I’ve been quiet on here, even though I have had plenty of ideas for posts during those wee hours of the morning where I safely vent my feelings out loud. That’s where this post came from, and since it’s late night here and I can’t sleep, I figured I might as well share what I just talked about.
You see, I’ve always talked in the privacy of my own room, ever since I can remember. I was an only child l, and so I had plenty of quiet space to rehearse conversations, have difficult confrontations, or even make-believe slam somebody with a comeback I wish I’d thought of hours before. But I always got super embarrassed if I was caught doing it, since who talks like that to themselves when alone, right? But as I’ve grown up, I have come to understand that who I’m talking to isn’t myself or even other people…it’s God. Everything I’ve ever said in that room, or anywhere I’ve been alone, He has heard, and listened. And tonight, unlike most nights, I finally paid attention to His urging to type these thoughts out.
I’ve been dealing with a lot of fear, guilt, and shame about a life choice I made recently, a choice which I made for my own sanity but which has hurt people I love and certainly never meant to harm. I stopped going to church around the time I was recovering from surgery in July, and pretty much haven’t been back since, despite trying a couple times. My heart is not in it anymore, and if I’m honest with myself, worship in a public space has never been my cup of tea.
I know I’m supposedly running a positivity blog and I’m Christian, so of course I’m supposed to just ADORE church, right? Why wouldn’t I love singing about God, studying His Word, going on missions, serving others in a church group, just being in a body of believers on Sunday? Why am I “forsaking the gathering together of believers”?
Well…it feels fake to me, and it always has. Worship has always felt like an interminably long performance, done for the pleasure and comfort of humans rather than anything to do with God. It’s not even the fault of the church I was going to…I’ve felt this way since I was tiny, about every church I’ve ever attended. And because of this feeling that this is all for show, worship services have always been intensely uncomfortable and even painful to endure. Understanding that I’m likely ADHD is part of the puzzle, because long speeches about anything are like nails on a chalkboard to me, but there was something else driving me away from organized worship, something more forceful, something that felt too strong to fight anymore.
Out of this confusion, in early September I posted an ill-advised quasi-rant on Facebook about it. Even though I thought I restricted its audience, word got around, and that’s where I caused hurt. I’ve been heartsick ever since I found out about it…but I’m not heartsick over getting out of a situation that was frankly driving me insane. I finally understand, after a lot of pondering, at least part what is going on inside me.
See, God has been slowly opening my eyes to the fake, empty, shallow, people-pleasing existence I was leading before Mom’s death in 2017. I had been at my church for nearly a decade, involving myself in everything I could possibly do, living as cleanly as I could, keeping perfect attendance every Sunday (and judging others who missed, not gonna lie). And yet…it wasn’t enough. Though I thought I put down roots and made friends, I was not living as myself when I was at church. I wore a pretty mask–the false persona of a “good little church girl” who didn’t curse, didn’t involve herself in her old “fallen” habits, and was a shining example for others, lending a voice to the choir and a helping hand wherever. Why? Because I got with my now-fiancé. I loved him and I wanted to belong where he belonged. Almost ten years ago when I made this choice, I thought, “Maybe this church family thing is what I’ve been missing! Maybe this is where I’ll find contentment, if I just do enough.”
And for eight years, I convinced myself it was enough–all the gag-inducing praise songs, all the boring sermons, all the missions work that felt more like I was part of a multi level marketing scheme. I worked hard at all of it, desperately trying to like it, desperately trying to fit in. Then things began to fall apart for me, as we endured severe church disagreements and the loss of a couple of pastors…yet I still kept on, doing the same things I’d been doing and hoping for a different result. Insanity, as I said.
After Mom’s death, though, I began to heal from the grief and trauma of her last months, and eventually I knew I didn’t have unlimited time to live trapped like she had been. She had been trapped by her psychological trauma and physical ailments; I was trapped by (among other things) the need to please others to prove I was lovable.
Over the course of 2017, I began to tear away the false people-pleasing personas I had built in other areas of my life…but even as late as the summer of 2018, I was still trapped when it came to church. This was the last bastion of people-pleasing fear, guilt, and shame, with Satan assaulting me every time I went through the church doors. Thoughts snarled in my head constantly: “if they really knew who you were they would HATE YOU,” and “you don’t DESERVE to be real with them because the real you isn’t worth knowing or saving.”
But I didn’t stop going to church because of these thoughts’ messages to me. I stopped going because going there was FEEDING these thoughts and making them worse. As long as I was around other people of faith, I was constantly going to be comparing myself to them, terrified of failing them, and performing for them. That people-pleasing instinct was so strong that it was never going to stop. I was never going to be free until I broke the cycle.
So I did. I just walked away from everything at church, and sought solace at home while I figured things out. Part of me still can’t believe I even did it. Part of me feels like I just took off shoes that were three sizes too small. And part of me feels like I’m driving too close to a cliff edge. I long for the comfort of a church family again, but I am trying to break my addiction to people-pleasing and so I can’t go back. It’d be like an alcoholic going back to a bar.
I am finally learning that I can refuse this fear, this guilt, this shame over not doing what other people want me to, because I’m no longer a child that has to obey for fear of punishment. I’m an adult and can choose what I do with my Sunday mornings, even if it doesn’t look like traditional worship when I’m staying in my pajamas and playing only the music God has blessed me to create. I can also choose to approach God on Mondays, Thursdays, or even late nights in my bedroom when I can’t sleep. Somehow, in these dark hours when I’m nearly shouting at the empty room, I feel God closer than ever. Maybe, in this newfound solitude, I am closer to understanding what worship means to me than I ever have been.