“It isn’t necessary that we stay in church in order to remain in God’s presence. We can make our hearts personal chapels where we can enter anytime to talk to God privately. These conversations can be so loving and gentle, and anyone can have them”
You Don’t Have to Go to Church
I suppose I had expectations when I joined Church. I came to Christ late in life in my mid-50s. I wanted to be mentored, discipled. I chose to be baptized in my first church, living in an unfamiliar town where I had taken a teaching job at a Catholic school. I was excited about the prospect of learning, of soaking up God the Father, Jesus and the Spirit. Six months after my restoration I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At my own Church, I found judgment and “don’ts.”
When our pastor confessed to a pornography addiction, I felt lost. I found no comfort at my Church for my feelings of loss or for my illness, but my school prayed for me weekly, and the parents gathered together and cooked for me during chemo treatments; the cleaning lady there came and cleaned my home. The teachers came to collect my laundry, and they held a fundraising dinner to cover my insurance deductibles.
That was church to me.
A year later, I was laid off. I moved back to familiar digs and got another teaching job where I was required to attend the Church that ran the school in which I taught. Three months after I started, they cut our salaries and health benefits; three months after that, the pastor shot himself because he was caught embezzling funds. Three months after that, I left due to severe health complications of my chemo treatments.
I did try church again, and thought, “Third time’s the charm.” I felt included and settled…for a while. I made friends and was even tapped by the women’s ministry director to lead small group Bible studies for about three years.
And then it happened.
I desperately needed help.
Finally, after praying for more than three years, I was accepted into affordable senior housing. I’m single and needed many hands to move into the apartment – the desired haven – I’d asked God for. Well, I received that help gratefully from this church. I was in my wonderful retreat that allowed me solitude and a place to quietly be with God every day.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out from their distress;
made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
(Psalm 107:28-30, NRSV)
Suddenly, I began to hear messages that my former “mentor,” this director of women’s ministry, was unhappy with me. She felt I wasn’t showing enough gratitude, I wasn’t paying back what was ‘owed.” I couldn’t believe my ears, so I had her over for lunch one day to discuss what must have been a mistake in communication. But sure enough, she spoke to me in exhortation, letting me know how much I was a disappointment.
I began to reflect back on the Catholic school where I’d taught so many years before, and how the teachers and the mothers there expected nothing in return, how they reflected Jesus in their words and actions.
And I left this final Church for good.
Now, my church is the people in my community; it is my neighbors, and the people I meet online in my blog and in the uplifting blogs they write. It is the folks willing to open their hearts and minds who don’t judge or moralize, but show Christ’s unconditional love and invitation in their talk and walk. My church is people I meet at the store or at my doctor appointments. And it is in my own home where I have a relationship with God, and I talk with him anytime I want.
Susan Irene Fox is a Jesus Follower, Peacemaker, and Unfinished Human. She says, “I call myself a follower of Jesus because Christian has too many negative connotations; I do my best to be a peacemaker as Jesus defined it in his Sermon on the Mount. I am unfinished until He completes me after I see Him face to face, and I look forward to that day.” Connect on Twitter @susanirenefox
This post is part of the #ConfessYourChurchMess series. For more on this series, or to submit your own story, check out this post (just click here). You can also email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org today!