As I write this down, I’m lying next to my sleeping daughter. She asked that we listen to “Jesus music” so she could sleep. She dozed off over an hour ago, but I am still lying awake listening to a playlist of poignant, beautiful worship music. As I listen to it, I try to block out the words, but tears run down my face.
I haven’t been active in church in over a decade. It’s not that I don’t consider myself a believer; I pray daily, and I seek guidance from scripture often. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He is always with me, loving me and guiding me.
But I can barely stomach walking into a church.
God-fearing Christians all agree that the state of our nation and society is a result of the people turning away from God. I cannot say I don’t agree. The violence, anger, and pure evil present in our country is evident. If you don’t believe me, turn on the news. We are truly a lost people.
But whose fault is that, exactly?
I look back on my childhood. I was raised in church; I chose to become a baptized believer at just seven years old. I had a firm foundation of knowing God and who He is. We attended a smaller, country church as a family. My parents were and are still faithfully married, abstained from drinking or smoking, and were in church every time the doors opened.
Fast forward to middle school. I threw myself into academics and cheerleading. I felt like this was the best way to be the picture of a “good girl”.
I began a relationship that continued on to high school with a football/basketball/baseball player. This proved to be the first in a series of toxic romantic relationships. By 14 years old, I had already experienced mental and emotional abuse as well as physical and sexual abuse at the hands of a romantic partner. I was afraid of him, but equally afraid of losing him. He often threatened suicide if I tried to end things but became violently angry if I hesitated to meet his “needs”. He bruised my body as well as my soul.
When my parents intervened and he eventually tired of me and moved on, I began a healthy dating relationship with my best friend, a boy I had been friends with for years. A few months into dating, he informed me that his parents were having doubts about me. You see, his family belonged to one of the more prominent churches in our small town. One of their leaders had “heard about” me and that I was “bad news” and didn’t think I would be a good influence on him. They called a meeting with my friend and his parents to discuss his decision to date me. We ended things shortly after.
This was the first time I experienced trauma from a religious institution, and it bruised me deeper than the abuse I had previously suffered ever did.
My junior year I was the lead in the school musical. Some boys in my class, who made their distaste for me very obvious, made a video for a class project. It was Western Civ, and the subject was Hitler’s assassination attempts. In this video, one of the boys dressed as my character and tried to “annoy Hitler to death”. For about ten minutes I was ridiculed and then, Hitler’s bodyguard pulled out a handgun and shot my character in the back of the head, execution style.
Several of these boys were from “nice families”, active in church. In fact, the boy who pulled the trigger was one of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes officers at our school and regularly spoke and prayed at sports events.
It was somewhere during that time that I lost faith in the church. Not in God, but in those who called themselves His followers.
This was also the first time I thought seriously about ending my life.
Gandhi said “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
I have felt this at the bottom of my heart. I have met many GOOD people who attend church and embody the spirit of love and mercy that Jesus spoke of during his 33 years on Earth. However, I have experienced so much trauma at the hands of those who call themselves devout Christians that I tend to look at these people as the exception, not the rule.
I am fortunate for my strong upbringing and my parents’ example that I didn’t just give up on God altogether. I know with every fiber of my being that God exists, that He loves me, and He is with me. I commune with God in the woods or on the river. I feel Him when I am overwhelmed, and I draw strength from Him to go on. I feel His peace when I pray, and I see him when I look into my children’s eyes.
When I go to church, I feel nervous, guarded, and fearful. I look around and see people ready to judge and condemn me. I realize this may not be a rational fear, but my past has left me scarred and jaded.
If you want to know why the world has turned from God, look at how the church treats “outsiders”. People who have made public mistakes, people who may look different than them, or people with lifestyles or political beliefs they don’t agree with.
I listen to the beautiful, powerful music playing as my daughter sleeps. I want her to know Jesus as I did as a child; I want her to have the same foundation I did.
And I admit to myself, deep down I crave fellowship, to feel God’s presence in a crowd of believers raising their hands and praising Him.
Maybe one day, I can overcome my painful past and find somewhere I belong.
If the church wants to make meaningful change in the world, they need to look within their own institutions and the people representing Christianity.
Because like Gandhi said, sometimes the Christians are so unlike their Christ.
Submitted by: Anonymously
Thank you so much for being brave and sharing your story. I understand that this can sometimes be a touchy subject to speak about, but I do think that this is something that a lot of Christians struggle with...finding a warm and welcoming church especially if you are new to the particular area, not in certain groups or cliques, different in general, etc. I am a Christian and am very open about that, but like the writer here, I have not been to church in 25 years because of some of those same feelings and experiences they touched on. Some of the most unwelcoming, unfriendly and judgmental people I have ever met were within the 4 walls of a church. It's very sad to say but it is true. I pray that one day we both find somewhere to worship that is a perfect fit.
Love and lemons,