Our Year Without Church: A Slap In The Face

It has now been a year since we stopped going to church. Well, not completely without church - we did go three times to other peoples churches. But it's been a year since we stopped even trying to go to church, stopped looking for a church, stopped asking each other if we should go to church this week. Just writing that causes me to feel a mix of emotions - hurt, sadness, guilt, fear, and even pride. Around this time last year I wrote a series of posts with my thoughts on church and I asked the question, "why go to church?" many people gave me wonderful responses to the question, but none of their responses were MINE. I needed to come to my own answer to the question. I needed to sit with the question for a while.

This question and I have now been stewing together for a whole year. I don't really know if I'm closer to an answer, but I know that I've been through a process, a metamorphosis in my feelings toward church, over the past year. I want to share where I've been, what I'm coming out of and where I am right now.

Why go to church? For most of 2009 and 2010 my answer to that question when I was really honest with myself would have been "for the Stewarts". The Stewarts are dear friends of ours and I went to church for them - To see them, to support them, to live up to the expectations I imagined they had for us. I knew it wasn't the best reason to go to church, I mean really it was sort of like the high school boy that goes to church just because the girl he has a crush on is there. But, I figured it at least got me there, right? Looking back perhaps God taking them away from Prague was as much about him saying to me "Bethany, I want you to go to church for me, not for anyone else. I want you to seek me more than you seek community and belonging." as it was about anything else.

Wow. Do you ever write a sentence and then realize you hadn't thought of it before, realize that your own sentence just slapped you in the face? That just happened to me..."I want you to seek ME more than you seek community and belonging." Ugh. I think this post is about to go in a complete different direction. I was planning on writing about the change that has happened in my feelings toward church, but I think that will have to wait till next time, this post is going somewhere different, so hang on for the ride...

Community. Belonging. Connection. The words haunt me. I search for these things, I long for these things, I always have. I've had moments when I've caught glimpses of it -moments when I felt connected and like I belonged somewhere. Most of my life I've felt like I wasn't quite right, or didn't quite fit, but there have been moments when that changed and I felt like I could be myself someplace. There have also been certain people who just always made me feel like I belonged with them, like they were part of this long lost home, this community that I was looking for. But, even when I had those moments of knowing such deep community, and that sense of belonging I longed for more of it. I wanted to hold on to it, capture it, and never let it go. I wanted it to never change, never dissolve, just grow stronger. I didn't want boundaries, I wanted interdependence.

Having tasted those moments made it so much harder when things did change. Having seen glimpses of what I had been longing and searching for made those times when I didn't have it completely heart breaking.

It's why graduating high school was so hard for me - I went from a small school, being part of a super close knit community, feeling like I belonged and was connected to feeling alone, isolated and uncertain of my place in the world.

It's part of why I still haven't completely healed from the Springers leaving Prague and the ramifications that had for our community/church life.

It's why I long for traditions and hold on to family heirlooms, because I feel that they give me a small sense of belonging and place.

It's why the Stewarts having to leave Prague was so difficult for me to accept. Our sense of belonging and community was so closely tied with them...and then they were gone.

And I think it's also part of why I've struggled so much with becoming a mom. Motherhood can be lonely and isolating and I hadn't expected that. I thought that becoming a mother would be like entering a new community of belonging. At a time when I most expected, longed for and needed to feel connected, I instead felt isolated and alone.

I want deep, authentic, real, community and belonging. I long for it with my whole being. I search for it. For some reason I keep expecting to find it in the church, and wanting to find it there, believing that is where I should find it, but being disappointed and heartbroken each time that expectation fails. I do believe that the church should be a family, that we should find community and a safe place with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I do believe that my longing for community is right, and good, and from God. BUT...perhaps I have allowed it to grow too large. When I seek the all elusive "community" I so often end up empty. When I look back at those times when I did experience community, I realize it showed up most when I wasn't looking for it. It showed up when I wasn't trying to conger it up but was instead focusing on other things.

I realized as I wrote that sentence "I want you to seek me more than you seek community and belonging" that I've allowed my good desire for community to become an idol of sorts. I've expected church to meet my longing for deep authentic community and been disappointed. Instead of allowing God to use it in my life as he sees fit, I've placed expectations and a box around how I think God should use church in my life. If God doesn't use church to meet my inflated need for belonging I blame the church instead of more humbly opening up my expectations and allowing God to do as he sees fit, belonging or no belonging.

Rejoicing in the journey- Bethany Stedman