Disclaimer: If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are a happy authentic church attending person, I think that is great and I sincerely support your journey completely. If not, I invite you into a journey with me into this wilderness of uncertainty where my desire is to create some belonging in the midst of not belonging.
You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. -Maya Angelou
I’ll admit. I’m struggling. I’m a single mom – divorced for about 11 years now. For more than a decade, I’ve been trying to “fit” in the church. To belong. I’ve never felt more like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole as the analogy goes. It has been the most conditional existence I’ve ever experienced. More than anything else, it has opened my eyes to how it is that way for so many others. There is disconnection, loneliness, and spiritual abuse. The effects can be devastating when you don’t belong anywhere.
I’ve been reading and listening to Brene Brown. She defines belonging as “believing and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self to the world…belonging is not conditional or constantly up for renegotiation”. I began to wonder – how many of us really experience belonging in church? Maybe, just maybe, I’m not as alone in that as I sometimes think.
I believe that the love of our creator is the most unconditional love in existence. I would expect church to be the place where we could all safely be our most authentic selves. A place where we honor with full acceptance that none of us are perfect. That life is a journey, and sometimes a very messy one, or even often messy, if you are like me. Church would be where we exude compassion and empathy because we know better than anyone else how much we need people to love us through our wounds, afflictions and addictions. Unfortunately, too often in the last 12 years I’ve heard too many people say “I can’t share this with my church/pastor/small group. They wouldn’t understand. They will judge me”. I think it’s safe to assume – we’ve all got “stuff”. How many of us seek places other than church community to share our most authentic selves to the world? How many of us have no place at all to share our most authentic selves? Worse, how many of us don’t even know what it means to be our authentic selves?
More often than not, it seems as though church attendance and religious activities have become a deceptive metric for measuring morality and spirituality. It can be one of the quickest and easiest stamps of approval available. Corporately; businesses, websites, online yellow pages, flyers and coupons use the fish symbol as a generic logo to portray that they run their businesses and their lives with integrity. Our political system has been invaded by this metric as well where candidates use their religious activities in an attempt to promote public trust. Individually; you can obtain unquestioned acceptance and affirmation that you are “OK” simply by regularly attending church no matter what you are engaged in the rest of the week. That in and of itself, I have seen, can become an addictive form of approval. As Karl Marx said “religion is the opiate of the people”. I fear that the sad reality could be that many people attend church for social, political, cultural and other reasons that have nothing to do with any real desire to connect to God. Why do we judge those who don’t attend, especially those seeking a more authentic experience? For whatever a random statistic is worth, a poll of pastors revealed their opinions that less than 10% of their Sunday morning congregations were engaged in a transformative relationship with God. Before any of this sounds like the passing of any judgement, maybe all of us are trying in the only way we know how to engage in an authentic relationship with God. Maybe church attendance is where it begins for many, but what if it isn’t? Or it isn’t for everyone? What if some people need or want to move on to something different that fits their personality or lifestyle in a way that is better for their transformation? Why does it have to be a one size fits all? I’m definitely in the minority, but I don’t believe that it does.
I want to be authentically me. I want to be real and honest about the unhealed places of me. I’m not very good at pretending and that’s a big reason why I haven’t found belonging in church. I keep bumping up against “That’s not how we do things”. There doesn’t seem to be much room for authenticity. I’m learning that I just don’t “fit” in church. I don’t want to pretend I “have it all together”. I don’t want to spend time with people who are heavily invested in giving the appearance that they do – especially in a place where I’m trying to foster my most important relationship; the one I have with God. I want something that I know is real. I want something deeper and more authentic than the church offers. I want something more. I no longer believe that church is somewhere we are supposed to go. It’s becoming more and more of a belonging to God in my heart that instead, I take everywhere that I go. I believe, at least in part, that it is the real meaning and intention of spreading the gospel.