In Church: Fears and Failings

I’ll admit it. I’ve failed.

I won’t say I’m a failure, because I’m going to keep putting one foot in front of the other until I make it to where I want to be.

Where do I want to be? The same place I’m terrified to be: in church.

I have no problem with “being the church” or with knowing that others find joy and meaning and community in what some have termed “the Sunday morning dinosaur.” And I couldn’t love more what my family has found in our more organic “house church” among our closest friends.

It’s just that my history with being “in church” is that things always seem to go up in flames. And that sort of hell is not my cup of tea.

My wife is an educator. She has taught in middle school and high school, and she has seen the Dark Side of the education industry. (If the test scores are just so, there’s more money for the district. It’s not about educating individuals. It’s an industry.) That’s why she has worked hard to find a way to homeschool our older daughter and will do the same for the younger, when she’s that age.

My wife is an inspiration, really. And the mix of my church experiences and my competitive streak led me to think that if she could teach our girls about math and science and so on, I could teach our girls all they needed to know about Jesus. But after a year away from a traditional church setting — if I’m really honest with myself, I have to admit it. I’ve failed.

I know a lot, and I’ve had to unlearn a lot of what I was taught growing up in church. It scares me to think of subjecting my girls to that environment. What damaging thoughts will they be exposed to on a regular basis? Well-intentioned, of course, but damaging nonetheless. The Bible is an answer guide for all of our questions? God loves us but is really disappointed with us when we sin? God either wills or allows everything that happens — including sex trafficking and suicide bombers and hurricanes and heat waves?

My little girls hold my heart, and what I’m saying is that I am terrified of putting my heart out there for church people to trample one more time. I want my girls to know God and love God with all they have and all they are. I want to teach them all they need to know about God. But I can’t. Because my knowledge has its limits. So if I’m serious about wanting them to know God, I have to allow them to hear more than just my finite perspective of who God is. I have to allow them to hear the choir of church people sing God’s praises. I have to allow her to hear the way God’s people sing songs of lament as they wrestle with suffering and evil. Through structured lessons. Through candid conversations. And even through song.

There’s no use denying the fact that I’m as scared to be in church as I am to take my girls along with me — maybe I’m more scared. Because people say silly things like, “Church isn’t about what you get but about what you have to give to the community of believers.” But that’s bogus. You can’t be the unmoved mover. God isn’t, and neither are those who bear God’s image. An unmoved mover would never put on human flesh and show us the way back to the Garden. So while being in church may very well give me the chance to share something of myself or my story and change the lives of individuals there, that act will change me, too.

For good or bad, I will be changed. I will be marked by this, just like I have been in every church I’ve attended. I’m terrified that I’ll be wounded again. But what if a miracle happens? What if, instead of being wounded, I find my wounds beginning to heal? What if being in church is exactly the way God chooses to heal my broken heart and bind up my wounds?

I’ve been hurt. And I’ve been shallow breathing, full of fear, wondering when — or if — I would ever be out of danger. But it’s the fear itself that has blinded me from seeing I’ve been kept safe all along. So now, I’m stepping out into the light again. I’m taking the hand that has been extended to me as I’ve cowered in fear. And I’m taking a long, slow inhale, trusting the Breath of Life to fill my lungs.