‘We Church’ to ‘Me Church’

I grew up in the Church. It was integral to who I was. It was my family. It defined my identify. It was a powerful influence, my moral development, social opportunities, entertainment, and an invitation to regular fellowship.

Church had been my routine and security. A part of my family history and traditions. Somewhere I belonged. A place where others depended on me. A way to love others. A solidifying of my status in the Christian community. A place to connect with others and restore my spiritual focus.

Until my marriage ended. Then I didn’t really fit in, and church became complicated.

Throughout the betrayals within my congregation and my subsequent divorce, singleness and isolation, I clung to my church attendance quite literally like a piece of floating driftwood from a sinking ship. The organisation that had kept me nurtured and safe my entire life, became an unknowing participant in my prolonged suffering.

Regardless of how much my body shook from the traumas I’d encountered, I still marched through the church doors, week to week.

Regardless of how hard it was to keep the tears from rolling down my cheeks during worship, I returned dutifully to ‘my’ seat in the pews and sang while gulping down the lump in my throat.

Regardless of the pain of mingling with people who were probably talking about my scandalous life events, I still socialised with them to fend off some of the loneliness.

Regardless of the isolation I felt after sharing my prayer needs with leaders who found my circumstances awkward, I still made myself vulnerable and left feeling embarrassed.

Regardless of the exhaustion of working full time, caring for children and pursuing divorce proceedings, I continued to serve so that I did not have to admit my limitations.

Regardless of the ignorant one-liners that reopened my wounds, such as ‘God hates divorce’, ‘you’ll find someone else’, ‘God will prosper you’, ‘things could be worse’…I allowed my ears continued exposure.

Regardless of the devastation of not feeling heard or important, when I addressed the messages that had threatened my wellbeing, I kept advocating, and became further estranged.

It was pure stubbornness that kept me hostage to my church habit, despite how at times, extremely detrimental it was.

Then I underwent a season of rest, reflection, and re-construction.

I first gave myself permission to acknowledge that church had been hard. That many times I did not like it. That it was okay not to go if I was not up to it.

Then I discovered something…new.

I took a break from ‘We Church’ and found ‘Me Church’.

‘Me Church’ was just me and Jesus.

At ‘Me Church’, I could come as I was. Slippers, dressing gown, messy hair and all. It had amazing worship. Personal playlists, set on repeat. There were cups of tea and flexible start and end times. ‘Me Church’ had various campuses, in a range of indoor and outdoor venues. I could sing my heart out in joy, or sit silently in tears.

‘Me Church’ did not require interaction with other flawed, sinful humans, which at that point in my life, was just too risky. There was silence, reflection, time for thinking, and staring out at God’s amazing creation. There could be bible reading, YouTube sermons or podcast discussions…or no teaching at all. There was space for a private conversation with God, including how let down I felt by life in general, or how beautiful the sunshine was.

After ‘Me Church’ there was opportunity to bless others, whether that was checking in and calling a friend, doing a nice deed for the family, or preparing for the working week ahead so I was better able to bless others in the community with my gifts. ‘Me Church’ was not concerned with the denomination I followed, whether I had spiritual gifts, the evangelical celebrities I ascribed to, or my stance on moral and political agendas. There was no power hierarchy, shame, guilt trips or abuse.

At ‘Me Church’, you could share your personal testimony, even if it didn’t have a happy ending…or any kind of resolution at all.

There were no expectations and no awkwardness. It was safe and it was healing. It was genuine and it was real. Despite my imperfect, single, state, at ‘Me Church’, I fit in, and I belonged.

I could be a member for as long as I wanted to. I could leave when I was ready. I would be welcomed when I returned.

If ‘We Church’ has been a complicated place for you too, let go of it for a while, and try ‘Me Church’ out for a season as well.

Even if no one else is there, Jesus certainly will be.

Photo by Audrey Badin from Pexels

When your personal life requires a quarantine lock down

Yesterday I went to my local shopping centre to grab some groceries. This would normally be classified as nothing out of the ordinary, however amid the new social distancing, isolation and COVID-19 requirements, it was anything but that.

The vibe was different. I felt slightly anxious. My senses were over functioning, making mental note of every surface I was touching…the shop looks and feels different…where IS the toilet paper isle now, who is around me…am I too close to that person…do they have the virus…could I have the virus…who can I trust…don’t give eye contact…where is my hand sanitizer…what’s in the air I’m breathing! Get me outta here and back home!

I reflected on this on my drive home and couldn’t help but initially be amused at my overreaction, and then it dawned on me. I have been here before!

Following a season of relationship breakdowns in my life, venturing out to do a grocery shop has at times been a similar, if not more traumatic experience than what I had just felt. The anxiety of having contact with people, constantly being wary of who was there, who could be there, what people thought of me, how I was going to present myself and ensure my emotional safety; meant that doing daily tasks such as grocery shopping, was torture. It would not be uncommon for me to return to the car with my shopping bags, as well as a complimentary dose of body shakes.

Betrayal and rejection have a knack of getting under people’s skin, causing them to question every aspect of their life, just like living in a pandemic. Victims over-analyse every interaction, trying to deem whether they are trustworthy and safe. They’ve often seen the best in others, given them the benefit of the doubt, missed red flags, and they do not want to end up there again. They construct an imaginary crown of shame that adorns their heads wherever they go and whatever they do. In these circumstances one method of dealing with this is to quarantine people out of their lives until it is safe enough to venture into the realm of relationships again.

For me, I describe these times as ‘going into my fortress’ where I miminise contact with others, stay home, drink cups of tea, stare out the window for hours at a time and process events. Here I am safe from threats to my well being and I can practice self-care. I make decisions about things I can control, even if they are as little as not checking emails for a certain time or responding in my normal, ‘people pleasing’ manner. I wear my sparkly slippers and play worship music. In these times it is just God and I. God will not betray or reject me, instead he builds me up, tear by tear, worry by worry, weakness by weakness.

Over the years my need for ‘quarantine time’ has reduced. I am now strong enough to recreate that experience mentally when I am not physically at home. I have restructured many of my personal relationships so that the fortress is not needed as often. My social circles are smaller, but more enriching as I learn to draw more on my faith for my needs, than people themselves.

The social distancing requirements we are all facing right now replicate much of the above. We must put actions in place that minimise threats to our safety, we must build our own fortresses and change our lifestyle in to get us through. We can focus on the little things such as hand washing and coughing into our elbows, to make us feel somewhat in control of the uncontrollable. However at the end of the day, we will all need to dig deeper on a personal level to get our needs met, and perhaps this is the time to rely less on people and the busyness of life, and more on our Almighty Saviour God who understands our suffering and uncertainty. He will sit with us in it. He will care for us. He will provide us with the comfort that no matter what happens, if we love Him, we will be saved. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (NLT).

Although quarantining ourselves over the coming months is not exactly an exciting prospect, can I ask you to spare a thought (or a text or phone call) for those have been isolated due to circumstances in their personal relationships too, and to use this as a valuable time to reconnect yourself with God who is the ultimate companion and support.

Photo by Tatyana Nekrasova