This past Sunday, I had someone email me because my post “Me, the Invisible Woman in the Church Pew” struck a chord with her and she wanted to know the end of the story. What did I do? What have I done? The post was written several years ago–2013, to be precise–so naturally, she was curious.
Is there an end to this story?
Short answer: Not really.
Long answer: It’s complicated.
Here’s where I was in December 2013: My family was attending a megachurch (5000+ members), and my husband and I were visiting various adult Sunday school classes to find the right place to fit. After three different classes, including one where we stayed for 2-3 months of faithful weekly attendance, we still felt invisible. No one knew us. That week, my mom ran into an acquaintance from her church. This younger woman and her family now attended this megachurch; she recommended her class. My husband and I did like the class and felt more connected. (Yay!) Unfortunately, some doctrinal issues arose and we didn’t feel that we could continue attending a church where these things were taught. (Sigh.)
At the same time, we had transferred our elementary aged daughters to a new school and were moving to a different area of the county. It was a good point to try the churches in this new area. My mom ran into a woman from one church we’d visited in the past, but had felt was too far from our then-current home, and that woman said the church would love to have us, as we were now close to the building the church had bought. (Yes, my mother talks to many people.)
I visited other churches but ultimately, we did end up back at that church.
Now, this church has many things in its favor. Good children’s and youth ministries. Solid, excellent preaching. Godly leaders who are trying to learn from the mistakes that other churches have made. A willingness to address tough issues. A desire to reach out to the community. A desire to help people assimilate and connect within the church. These are all things that we appreciate, and that work in its favor.
Me “fitting in” is not one of them. After months, I still felt invisible. I didn’t “fit” with the women. Or the men, either, for that matter. (They were mostly electrical/mechanical/aerospace engineers, who have many lovely and valuable characteristics–I’m married to a rocket scientist–but tolerance for minority opinions isn’t one of them. They also tend to marry nurses or teachers, though I haven’t figured out why. Me? I’m neither of those. And I’m definitely not a tech person.)
The other problem was that the ways the church presented for “fitting in” were all things that have been disasters or near-disasters for me in the past.
- Ladies’ Bible studies: I’ve never had a positive experience with one.
- Small groups: I’ve had mixed results.
- Ministry opportunities: I had no interest in nursery duty (I got sick from the little sweeties’ germs); children’s ministries (ditto); youth ministry (my teen told me that she absolutely, positively, please-mom-don’t-you’re-embarrassing-me!! did NOT want me there); hospitality (not my gift); or greeting (ditto). Not only did I not have interest in these things, I had no energy for them, either.
My husband and I agreed that he and the girls should continue going there and I should explore other churches in the area. Which I did. Once.
Different megachurch. Same issues.
At that point, I decided that there were three options:
- Quit church.
- Visit more churches.
- Stay at our current church.
Let’s take option #1. Many Christians have “quit church.” They’re frustrated, they’re hurt, they’re angered by theology or people or both, so they quit attending church, or perhaps make only sporadic appearances at church.
While I understand why individuals might choose this option and sympathize, this isn’t for me. (I wrote a post in 2012 about why I haven’t quit church, and it still applies now.) It goes against my theological bent and my personality. Say what you like about me, but I’m too darned stubborn to give up on something that matters to me. (This same stubborn streak–you can call it “grit” or perseverance–got me through college and has kept me writing, even when I’d rather give up.)
I also think that this sets a poor example for my daughters. What does it tell them about persevering through difficult circumstances or learning to accept and love others even when they aren’t like me?
On to option #2: visit other churches. That takes energy. Unfortunately, that is one thing I don’t have. I’ve never been a high-energy person; even my “manic” episodes are low(er)-key compared with other people’s. This has worsened over the past year.
(We’re fairly certain that I have chronic fatigue syndrome, which has to be the most unfortunately-named disease around. “Fatigue” is nothing like what I’m feeling now. It doesn’t describe the joint pain, muscle aches, mental fog, the exhaustion that any exertion exacerbates and no amount of rest alleviates. Oh, and by the way, a lot of people dismiss it as “all in my head” or “laziness.” Mm-hm. Yeah. So please don’t tell me that you’re tired, too.)
I looked online at other churches. It was mostly more of the same. Nothing piqued my interest enough to offset the energy it would take to get me there.
Option #3: Stay at the same church.
This is the one I chose. The Sunday I visited megachurch #2, my husband and one of the elders, a friend of his, talked about my situation. The elder mentioned that his wife didn’t feel like she fit in, either. As a result of this conversation, we’ve been to their house for dinner and had a great time. They’re coming to our house for dinner tonight, which I hope will also be fun.
It makes a tremendous difference to have 2 people who I know and who know me. Attending church feels easier, and I don’t feel quite as invisible as before.
Remember that this church has many things working in its favor. It’s a relatively healthy church and I had seen them make positive steps toward inclusion of women in leadership. I respect the leaders and teachers. There are a few doctrinal issues where I differ from them, but they’re tolerable for me.
Many of those who have commented or emailed me about that original post are not in healthy churches. They’re in toxic ones. So my choice may not be an option for everyone.
But if you’re feeling invisible at church, don’t lose hope. In Genesis, Hagar names God “El Roi”: the God who sees. No one is invisible to him. He cares. There are probably other people sitting in your sanctuary, sharing your pews, singing the same songs, who feel like you do. The hard part is finding them. It’s hard, yes, but not hopeless.
Persevere, my friend. Keep going.
A long post, yes, but if you simply can’t get enough of my writing on this subject, here’s some related posts:
- Me, the invisible woman in the church pew (December 2013)
- Me, the invisible woman in the church pew (a follow-up) (January 2015)
- On being invisible at church (again) (April 2015)
- The anatomy of a church search (January 2016)
- Also relevant: When Women Speak, Men should Listen (February 2015)