It’s almost a taboo subject for Christians it seems. There, in the unspoken rulebook, you’re not supposed to acknowledge if a church caused you pain. It might make them look bad. But the truth of the matter is, sometimes, the place that’s supposed to be a safe haven becomes anything but. At least, that was my experience… and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.
When I first joined this church, it was pretty similar to all the other ones. Wasn’t small but wasn’t massive, good youth group, and we knew a few people there, so that’s where my family would stay. But I never fit in with the “it” group of girls. I’d attend all the youth events, go to all the camps and all the bible studies. But it never really felt like home.
You make your friends, sit by them always, and never break out of your bubble. It becomes routine. I could walk down the hallways and always see someone I knew. That was a nice feeling for a while, until I found myself faking a smile through the robotic greeting every week.
It was always the same conversation: “Hey, how are you?” “I’m good. How are you?” Every. Single. Week. The problem was, I wasn’t good. Everything wasn’t dandy. But no one actually wanted to know that.
I eventually got tired of putting on my Sunday best. Began to see behind the curtain. How putting on your Sunday best was the way you showed everyone your life was together. It was a mask, an act, and I began to stumble through the script.
The church was created to be place of community and growth for believers. It’s a place where you hold each other accountable. A safe haven from the problems this world throws at you. It’s a place where you can come absolutely broken, free of judgment, full of grace.
But what happens when your church becomes a place of pain? Crowded hallways feel lonely, youth events become something to dread, and you feel like you’ll throw up if one more person asks you how you’re doing but don’t really feel they care. That was my Sunday for almost a decade.
Going away to college, I avoided the church my freshman year. It had caused too much pain. I was tired of silently suffocating. So I ran from it, desperately wanting that community but not knowing where to find it. It wasn’t until midway through my sophomore year that I stumbled upon a church that was completely alien to me.
This was a place where Sunday best wasn’t required; they wanted you to come as you were. It was a place where your rough week was a welcomed topic; they wanted to hear your truth. A place where grabbing coffee with your pastor wouldn’t shock an elder to their grave. They wanted to have community with you wherever you felt comfortable.
I had spent ten years learning what not to do. Don’t drink, don’t have sex, don’t lie, don’t party, don’t, don’t, don’t. Maybe that’s why I was so star-struck when I found a church that started with grace. I found myself drowned in it. That was the first time I could breathe in years.
Looking at the church, the Bible is clear on what it should be. A place of community:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. – Matthew 18:20
This place of community though is made up of imperfect people. And imperfect people will undoubtedly stumble. As an imperfect person myself, I know that I have caused people pain as well.
This isn’t a hate letter or one condemning that church, but rather, a hope that they’ll lay down their masks. Not everyone at that church wears them, and there are plenty that showed kindness, love, and grace. But it’s easy to fall into the routine, trying to check all the boxes each week so you can say you did good.
That’s where the problems begin though. Trying to do it yourself will always bring you to failure. But relying on God, and leaning on fellow believers to hold you accountable and remind you of God’s grace… that’s where you’ll find strength.