How I Found God When I Left the Church
9 months ago I walked away from the church I was attending after a very hurtful string of events. For months I struggled with feeling like a failure. What was so wrong with me that I just couldn’t make it work in a church? I have attended several churches over the years with ultimately the same result. I attend for said amount of time, find my place, begin to feel drawn closer to God, feel “pressured” into stepping up to serve, and then eventually something happens and I reminded of why I so deeply dislike the institution of church – and I leave hurt and unsure of what God has in store for me, and questioning my relationship with God.
This last exit left me questioning everything about my Christian identity. How could I possibly be a Christian if I felt so distant from anything the religion of Christianity stood for? I knew that in my heart I believed that Jesus died on the cross to bear my sins. I knew that I wanted to spend eternity with him in Heaven. What I didn’t know was how all of this could be true if I didn’t want all of the other stuff that came along with belonging to a church.
To me, belonging to a church and being a Christian felt so conditional. I had to put on a show to be a part of this group of people. It put me back to my days in high school where I so desperately wanted to fit in, but could never find my place. It was this endless cycle of society reminding me that I wasn’t enough – and never would be.
After leaving my church I went through several phases. I first was angry and hurt. I questioned God and how he could be what I had always been taught he was, if I was so constantly hurt by his people. Then, I started to open up the onion of what my beliefs were. I peeled it back, layer by layer, and examined those ideas against the truth of what Jesus tells me.
I began to understand that what the Bible teaches me is contrary to many of the things that churches are teaching. I began to understand that “church” as we know it in this country is so wrapped up in religion – pastors getting an ego boost by delivering a “great” sermon; people getting an ego boost by serving in every capacity available; sitting in a pew every time the doors are open; and earning another crown by inviting that unchurched person to join you on Sunday morning… all with a sprinkling of Jesus. I have read so many books, including the Bible, that paint the way for what Jesus depicted as what we should be doing – and very little of it lines up with what is the western church.
In the last 9 months, my relationship with God has become so personal. So real. So unlike what it has been in the last 35 years of my life and it is beyond freeing. I have had Christian friends slowly distance themselves from me because I no longer attend church. I have had people say “you just need to get into church and you would be so happy”. The funny thing is, I am the happiest I have ever been in my life.
Sometimes, I miss that community of believers. Sometimes, I feel like I am standing alone on an island. It is very difficult to exist in a small town of church-goers when you don’t go to church. Very few people understand the concept of believing wholeheartedly in Jesus, but abandoning the concept of church.
I don’t fault anyone for attending church. If you truly believe this is where God has lead you, then do it. If you truly feel uplifted by attending church, then go. Please, by all means do what makes you feel the most connected and involved with God. But, please respect my decision to make my relationship with God personal. Do not attempt to “sway” me, because it won’t work. Respect my choice to allow my children to decide what their relationship with God will look like.
This is an ever-changing concept for me. My idea of God will be something that never stops evolving. I hope to create an all inclusive concept of God and, as much as I don’t like the word, religion. I am shedding my label of Christian, and I am taking on a new one of Jesus-follower. I want to connect with God on a truly pure and personal level.