songs and the hospital lists and the powerpoint and the three-point sermon, I feel like standing up and screaming at the top of my lungs.
I want to wave my arms frantically and yell, “I’m over here!! I’m hurting!! Please help me! Please hear me! Please show that I matter and that you want me! Please! Notice me! Love me! I need you!”
Cue the crickets.
One dear friend who is reading my blog and helping my little boy all at the same time emails me regularly with encouraging thoughts. I love her. She is a mentor, a mother-figure to me and a lifelong friend.
There are others like her, scattered among the worshippers there. I search them out in desperation.
But the taste in my mouth as I leave each week is not sweet like honey. It’s more like something sour that I can’t quite name. Like some medicine that’s been dropped into a thick, sweet syrup in an effort to disguise the bitterness.
I used to leave there feeling grateful and fulfilled. Content with worship.
Now I leave with a sigh of relief because I can breathe again when I exit the building.
I can’t pretend to be who I feel like I’m supposed to be while I’m there. I can’t be all churchy and say all the right things anymore. Is it middle age, or is it the Spirit changing me? I honestly don’t know what to make of all of it.
And the hardest part? Church is not, for me or for my family, an optional activity. We will go to church.
How do I reconcile this nagging awareness in my soul, this persistent catching of my breath? My heart reminds me that God makes a way in the wilderness, but this desert stretches dry and barren before me and there seems to be no end in sight.
In confusion I stumble. I don’t want to be in this place. And yet He has never been closer.
I have decided to follow Jesus. Even through the vast wilderness. When the cloud moves, I will move.
What about you? Any wilderness experiences lately? Ever felt the same way at church? Any advice or suggestions for this church-girl who’s going through a slump? How should I go about getting my church groove back? Let me know in the comments.