TRANSITIONS IN FAITH: AN ANTICLIMACTIC RETURN TO CHURCH



My regular church attendance the past several weeks has been, well, lacking.

Every Sunday since mid-July, we've had mission farewells, homecomings, baby blessings and conferences, with a couple weeks of sick kids mixed throughout. So we've been to church, just not to our usual meetings. And, honestly, it's been nice.

I didn't plan to take such a long break. Aside from seizing the occasional opportunity to stay home with any children in need of a nap, I hadn't planned to take much of a break at all. I wasn't exactly surprised to find I needed it, though.

Not being present for lessons from outdated manuals, off-base comments, and the often overwhelming sense of dread that accompanies all of it provided me with the sort of mental clarity that I needed to better gauge where I'm at in this transition right now.

I say transition, because that's what it is. I don't feel like I'm in crisis mode. I know where my faith is, I'm just sorting the rest out, knowing that I'm not going to come out of this the same person I was going into it.

It's a metamorphosis, of sorts. A change of season. A stripping away of weaknesses because new strengths are beneath.

That's not to say it's an easy process. When I figure how much I've put into it and think about how much longer it will take, we're talking a transition that is quite a few years in the making. Years of moving through frustration, doubt, anger, and hurt, interspersed with progress and enlightenment and a steady stream of articles, books, talks, and interviews.

There are times I'm immersed in it all- full steam ahead until I get to a point that I can't think about it anymore, so I take a break for weeks to months at a time. It's slow-going, but I'm getting there in the way and time-frame that works for me.

I haven't wanted to completely take a break from church just yet, not that it isn't occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) tempting, the idea just hasn't completely sat right with me. I've found there's a lot that goes into that decision, and I have more than myself to consider.

This unexpected time off was welcomed. I was better able to process and figure things out while simultaneously being able to breathe. I'd felt a lot like I'd been swimming toward a far away destination that wasn't familiar to me, doing my best to navigate while staying afloat, and, at times, pulling a raft weighed down with my luggage and necessities behind me. This break made me feel like I was heading toward the same destination, this time in a boat, rested and better able to figure out the course.

I swear to you, I could never fully leave my church because the analogies are too much a part of me.

I was ready to go back, though.

It wasn't like in the past, when I've stayed home for a couple months with a newborn and actually craved getting back. I didn't necessarily feel that I was missing something this time, and I can't say that I sincerely wanted to be there. I simply felt like I was ready to go back, a little more confident in my ability to be there.

I figured that I would somehow slip right back into it, though better prepared to weather the atmosphere that has so often left me discouraged. I braided LB's hair that morning, knowing it would make us about forty minutes late, but still feeling good about the decision to go.

As I got ready, I was hit with a familiar sense of anxiety that had been completely absent the past several Sundays. I mentally psyched myself up and busied myself with putting on my rainbow pin, and packing paper to draw on and quesadillas, because we are unabashedly that family.

Driving to church was as if nothing had changed, filled with deep breaths and feeling like I was going to either throw up or pass out. Indeed, I was slipping right back into the swing of things, as if I'd never left.

We arrived in time to spend the last few minutes of the first meeting in the hall eating our quesadillas (clarification: the kids ate their quesadillas) and then I joined C and LB in their nursery class. One person mentioned that they hadn't been there in awhile and they were happy to see them back.

In six plus weeks of all five of us not being present or marked on rolls as being active, attending members, this was the only person who seemed to notice enough to say something. I don't fault anyone for this. I don't feel it's anyone's responsibility to make sure we feel welcome or noticed, and it doesn't factor much- really, at all- into whether we stay or leave.

But it did make enough of an impact that I let it sit in my mind a bit. I thought it over, and then my thoughts turned to where I'm at in this transition; where do I go from here when I don't see church attendance getting any easier, or any different, at least not in the foreseeable future?

I have more questions than answers, but that's nothing new. Here's a glimpse into what I'm mulling over right now:

Do I need to feel welcome at church? I don't expect people to go out of their way to be welcoming. I've lived here longer than many people, and I feel a responsibility to be welcoming to others.

Is a sense of belonging vital to staying active in church? My faith doesn't depend on it. I don't need to have a church calling to feel like I belong. I tend to prefer not having a calling at all over a made up one.

How important is a sense of community at church? Is that the point of church?

Am I searching for community? Would I go to another church to find it? How do I best align my doctrinal beliefs with another church community? How does community and belonging relate to religion?

How necessary is religion in regard to a relationship with God and Christ? Is there a point that it no longer facilitates that relationship? What then?

How important is it that my children attend church? This church? Am I doing them a disservice raising them in a church when I am doing damage control weekly? This is one of the biggest considerations that I continually agonize over. Eight years old is far too young to commit to a religion of one's own accord. What are the implications of waiting? Will they be ostracized when our church culture is so intertwined with daily living where we live, for whatever length of time we live here?

Will they question why I took them to a church whose stances I don't fully agree with? What does it speak to when the values we teach and support in our home are not visible in our church?

How will they interpret the contrast of knowing that women have worth because they exist, and not because they might happen to possess functioning reproductive organs that they might possibly choose to utilize one day, as is taught via manuals and culture? How am I managing this myself?

Why do I stay in a church that does not allow me to see myself represented? I have accepted for myself being told that women are valued when, in reality, it is merely lip-service with no action to prove it. I've accepted this even though I know better. Why would I accept such a thing for my children? Why should anyone be expected to take what is taught with a grain of salt always, relying heavily on the notion that leaders are fallible? Is it unrealistic to hope to be able to one day take teachings at face value?

I don't know where I will be with this in five years or ten years. I don't know where I will be in one. I want to stay an active member only slightly more than I'm pulled toward wanting to move in a different direction. I didn't seek out this transition, and I don't have an expected outcome other than worshiping God and following Christ in the way that sits best with me, while teaching my children to do the same, instilling in them their infinite worth. I'm trying to make what I know to be absolutely true work with the religion that I once loved, and I'm trying to be okay knowing there are gaps where it doesn't line up; where it might never line up. But I wonder if it will one day? Do I wait for that?

I do know that church isn't comfortable for me. It has nothing to do with a lack of faith or worthiness. I don't think church will ever be comfortable for me. I don't believe we're called to be comfortable. I believe that this translates differently for everyone. There are those who attend weekly and love being there. They're comfortable in that regard and I'm honestly happy for them. The church needs that. Their call to action is in a different area and capacity.

I know there are others like me who aren't comfortable, and that's okay. It's equally necessary and in no way shameful. As difficult as this can be, I'm happy for it. It's pushing me to grow and learn in a way that I wouldn't otherwise, and in a way that is not necessary for others to experience. I am not less than for my questions. I don't cease to be numbered among the faithful for my doubts.

To be cliche, this is a journey. It's a tiring, burdensome one. For all the frustration and hurt that comes from it, I'm becoming a better person. It's a personal endeavor, but its implications affect more than just myself, requiring my decisions to be that much more calculated.

I'm back to taking church attendance a week at a time. Expecting to be able to go every single week isn't entirely realistic for me right now. Breaks are necessary in figuring things out, but they don't mean I'm not moving forward. Figuring out how to be comfortably uncomfortable is proving essential. I have more questions than answers, yes, but if I don't ask the questions, the answers will never come.

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