Me, the Invisible Woman in the Church Pew (Part 2)

file6641278526672Back in 2013, I wrote a blog post titled “Me, the Invisible Woman in the Church Pew.” Many people responded. In the thirteen months since its publication, the post has continued to receive comments, people sharing stories of loneliness, frustration, and pain in church.

We’re at a different point in our lives now. We’re back at Church #4. (So we visited Church #1, Church #2, Church #3, Church #4, stayed for a while, went back to Church #1, stayed for a while, tried a home church, tried a mega church (#5)—where we went through four adult Sunday school classes—and I visited, alone, churches #6, #7, and #8. Frustration. Great gnashing of the teeth on my part, along with crying (in my closet, in the car, on the pages of my journal) over the death of my old church, the one that split. After our daughters transferred to a different school, we moved closer to Church #4, returned, liked it enough to stay, and there we are.)

It’s easier now to see why I didn’t feel welcomed the first time around. I was still grieving my old church, the first one where I’d ever felt accepted. Since Church #4 was a plant of the old church, there were many people we knew from that church, people who knew that the old church had split but didn’t have the horrible memories we did of that last year. At the time, I couldn’t handle that. Now I’m better adjusted to the grief, and though it flares up occasionally, it isn’t nearly as painful.

Things are more stable. We’re still newcomers. I have issues with some of the theology. It’s hard. Some of you know that feeling of frustration/sadness/loneliness firsthand. Many of you have said, “I can’t connect at church no matter how I try!”

But why it’s so hard to connect in church is the real question. It’s a problem in need of solving. So when I mentioned that old blog post to my family, I asked, “Why do you think it’s like this?”

My eleven-year-old daughter said, “I’ve noticed that the kids are usually friendlier than the adults.”

Hmm. There’s something here, I thought. “Why do you think that is?”

“They’re not as worried about how they come across as adults are, and they’re not, ‘oh, we’ve already got fifty gazillion Facebook friends so we won’t be your friend’ and stuff like that.”

My husband added, “They have fewer inhibitions.” He went on about how adults often have pain associated with churches and personal relationships, and so it’s easier to not open up.

Self-protection. Self-preservation. Self-defense, even when the other person isn’t attacking.

At the root? Fear.

Fear. I’ll be hurt again (and again, and again).

Fear. I’ll be taking a risk of rejected or ridiculed or body-slammed into the ground.

Fear. I have to hide my wounds because they make me look weak, feel weak, be weak.

Two observations.

One: the focus of fear is me, my hurt, my risk, my wounds. Me. Where should the focus of our lives be? On God. See any problem here?

Two: hiding our wounds doesn’t help anything. Donning an image of perfection is dishonest. It also hinders the healing process. Healing begins with brokenness. When we finally admit to ourselves that yes, I am broken, we can start the path to healing.

Often, this means letting someone else see our broken hearts and spirits. A frightening thing to do. But a surgeon can’t operate on a heart when it’s still covered by flesh and clothing. He wouldn’t be able to see it, for one thing, and the material would get in the way of the knife. The shirt must be taken off. The flesh must be cut open. Then the procedure can go on. But not until then. *

I’ll also mention that Christ didn’t hide his wounds, either. He showed his disciples the scars on his hands, let them touch the spear-wound to his side, pointed out the nail-marks on his feet: symbols of a shameful death. Ostracized by the crowds, abandoned by his disciples, alone in his personal pain as even the Father God forsook him.

Yet that shameful death was followed by a triumph over sin, his resurrection. In doing that, he made it possible for us, those who follow him (imperfectly, to be sure!), to be vulnerable before him and vulnerable with other people.

We don’t have to hide our wounds behind shallow relationships and superficial conversations.

It’s not easy, and this isn’t really a solution for those who are on the receiving end of the alienating, self-protective behavior. It’s definitely not useful for first time church visitors, either. I’m not certain what is. None of us can change other people.

We can influence, though. Maybe the only thing we can do is set an example, modeling the behavior of Christ’s love and vulnerability with those around us.

I wish there were more concrete solutions that I could offer. I don’t have any. Anyone have any ideas? Share them in the comments! (If you’re shy about that, email me and I’ll share with my readers, keeping your name confidential.)


*Please, medical people, don’t take me to task for not being medically-correct in my metaphor, okay? I know there are robotic thingys that go places inside our guts and do nifty, high-tech stuff in itty-bitty parts of our bodies and all that, but I don’t really understand them. Just be thankful that I’m a novelist and not a surgeon.


Photo Credit: AcrylicArtist, on morguefile.com

 

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15 thoughts on “Me, the Invisible Woman in the Church Pew (Part 2)

  1. The whole time I was reading and relating with what you said, the only thing I could think of was modeling Christ ourselves. Sometimes that really sucks. I’ve driven myself to the edge once because I was so lonely that I joined leadership and started a biblestudy and created the type of community I was looking for. It succeeded, too, and grew because turns out lots of people were looking for that authentic relationship stuff. But I wore myself out and suffered depression and ultimately wasn’t happy at all.

    Which I’m sure isn’t what you want to hear. I still think the only answer to loneliness is taking charge and doing things yourself, I just don’t know how to do that without falling apart.

    So I guess my only answer is…pray?

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    1. Oh, I can sort of relate to your story about the depression and unhappiness of leading/creating that Bible study.

      This past fall, I was really trying to get some “community” through working at my daughters’ school with other women. In one sense, I had the most mentally stable autumn I’ve had in several years; there were no bouts of major depression and not nearly as much ultra rapid cycling as is normally the case in September/October. (Some, but not a lot.) On the other hand, I didn’t do much writing or other things that I feel called to do, and though I was mentally “stable”, I wasn’t without significant physical, mental, and emotional fatigue each time I worked with this group. That was depressing, especially after our big event was over in November and I realized how little I had worked on my work-in-progress. So now I’m wondering: was this “community” really worth it? Would I eventually become resentful of putting aside my desires and calling? Is it worth putting myself out there and trying to relate to others?

      I’ve heard from many people that if someone wants help (or a friend or whatever), that person has to ask for it and put themselves out there, trying to make friends, build community, whatever. But for some people and in some particular states, that may not even be possible. I mean, does anyone really expect a schizophrenic in a psychotic episode to take the initiative in building a friendship? Or someone in a depression so deep that they’re almost unresponsive? It may not be a lack of desire to have friends, but a physical impossibility to make the first move. (Not to mention a not-unreasonable fear that others may reject them because of their illness!)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for updating your thoughts and current situation in this post Laura. We’ve been settled at a church for 2 years now, and so thankful – as before that for 5 yrs our situation was like yours – visiting churches. We tried so hard to make it work at one church (almost 3 years!) yet finally gave up. I probalt rambled about that on your other post.

    Today on my blog my topic is similar. I too ask for advice on shallow relationships and superficial conversations among Christians. Lets hope both of us get some good feedback!

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  3. “Donning an image of perfection is dishonest” – so true, Laura. Sometimes I feel that’s what’s expected of me too, but I’m learning to reject those expectations (even if they are coming from myself) and let the imperfect me be the one people see.

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    1. I can see how, as a judge, people expect you to be perfect, even outside the courtroom. (No pressure!) But no human is perfect. (Well, except Jesus, the fully God and fully man.) I’ve spent years expecting perfection from myself, and I’ve learned the hard way that I’m not capable of perfection or capable of perfectly recovering from being a perfectionist!

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      1. It’s true about expectations outside the courtroom. The ethics canons that govern a judge’s behavior apply 24 hours a day, no matter whether I’m in court or in the grocery store or at home. If I violate them anywhere I can be subject to a state investigation. As you said, no pressure!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yikes! I’m glad I’m not a judge. I couldn’t handle that pressure. On the other hand, I’m glad that a judge’s behavior outside the courtroom matters; I’d hate to think that the person making big judicial decisions is doing highly unethical things on the side. Character matters.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. ‘The ethics canons that govern a judge’s behavior apply 24 hours a day, no matter whether I’m in court or in the grocery store or at home. If I violate them anywhere I can be subject to a state investigation.’ Yes, this is the same with my autistic son -and why I call him ‘Prince’ on my blog. I try to be gentle with him, and patient, but there are times when I shake my head, apologise and say, “You just can’t get the staff these days, can you?” Of course he doesn’t know what I’m on about, but a little bit of humour goes a long way…

    Regarding the actual post(!) I am in touch with the pastor of the church we’d like to go to (and used to go to – long story). I’m not yet able to manage the 30 minute drive there and back plus the service, so we don’t go. I told him that I’d like him to put something in the prayer requests about my EMDR treatment. I said we need to acknowledge mental health issues more in the Church and that we do really well at praying for the physically sick, and offering to help, but we very rarely pray for anything outside of that, or even acknowledge anything outside of that. I don’t care any more what people think. PTSD is not a sign of ‘weakness’, on the contrary, and neither are other mental health problems, so I decided to ask for prayer. The pastor, whom I consider a friend and have so much respect for, agreed with me and said he would put me and my family on the list. Also I think praying for other people is a blessing, as is asking for prayer. Both gifts from God, yet we somehow overlook that.

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    1. You’re right about PTSD, Sandy. I had it after a major auto accident in my 20s, but back then not many people knew what it was. I am so glad your pastor received your request and ran with it. What a blessing.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m glad to hear that this pastor agreed and is praying for you. I’m glad you had the courage to speak up and address the issue directly! I think that there may be others in the congregation who are going through mental struggles, and your honesty and openness will encourage them to open up at church, too. It may even encourage a pastor who might be struggling with mental health issues; a recent survey in the U.S. said that around one-fourth of all pastors suffered from depression or other mental illnesses.

      Sorry to take so long to get back to you. I wasn’t online for about 48 hours. Out of the “office”, so to speak.

      Liked by 1 person

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