When I was a child, going to Sunday school and church was as much a part of me as putting on my clothes. I wasn’t made to go, I wanted to go.
Childhood memories flood my mind with Billy Gram crusades, Oliver Green tent revivals and meeting in the preacher’s house, then in his garage, then in a circus tent while the church was being built. Laughing, I remember the preacher’s rattle-trap van bouncing me up and down and banging my head against the window as he drove through deeply creviced ditches to pick up poor kids for Sunday school. Mr. and Mrs. Sterling were more than preacher and wife; they were our family’s best friends.
Mr. Sterling often brought us bags and bags of groceries telling mom that God told him we needed them. He prayed over my baby brother one day who suffered a bowel obstruction. When mom sat him on his potty, everything broke loose and he never suffered bowel problems since.
I felt safe in the church; like I belonged there. I enjoyed being with my friends, memorizing scripture, having Bible drills, and singing and playing my accordion. And I liked that the church was plain and simple, not big and fancy that seemed more like a morgue than a church. It was a little, cinderblock mission where babies were allowed to cry, Baptisms took place in freezing cold creeks under God’s blue skies, and get-togethers were hot dogs and weenie roasts and kids wading in the creek and catching tadpoles in jars.
I always felt that people needed to be in church and always encouraged my brothers to go, thinking that it would somehow change their lives. And I’m not saying that it doesn’t change people’s lives, but it’s not the church that changes people, it’s a repentant heart and the cleansing power of Jesus Christ. And there are many people sitting in their pews thinking that because they go to church they are going to Heaven.
Sadly, along with many years of attending church, come heartaches and misunderstandings, gossip and quarrels, cliques, and favoritism, frustration, and burn-out. Instead of being the perfect place for coming together and working things out, some leaders prefer to sweep conflicts under the rug and hope no one notices there are problems in the church. And then they wonder why people emotionally and physically drift away.
I feel that many in the world today are either looking for something they long for in church or have lost hope of ever finding it and given up. And many may never find Christ as a result of it.
I’m thankful that I grew up in church and remember the good times. I’m thankful that I asked Jesus into my heart when I was five years old. I’m thankful that we have a warm and loving relationship and that He is always by my side regardless of whether I’m praising Him in church or sitting on my back porch or in my living room in front of a cozy fire.
I wish I could say I miss going to church. The truth is, my heart is totally at peace with not going. Many don’t understand why I feel the way I do, but God does. He knows and understands the deep hurt and the tears I’ve cried over things that destroyed my trust and turned my heart away. And where I expected to find love and understanding and let’s sit down and talk about this I found cold indifference; a total lack of concern.
After more than three years, I’m still struggling with hurt and anger and confusion. Call it a bruised ego, an unwillingness to forgive; whatever you want to call it. I call it a grieving process; and as with all grief, it takes time, for some longer than others.
And if anyone comes to the conclusion that the only way you can be a real Christian is to attend church, where does that leave our shut-ins and those in nursing homes?
I don’t apologize for my feelings, they’re mine and God allows me to have them plus all the time I need to work through them. Just like life itself, the church has its ups and downs, hurts and confusion, but it’s how it deals with it that matters in the long run.