I used to brag about how much I hated church.
I bragged because I thought my discomfort was some kind of virtue. When I first started church-going, I believed I was uncomfortable because my sinful nature was getting squirmy in the presence of God’s holiness.
This is what my former theology professor called “A competitive and hierarchical relationship with God.” Meaning, if God is big, we must be small. If God is strong, then we should be weak. If God is good, surely we are bad.
This competitive and hierarchical relationship was my creed for my early Christian life. As I sang the worship songs at church, I would internally try to make myself as small as possible so God could be big. This was useful in generating some sense of awe for God, but not good for developing an internal locus of control or self-agency. Plus, it felt bad to be small, weak, and sinful. But I knew of no other theological options. So I kept going.
I need this church, despite the discomfort, I thought.
Later, I started to lay claim to my original goodness, my voice and my power. I banished competition and hierarchy from my relationship with God, and started feeling a little better. Instead of trying to change myself, I tried to change my church. They didn’t have any other vocal, angry women in their midst, and I thought they could use at least one. So I kept going.
This church needs me, despite the discomfort, I thought.
You’re probably not surprised to hear that going to churches that constantly triggered discomfort and anger was neither wise nor sustainable. I wasn’t doing myself or my church friends any favors. When Jack and I realized that we spent more time complaining about church than we spent in church, we slowly phased out.
Last week I was asked to give the “minute for Stewardship” talk at Holy Innocents. This means I tried putting into words what that place has meant to me over the past year, and why I choose to give money to the church. If ever there was an exercise in unearthing cognitive dissonance, this would be it. But I felt great giving this talk. It was easy. Because, finally, my church feels like home. Of course I’m going to put time and money into my home.
While some things do rankle me at my church (AHEM apostles creed), I’m mostly super happy there, to the point where I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. Am I supposed to be happy, to feel like I have a voice and I matter? Do other people feel that way too, or am I getting special treatment?
I was once afraid that a comfortable church wouldn’t challenge me to grow. Or that my comfort would be a sign that I was not challenging my fellow attendees. I thought that going to a church that made me happy would be like hiding my light under a bushel.
Turns out, it’s more like going back for regular re-kindling.
Don’t stay at a church that requires smallness, or one where anger is treated as a necessary bi-product of fellowship. Don’t let someone convince you that they need you too much for you to leave. It feels good to be happy. It feels good to be home.