When Your Faith in Church Fails
After 25 years of attending the same church, I visited another one.
I’ll never forget the day I realized Bathsheba was not bathing on the roof. It was definitely not a cold and broken hallelujah that day. It was an epiphany, as all the dominoes started to fall into place. Bathsheba was right where she was supposed to be: cleansing after her monthly menstrual cycle; David was the one on the roof of the palace when he saw her. He should have been off fighting.
Why had I never heard that story that way before?
I feel like my life has just fallen to shit, I said to one of my pastors, and newfound dear friend, over coffee one morning. I’m having a hard time even staying alive, and there are many days when I doubt God — his existence, his goodness, his unfailing love. For so long, I’ve felt like I have to pretend that my life is perfect, that I don’t struggle every day with anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts. I felt like I had to pretend that I wasn’t raped and that I don’t struggle with doubt and my faith. Sometimes I feel that when I needed the church the most, it abandoned me. When I needed the love, support, and encouragement of people walking along beside me, they left me high and dry.
Is there room in the church for doubt? Is the church a safe space where we can ask the tough questions like: if God is real, why do bad things happen? If God loves me, why was I raped? In a culture where millennials and Gen Xers are leaving the church at an alarming rate, many people have theories as to why this is an increasing trend.
As a Gen Xer, with strong ties to the Millennials, I have my own theory, a theory that will be hard to hear for some people: young people are leaving the church because the church tries too hard to be perfect. We focus on the goodness of God and the power of God and the love of God, but at the same time, we fail to discuss the brokenness of the world. I mean, sure, we can mention the brokenness of the world outside: the homelessness in the community, the bombings in the Middle East, the hurricanes and earthquakes in Puerto Rico. But we fail to acknowledge the broken people within our four walls.
It doesn’t happen to us, only them.
But it does happen to us. Bad things happen to Christians; Christians hurt; Christians doubt; Christians struggle to stay alive. I struggle with all these things.
And maybe part of the reason young people are leaving the church is that we are more connected to the world than we’ve ever been. With the advent of Social media and online news sources, we are more engaged with the world around us, with the people around us. It’s easy for us to hear about the shootings and the genocide, the bombings and the hate crimes. Social movements like #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement are everywhere. We don’t have to search out the brokenness and the hurt; it finds us in a way that it never used to.
We used to be so isolated from each other. Not anymore. Now our smartphones and laptops are constantly informing us about what’s happening in the world — the latest technology, the latest celebrity news, the latest school shooting. All of this information is at the tip of our fingers, and the church has lost touch with the younger generation.
We’re all hurting and broken people, but the younger generations are more eager to talk about their pain and struggles than the older generations, and the church hasn’t caught up. And it needs to because now, more than ever, there are people out there who are hurting, hungry to feel accepted, hungry to feel love, hungry to find a community where the formerly taboo is now openly discussed.
Right now, more than ever, I need that.
Right now, I need to know that I can walk into church on a Sunday morning and have it be ok if I breakdown.
Right now, I need to know that I can pull someone aside, anyone aside, and say, Hey look, I’m really struggling today and could use some prayer, instead of saying, I’m fine. How are you?
Right now, I need to know that I don’t have to pretend to be perfect. I don’t have to hide my struggles. I don’t have to hide the fact that I struggle with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, that I was raped and I self-harmed. I don’t have to hide any of that.
Right now, I need to know that it’s ok to share my past and not be judged, not to be told to “Get over it,” not be told that I’m a bad Christian, or that how I am is not enough to be loved by God.
Right now, there are a whole bunch of people out there: born and raised in the church who are seriously wondering if the community and acceptance they’re searching for can actually be found with the people they worship together with on a Sunday morning.
We are so desperate to find places where we feel like we belong. We are so desperate to find places where we can discuss the tough questions; where we have the freedom to openly doubt, openly question our faith; where we have the ability to love, to be encouraged, to grow.
How can we believe in God when there’s so much hurt and pain in the world? How can I believe in God when I’ve been hurt by the church?
I believe in God because I believe in his power, his love. He saved me from myself. And for every day that I’m convinced I’m not going to make it, somehow, I make it through.
But, I also believe in the human side of God.
Right now, that’s the side of God I need. I don’t need an all-powerful God through whom all things are possible.
I need the God of John 11:35 who wept. I need the God who cried out as he was being crucified, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Because that’s where I am in my life. Right now, I feel abandoned and forsaken, and some days, I’m full of doubt.
But it’s ok — because Jesus felt those things, too. And I take comfort in that.
And I think the church needs to take comfort in that, too. Because, yes, God is perfect and all-loving and all-powerful, and it’s ok to praise him. But there are people out there who need to hear about the human side of God.
Because Christians are human, too. None of us are perfect. None of us should have to pretend to be.
And on my darkest nights, the ones where I’m not sure I’m going to make it to see the sunrise, I think about God crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I take comfort in the fact that Jesus weeps right along with me.
That’s why I believe in God in a broken world: He understands the broken; he sought out the broken. He loves us anyway.
Does anyone have any prayer requests, the pastor asked as he stood at the pulpit.
I traced the scar on my hand. So many, I thought to myself, but where do I begin: the search for a new church home, the brokenness I feel, the frustration, the confusion, the doubting questions in my mind.
I stayed quiet. Too embarrassed about being the new girl in this church much smaller than home to say anything.
A few months ago, I stopped attending the church I grew up in, the church I worked at, the church I was on the worship team of, the church I was baptized in just two years ago. I stopped attending because it hurt more than it helped. Every Sunday was a struggle, a “do I have to go today?” debate in my head. It became too hard for me to step foot in the church I called home; there was too much pain, and I felt stuck like I was suffocating under the weight of my past. A church should be a place of healing, and it ceased to be that for me. And the sting of that was greater than the sting of sum of the hurt the greater Church has caused me.
So I left. The building, not the Church. In the same way, I moved out of my parents’ house a year ago, the same way my sister moved across the country to Seattle, I left my church to find a new home.
I haven’t found a new home, yet. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I do know that sometimes God calls us to a new place because it’s what we need at the moment. And it takes a walk-on-water-type faith to step out of our comfort zone. My faith may be shaky at best, but that’s the type of faith I have: a new faith for a new season of my life–a season of unemployment and writing focus, a season of questions and doubts, a season of authenticity and trust.
I trust in God to get me to where I need to be. And I trust that he’ll put people in my life along the way to help me with this journey.
No one’s meant to walk this life alone. Church is a group of people doing life together–and that, that is the biggest blessing of all.