I could have titled this post, The Dangers of Teaching for Good Church Performance.. but I didn’t feel it fit as well…. anyways, it’s a long one, and I know some people need to hear the lesson I heard yesterday but I’m kind of tired of hearing the same “church-centered” dogma taught over and over because God’s not a building and there are consequences when He is held in that light, I know I’m not the only one who’s been there and had these gut reactions. So… here it goes…
Yesterday was like any other Sunday, waking up with the dog to let her out, popping that dang thyroid pill, snuggling with my baby girl until we were both awake enough to finally admit it, and listening to my little boy wake up and stumble out of bed. Ok, my son doesn’t really stumble out of bed, he pretty much bounds out of bed, full of energy from the moment he wakes up until the moment I finally tuck him back in.
And so began our morning. There were donuts, laughs, cuddles, then the struggle of getting dressed began. Since my husband is away at training for the FAA, I’ve got to dress myself, and my two kiddos, one of which usually cries or throws a fit at the mention of church. My little girl has been dealing with some pretty significant separation anxiety since we moved back and my husband hasn’t been around like usual. My son had a whole year with his dad gone serving overseas before and is older so he’s been handling it pretty well, still misses his daddy though.
Due to health issues with my thyroid I’ve gained just enough weight to make some of my clothes ill-fitting, so I’d bought a few new things. But now that my medication is straightened out, I’ve lost just enough weight to still not be comfortable in my old clothes but my new clothes are a little too big and take some fixin’ to make them work right. This morning the particular dress I was trying to wear was just not having any of it. I ended up wearing the only nice “church-worthy” jacket I had which is a thick leather jacket with a big fur trimmed hood… and it was a balmy 60 or 70 something outside… I even had sandals on… I looked ridiculous. And if I’m really being honest, I didn’t even shower since I had the night before, just pulled my hair back, slapped on some tinted moisturizer, a few sweeps of mascara and off to get my kids ready. (tangent- why are kids’ clothes so easy to coordinate and the fit never matters, I’m so jealous) So there’s two young, energetic kids to wrestle clothes on too. Then getting them all out and loaded into the car. This particular morning since we were running even later than usual my mom actually helped get them in the car. But normally, it’s just me. I walk the kids out the door but then my daughter always has to pick a flower from the court yard, and my son usually takes a few laps around the car before he finally settles into his spot. Yesterday, I also had to bring a canvas to another church member who I had done a photo shoot with so there was balancing that, my purse, my Bible, my notebook, and yes I had taken one minute to microwave myself some coffee. As I drove away from my house, I also realized the joy that I had forgotten to shave my legs… great… actually it was pretty great because I knew the place that I was going was worth all of this craziness. I was headed to church! I was about to tuck my kiddos away and see some friends, fellowship with other believers, hear His word spoken, and to be filled back up after a long two weeks away since we were out of town last weekend. These two hours at church are literally the only solid 2 hours of alone time I get all week, usually. Yes my daughter sleeps in my bed so I don’t even have after bedtime to myself, and she sleeps right.on.top.of.me so it’s not super comfortable restful sleep either. I’m pretty sure I will have chronic back pain until our family is back together again and she starts sleeping in her own bed again. But we were on our way, leaving our house a few minutes shy of the time that services actually start… so yes we were late.
I’ve never been diagnosed with anxiety or any mental disorders of the sort but I know that I can very easily get worked up over something like being late. I used to not go to church at all if I was running late because I knew people would judge me for being the one that walked in late. I used to not go to my college classes if I was late for the same reason. I’ll show up for work late because I’m required to be there. And surprisingly my bosses in the past have had more mercy about life, kids, being a pseudo-single mom with my husband away for whatever reason and with running a few minutes late than the lesson I heard this Sunday.
Now disclaimer, I was late, I didn’t hear the “justification” for the lesson taught that day in Sunday School. As I sat there and listened it seemed like a lesson on judging others. This is a summary of what/how I heard the spoken words. “You see people on their phones, they’re not even listening or giving respect to the preacher(which is true), they must not be serious about God’s work. You see people leaving early or walking around during service, well I just don’t even know what to say about that” It seemed like a laundry list of sins and pointing them out and talking about how those people must be less of a Christian, or must not think God/church/”the rules” are important. Of course being late was brought up as well. I will fully admit that I am late, to pretty much everything right now. I used to be that good responsible ROTC kid who was 15 minutes early to everything with a notepad and a pen because “good leaders always have something to write with and write on”. And I grew up going to church, I’ve been saved since I was 5, and I know how most church going people think, which is exactly what was being taught. I’m sorry but I think Christians love to judge and to make themselves feel better by pointing out someone else’s sin. When really we should have love, and mercy, and grace as God has for us.
I actually couldn’t take listening to the lesson anymore and was starting to cry, so I left. I am NOT a public crier. I usually have a nice tidy wall built up between me and other people while I’m out in public, sad to say, but for some reason I could not stop myself from crying. And I wasn’t even crying for myself! I’m grounded enough in God’s Word to know that the lesson was being taught to convict, and was being taught with good intentions. But at least for me, I didn’t feel convicted, I felt judged. Judged by the exact people who were supposed to be spreading God’s love and mercy and helping me grow further in my walk. I knew Satan wanted me to go with my gut reaction to just be angry at the teacher, to just grab my kids and leave and never come back, but I had to stop that train of thoughts, and fast. But I still couldn’t get over why I was having such an out of character and physical reaction to the lesson. I tried to get it together, what little make up I had on was long gone, and I headed back to the class after it was over to grab my stuff and head to the main church. But about half way through the song service I couldn’t help all of the thoughts running through my head and I just started to cry again. AH!! So much crying in one day, and in public, this is SO not me!
So I headed outside to sit and think. I started to really ask God to take away my human emotional response of anger so I could truly listen to what he was trying to say. And I felt, as I’ve felt many times recently, that I need to remember this feeling, this pain, this struggle. We have been so blessed over the years by God, but we have also struggled. Struggled so much. So when I heard that lesson, and felt that judgement I started jumping into the headspaces of my struggles. My current struggle- a pseudo-single mom with two kids, one of which is having some emotional issues, and I’m dealing with my own weight and wardrobe limitation issues. A past struggle I’ve had is again, pseudo-single mom with my husband deployed, dealing with depression and raising a baby by myself and some major weight issues. I’ve also struggled at times even when my family was together because we didn’t have money for nice clothes for everyone for church. And yes it shouldn’t matter what you wear to church, but for so many churches out there, it does, you will be judged or at least you’ll feel like it.
I could totally see how a single mom struggling with money, with clothes, with just getting kids ready and out the door could be discouraged from even stepping foot into a church for fear she would be judged for being late, week after week, even if she read her Bible everyday and prayed constantly because when you’re hurting for money and food and trying to take care of kids, there’s not much more you can do but pray and cry, usually at the same time. I can see how the family just trying to get by could be scared off by hearing that they were thought of as not prioritizing God, as making Him less important because they run late getting to church. Because guess what people, God is everywhere, we’re never late or leaving early from God, it’s for church, for a “rule” set forth by earthly people, that we’re not on time.
You just don’t know what God is doing in other people’s lives and if judgement by “Christians” is going to hold them back from a closer walk with Him, it breaks my heart. That is literally the feeling behind the unstoppable crying. I could not stop thinking about other people or other situations that would cause people to need to leave early or be late. Situations that I have lived before and know all too well the judgement I felt, the guilt that really didn’t need to be there, and the shame that I wasn’t as good as the other “Christians”. I used to have a job that I had to leave church early for just to make it only a few minutes late vs half an hour late to. But if I didn’t have that job we wouldn’t have been able to pay for groceries. So let “Christians” judge me for leaving early because God blessed me with a job so I can buy groceries and I don’t have to be there for most of the church service but I do need to leave 5-10 minutes early for it. Doesn’t that just sound ridiculous to you?!? And I’ve been that depressed person who just doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, let alone go to church and deal with people, judging or otherwise, because mentally I couldn’t handle it. Instead I would stay home, I would read my Bible everyday, and follow along with online Bible studies and man, I felt like I grew and started to really know God most during that time. And surprise, it had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with church. Now I go to church and can truly appreciate it for fellowship with other believers and hearing a message prepared by my pastor, but if I had gone before I was open to that mentally, it would have fallen on deaf ears. I’m not saying that’s how it works for everyone, I know some people do so much better around people, and being able to talk things through, but I don’t and I know I’m not the only one out there like this. Thank You God for Christian writers who develop devotionals that can reach us introverts and depressed people right in our homes. I never did have a visitor from church or anyone check in on how I was doing way back then, I was just left alone… probably judged.
And even taking it back again to my morning yesterday. Yes, I could have rushed my kids more. I could have cut breakfast short. I could have sped all the way to church. But I grew up like that. I grew up being rushed to be on time to church, to wear the right thing for church, to always be perfect for church. And honestly, as a child, all it did was make me resent church. And being so young I couldn’t see God separately from church so I resented him too. It made me feel like I always had to do the right thing, say the right thing, achieve this award or that accolade, as a sort of performance for the church members, to be seen as a good Christian girl, to follow all of the rules, and to not be judged. I never once felt like I was doing it for God. And I don’t want my kids feeling that way. So if I have to let them mosey around and pick a flower or run some of their energy out so they’ll sit reasonably still during church, then so be it. If I want to enjoy our breakfast together, and linger in the joy of kids and donuts, and not cut the moment short so we can rush off to a building with church on the front of it, then so be it. I don’t want my kids to ever feel so pressured to be somewhere on time that they feel we don’t have a moment to stop and pray or stop and talk about the real God and what he’s doing with them. That most likely won’t be while they are 2 and 5 but trust me, it’ll happen when they’re teenagers and if I’ve already set up church as my priority and not their walk with God, they won’t feel invited to talk to me anytime they feel the need. Trust me, I’ve lived it.
At times I wouldn’t even go to church, as I mentioned before, because I knew I would be judged, not by God, but by the people. People mess everything up ya know. But I’ve finally gotten to the point that I can say we’re all sinners, we all mess up, and its our jobs as Christians to forgive and to love. Just love people. Don’t worry if they are late, or if they are walking around during service, or if they have to leave early. Just love them. You don’t know their struggles and their pain or where they are coming from, only God does. And only He can truly speak to their hearts. And remember that God’s church is not a building. It is not a time schedule. It is not a list of activities people need to check off. God’s church is the body of people meeting together, worshiping Him, encouraging each other, cheering each other on in their own race with the Lord, picking each other up when Satan takes a low blow, and praying for each other. Don’t discourage people from being a part of the body of Christ by passing judgement, claiming it’s just conviction, and never really taking time to find out the why behind their actions. Maybe you could offer help, maybe you could make a point to pray for them, maybe you could just show them love when they do show up or when they do leave so they feel welcome because I guarantee it’s much harder walking in late to a room or a sanctuary knowing you’re being judged, than it is to just stay home.