I was born and raised in the Bible Belt, and I have lived most of my adult life here, yet I haven’t consistently attended church in nearly 20 years. My southern-bred family has not been very subtle about the fact that they are disappointed and embarrassed. After all, we have been well known and respected Christians throughout our community and church conference for over 50 years.
From time to time, I venture out to another church home to support one of my older sisters. I’m always amused when people gather around me to finally meet the allusive “baby sister” that they assume lives out of town. When I inform them that I’m a local, a blank stare usually follows. It tickles me every time. You see, folks can’t imagine that such a “church-rooted” family could have a wayward black sheep like me.
The truth is, I’m not all that rebellious. I just don’t do church.
I see you raising your well waxed eyebrows at me, but before you start condemning me to eternal damnation, please let me say a few things: First off, I’m not angry with God. In fact, my relationship with Him has never been stronger. I don’t even have a problem with the institution of church itself; it’s primarily the people at church that have always given me the Georgia Blues. That, coupled with the fact that I’ve never truly found healing in church environments, has led me to seek a relationship with God in other ways.
I suppose I should slingshot back a few years to give you some background here. Initially when I distanced myself from church, it was because I had been plagued by emotional duress and other mistreatment by people affiliated with “the church.” It didn’t matter what city I lived in or what denomination of church I attended, it always ended the same way—with me heartbroken and disappointed by members of the congregation. But as my spiritual intelligence evolved, I came to understand that there are broken, damaged people everywhere – especially in the church. The people became less of a factor, but the damage lingered.
Eventually, what I came to understand was that I was in immense emotional pain, and I had no idea how to even begin to heal myself. I just knew that going to church didn’t seem to make the pain any less. I had survived a series of catastrophic events, and although I was physically in tact, my spirit and emotions were damaged.
I found my path to healing in the office of a grief counselor. The effects of counseling were not only emotionally restorative, but the experience also opened my spirit to allow God to guide me once again. That was more than 10 years ago and my connection to Him is now stronger than ever.
Yet and still, when I try to explain to my family that I connect more clearly with Christ outside the church, they still counter with snide remarks. When I refer to the Emotional Nudity lifestyle as my “ministry” they take to spewing scriptures at me. And when I tell them the people of the church offer too many distractions for me, they tell me to focus on God. What they seem to miss is the fact that I’m already doing that.
I struggle with the idea that so many people think that a lack of church attendance equals a lack of God. And while I’m pretty positive that my family won’t be happy until I’m crowding the front pew, this is one of those times when I have to carve out my own path to authentic joy and focus less on what is popular and more on what’s right for me.