I think it was November of 2016 that I stopped going. I didn’t know how long it would be before I went back, or if I would even go to that church again. I just knew that I needed a break. I was tired of walking into church and knowing I was out of place. I hated feeling like everyone was looking in on a club that I was not a part of. I couldn’t stand being present but feeling distant.
I had recently come out to some, though not all, of the church community. Even to the ones I was not officially “out” to could hardly ignore the fact that I was different. The church had rapidly expanded over the past few months, and I couldn’t help but notice the new faces that stared a little too long at the girl with very short hair who habitually wore button-downs.
Among the people who did know my story, the responses were varied. All spoke of love, but I know many worried that I was headed down the wrong path. It’s hard embarking on a new journey when the people around you openly question your decisions.
I remember driving out of the church parking lot one Sunday and thinking, This is it. I’m not coming back next week. I may not come back ever. And when I got home, I glanced at the stack of Bibles on my bedside table, and I decided not to read them for a while. I couldn’t stand the thought of reading out of a sense of duty anymore. I walked away from the church that I loved and set aside those books that I had read cover to cover. I took a break from the religion of Christianity.
Separating from church gave me room to breathe. I was able to hear my thoughts and feel the pain and anger that had accumulated from years of being told that my orientation was something that I needed to be healed of. I ran a lot, shedding my frustration along miles of wooded trails and exhaling the toxins that had poisoned me for so long. I asked questions. I listened to music, loud over the radio, with my head out my window and the wind whipping my hair. I drank lots of coffee and I talked to strangers. I blogged.
And through it all, I met God in a different context than I’d known him before. Away from sermons, religious verbiage, and familiar verses, he was nonetheless always there. I saw him in the glowing sunset, and in the persistent rain that Northwesters learn to love. I saw him in my friends–Athiests, Muslims, and Mormons alike. I heard him in song, and I felt his warmth in my heart every night before I fell asleep.
As the months went by, I saw the words I’d read so many times proven before my eyes. I felt the truth in the teachings of Jesus.
I’ve been told that Christians who stop going to church risk being trapped by lies and being separated from God. But that always bothered me a little. If my faith can’t survive without a weekly dose of church, then is it really worth having in the first place?
It’s been over a year, and so much has changed. I’m stronger than I was. Some things that I knew in my head before, I now feel in the core of my being.
There was bitterness threatening to set into my soul in the wake of the spiritual abuse I endured for so long. I know forgiveness now. I was able to brush away the caustic ideologies that had damaged my heart, and allow time for healing.
I don’t intend to stay away from church forever. There is so much to learn from others’ knowledge of God, and there is much to accomplish together. I don’t think I’ll ever feel at home in the evangelical circles I came from, but I am certain there is a community that will welcome me.