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Desert Days: Part Two

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Runaway Protestant

 

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If you missed the beginning of the Runaway Protestant series, you can catch up here.

A weight was lifted from me. The burden of church attendance was tossed somewhere along the highway of pain. It felt good.

Sunday mornings belonged to me once again, and not to Dread or Panic or Shame. I didn’t have any grand plans for how I would spend my time during the now empty mornings. My body needed to rest and my soul needed peace; so I fumbled through my own way of cultivating it.  Here’s what Sunday mornings now looked like for me:

*Wake up.

*Lounge in bed.

*Process my new life. I was without a spouse, and without the future I had imagined.

*Wish death upon my perpetrator.

*Go back to sleep.

There you have it. That was a typical Sunday morning for me.

I could never really explain to people why I stopped going to church, at least not in a way that made much sense. A few exchanges, when I attempted to give an explanation, sounded like this:

“Why aren’t you going to church?”

“I don’t feel safe. I can’t go back to Imago Dei. It holds too many memories. My anxiety becomes unbearable.”

“Why don’t you try a new church?”

“I don’t want to. All I feel like I can do right now is focus on surviving.”

“Church is a wonderful place to meet new people. Maybe you’ll find a good supportive community, a better community than your last one.”

I met my husband at a Bible study; we went to the same church before we even started dating. He was a lying, cheating, narcissistic *%^#. Sorry, but I’m a little scared of Christian communities.”

“What happened to you is highly unlikely to happen again. You can’t dump the whole body of Christ just because of one evil person.”

“I know. You’re right. Good people do exist and so do good churches. I’m just not brave enough to go exploring right now.”

And so the questions came and went. I knew that my reasons for not going to church would seem irrational to some. I didn’t care. I had to protect myself. One way I could exercise protection was by removing church attendance from my life; all it did was surface every violation I had experienced.

Then, the day came when I started dating someone. He attended church. I shared with my new boyfriend why I hadn’t been going to church, but said I would be willing to consider attending church at some point in the future. He appeared to understand, but his empathy for me lasted a very short time. A few weeks later he asserted that if I wouldn’t go to church with him then he didn’t see this relationship moving any further.

I had a total meltdown. I was angry that my boyfriend would expect this of me, and I was angry at my ex-husband for the role he played in my fear of the church. I was going to have to give in and explore going to services if I wanted to keep this new relationship. Or I could tell him I wouldn’t go, and the relationship would end.

I was in a quandary. Maybe I was being too stubborn. Was it possible that it was time for me to burst out of my comfort zone and try to go back to church? I reluctantly agreed to go after many tears and a couple restless nights.

Sunday came. I met my boyfriend at his apartment and we went to visit Solid Rock at their Beaverton location. My stomach was in knots as we pulled into the parking lot. “Thanks for coming to church with me. I know it isn’t easy for you, but it means a lot to me,” my boyfriend squeezed my hand.

Once inside, I tried to cover my anxiety. I let the faces pass by me in a blur. I didn’t want to register anything that was going on around me. I retreated into myself, and found a protective shell to hide under. Tears burned as I willed them not to fall down my face throughout the entire service.

There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with the service itself. Or maybe there was. I couldn’t tell you much about Solid Rock. I wasn’t focused on the worship, the sermon, or the way they served communion. I was concentrated on staying in my seat and not running out the door.

You see, Solid Rock had indirect ties to my first husband. Prior to planting Sold Rock, the pastor, John Mark Comer, had served in another church. The other church just so happened to be the one that my ex-husband went to as a teenager. Thus, this church service was loaded with triggers for me.

Looking back now, I never should have gone. I wasn’t ready to visit a church, and I especially wasn’t prepared to walk into a congregation with such close ties to my ex-husband’s church history. I should have let my boyfriend break up with me for not going to church with him. He ended up breaking up with me a month later anyway.

I went back to my original Sunday morning routine.

*Wake up.

*Lounge in bed.

*Process my new life. I was without a spouse, and without the future I had imagined.

*Wish death upon my perpetrator.

*Go back to sleep.

Although, I did add one more thing to my routine; I began to ask God if I would ever feel safe in a corporate worship setting again.

I really questioned him. “God, will I ever be able to go to church again? If you desire people to meet as a community, if you want me to go to church then you must fix something. Either you need to fix me or you need to fix the church. I feel like I don’t belong anywhere.”

I tried a couple churches throughout the next several years. I tried each one exactly once.

In 2010 I remarried, and my new husband attended a Baptist church. I thought I would be able to go to church with him, but I quickly discovered that I couldn’t go to church with him either.

It was a welcoming church, but I was still uncomfortable.  I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I was with a safe man, joined by other Christians that appeared genuine and passionate about Christ. Why did I still panic? Why was I uneasy the whole time I was there? I could not even think about going unless I took anti-anxiety medication first, but even that didn’t help. My husband saw my angst. He couldn’t understand it, but his love for me was greater than his desire for us to go to church together. I stopped going to the Baptist church.

My desert days had persisted for over four years. One Sunday morning, while I was reflecting over my issues with church once again, I heard something for the first time. I heard church bells. It wasn’t the first time they rang out across my neighborhood, but it was the first time I heard them. I closed my eyes and experienced a holy moment. Something beautiful was beginning to stir within my spirit.

Runaway Protestant series will continue next Wednesday with “Home“.

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  • Nancy Davis

    I call them God moments, the grace that directs our paths.

  • Heather McClish

    Hearing about your anxiety with churches is comforting. I cannot go to church with my family for this exact reason.