It’s coming up on one year since I left you.
I grew up with you. I memorized all the Bible verses and had all the “right answers” ingrained in me before I had time to ask the questions myself. I learned to speak your language very well.
I remember the guilt I would feel if I missed a few days of devotions, those few minutes before bed I would set aside to read a Bible passage out of context and force a prayer.
Today, evangelical culture is steeped with buzz words and behaviors that trigger memories for me, bringing back feelings of shame and inadequacy.
This is why walking through your doors on Sunday fills me with anxiety and fear.
But every few months, I get the courage to try you again–and when I do, this is what I wish you knew about me:
1. I love Jesus.
I may have stepped away from regular church attendance for a season, but I haven’t stepped away from Him. Can you see me as part of the Body, rather than seeing me as lost?
2. I still worship.
It happens on the ski trails, by the riverbanks, in the mountains, and through acts of service to my friends and community. When I hear you asking me to “come worship” with you on Sunday, it tells me you assume that because I don’t attend regularly, I don’t worship.
3. I don’t need your pity.
I know how I must look, walking in with my big sunglasses, skulking into the back row, keeping my head down and leaving my phone in my hand. Do you know that on the other end of that phone is a community of people that have become my safety net? I need to know they are there–just a tweet or a message away.
When I enter your sanctuary sometimes, I just want to worship. I gaze up at the cross, the tapestries, and the stained glass images. Do I seem sad or hard-hearted? This is me worshipping. Don’t assume just because you don’t see me every Sunday that I don’t know your God.
4. I need you to respect my boundaries.
It all seems to come with the territory of attending a church on Sunday morning. The forced fellowship, the signing up for groups or activities, or inviting me to weekday events. I wish you could just allow me to tiptoe into your midst. To observe, contemplate, and make an informed decision before I call you “home.”
Just let me be here. Just let me worship. And please, don’t make me “turn to the person beside me and share _____.”
5. I don’t want to be your project.
I lived in the evangelical world long enough to know about the group prayer meetings, the missionary’s newsletter that names individuals they have been “working with” and reveals their stories for all to hear. I know too much about this world to not be skeptical when someone suddenly makes me their best friend.
I can’t help but wonder . . . who are you telling about me? Are my words safe with you? Do you even like me?
6. I have questions, and that’s okay.
I live with questions, and I’ve settled in comfortably (or uncomfortably?) amongst them.
They will always be part of my journey, and they don’t change my faithfulness to Jesus. I won’t ignore them, and I won’t try to satisfy them with surface answers. I will continue to seek the truth without fear.
I’ve come to realize we don’t need to shelter God from our questions. He is big enough to handle them, and He can even help us keep our heads high as we ask them.
I need you to be okay with my questions too. Even more, I need you to be okay with not giving me an answer.
7. I crave authentic community.
Despite what my Sunday morning posturing might tell you, my heart longs for community.
I crave the kind of community that is born out of a collection of broken but redeemed people, being honest and real with one another, basking in grace, and floundering around through life together.
This isn’t built after one Sunday. Can you allow me to enter into this naturally and when I am ready for it?
I can’t speak for all of us who have left, but for me the most poignant words of encouragement you could give me on a Sunday morning as I enter your doors is, “You are welcome here. All of you is welcome.”
I know you want to make me feel welcome, and I believe much of what you do is of love. Can you remember that when I come to you I come with questions, baggage, memories, burns, and scars–many of which have been caused by your people?
All of this is wrapped up in my humanity and I can’t leave it behind–not even on Sunday morning.
Image by Josh Hawley.