This topic has been on my mind for a while, simmering on the back burner, waiting for a quiet moment. Before I say anything else, let me be clear:
I am very grateful for my church.
My church blesses my life in more ways than I can list here. I love that my church has one of the largest women’s organization in the world and that women regularly “preach” to our congregations. I love that my church provides frequent and weekly opportunities to serve others. I love that we are all volunteers. I love having a ready-made community of support no matter where we live. I love that we focus on the teachings of Jesus Christ and strive to become like Him. I love that my church honors the Divine Feminine. I love that my church has rallied around refugees seeking homes in our communities. I love how much we utilize music in our worship. I love our temples and sacred symbolism. I love that we are all imperfect people, striving to grow together toward God.
I love my church.
But… sometimes church still hurts.
There was, in fact, a period of time when I was so traumatized by something that happened at church that I felt totally unsafe in our building. Not physically unsafe but emotionally and spiritually unsafe. It was especially hard to feel spiritually unsafe in a place where I believed the Spirit should always be. When I mentioned to someone that I felt like I might not be able to go to church for awhile, this person responded by saying something like, “Well then you must not have a very strong testimony.”
You can love the gospel and love Christ and love your church and still be sufficiently traumatized or hurt to feel incapable of attending your church meetings. It happens. Ultimately, I worked hard to release the feelings of trauma, and I prayed for the ability to forgive and for strength and peace. I kept going to church, even though a part of me didn’t want to be there. Slowly I found myself able to feel comfortable in our building again. Granted, I had a new set of boundaries to keep myself safe, but at least I could once again feel peace within those walls.
Church can be a trigger for PTSD. Church can be a trigger for panic attacks. Church can be terrifying for those with social anxiety. Church can be excruciating for those who are single or experiencing fertility struggles. Church can be torture for members with debilitating shame or perfectionism. Church can feel terribly, horribly isolating for anyone who doesn’t “fit the mold.” Church can feel like a painful facade when your father is pretending to be a “good church member” and meanwhile molesting or beating you at home. (It happens.) Church can sometimes make those most in need of a weekly spiritual feast feel uncomfortable, unwanted, unworthy, unseen, and underrepresented. Sadly, church isn’t always a place where people feel safe.
If you don’t feel safe going to church, please know that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. What matters is that God loves you whether you’re afraid of church or not. God knows your heart and your desire to be a disciple. God knows all of your history and all of the large and small events and heartaches that brought you to this point. No one else can know all the reasons that going to Church may make you feel sick to your stomach or full of panic. But God knows. God’s love is there for you no matter what your church attendance record says.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35,37-39).
Maybe you feel unheard or unseen or like you’re the only one. But you’re not. You aren’t alone. Lots of people struggle in similar (and different) ways. We are one big, imperfect, struggling, striving, and sometimes failing family. Heartache and pain and fear and loneliness and illness. They’re all a part of this family. But you are wanted and needed and loved, regardless of your personal struggles. You are wanted and needed and loved, regardless of whether you come every week or once or twice a year. If sometimes church feels scary, know you are not alone. It’s sometimes scary for lots of people.
I know God will stretch forth His hand toward you in any way and every way possible until your heart is healed and safe and whole. Maybe that will happen in a church building. Or maybe not. But somewhere there is someone God is prompting to show you His love, to reach out and lift you. And I hope that someday, when you’re ready to give it another chance, church will feel like a safe place again.