Going to church can hurt. Like really hurt. As in it can bring on a panic attack or tears and emotional soul wrenching.
The weight of years of partial truth on your shoulders pulls down in full force. There are triggers starting in the parking lot. Just making it inside the church building takes outrageous courage. You want to believe. You want to be there. The foyer starts to spin. Your heart beats faster and faster. People around you become a blur. The feeling to run overwhelms. The music and program format are all too familiar. You remember the past. It feels as though someone is slowly wrapping your body in plastic wrap. Before long, your whole body is tight and you can’t hear anything but the pounding inside your head and you finally give in to the desire to escape before your whole being explodes.
The God you thought you knew, was a human-made God. Who can you believe? Who is telling the truth?
When the very thing that was supposed to equip you, bless you, teach you, bring you truth - when that thing was actually used as a weapon against you, to manipulate, control and to harm you it’s a tough pill to swallow. You feel betrayed. Lied to. Deceived and used.
Let me ease your mind a bit - it’s ok. You’re not crazy for feeling like this. It’s a symptom of religious or spiritual abuse. You have endured a trauma.
I know people who love Jesus and never go to church. But, tradition says it’s wrong to not attend church on a weekly basis. Tradition says it’s a sin. Tradition says you’re a bad person because you’re not sitting in a church pew every Sunday morning.
Many believe that we based Sunday worship services on the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath and from the book of Genesis where God rests on the seventh day. Also, 1 Corinthians describes how to behave when we do come together as a church. Other books in the New Testament give examples of churches thus the term, “New Testament Church.” Our own history and cultures have greatly influenced how we do church now, today, not just the Bible.
Let’s see a bit of what the Bible says to Christians…
The above reference is one of the most common Scriptures used to explain the need for church attendance. But hold on - it doesn’t say, “go to church every Sunday morning.” Its does say, “…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.”
When I sit in my living room jamming out hymns and worship songs with friends, we are fulfilling Hebrews 10:25, Ephesians 5:19 and Matthew 18:20. Two or more are assembling together exhorting one another and singing to the Lord.
When I meet at Starbucks with a friend, sip my latte and discuss theological topics, we are assembling ourselves together.
When my husband and I sit at home and discuss what God is teaching us personally and in our marriage, we are assembling ourselves together.
When I attend a church service or Bible study and listen to a leader teach, we are assembling ourselves together.
When I pray with a co-worker, we are assembling ourselves together.
Need I go on?
Another argument, is that if you have become disillusioned while attending church, you must have been looking to man instead of God the whole time.
While this may be the case for some, I have found that most often it’s because those to whom you are referring either abused, misused or misunderstood Scripture - whether intentional or not.
Children growing up in a church are a product of the culture and teachings of that church. Children are innocent and moldable, vulnerable and trusting. We have an entire generation of people who have backed away from church attendance because when they entered adulthood, they began to see that the church they grew up in got it horribly wrong, but yet they are so baffled as to what the truth actually is, they have to get completely away in order to start fresh with the God of the Bible.
When spiritual abuse has been realized, individuals often land in one of these camps…
The God they’ve learned to obey, serve and follow is a liar.
There is no God.
The Bible cannot be trusted or is not true.
The humans who taught them about God missed something and messed it up.
Trust no one.
For me, church attendance has been a journey. A painful, and on-going one. Yup, I’m one of those raised in church - like since birth.
After over five years of intense guilt for not attending Sunday morning services on a regular basis - and feeling ashamed because of that guilt - and forcing myself to attend church only to live through what I described in the opening sentences of this article, I went on staff at a large church.
This was going to be a “happy-medium” for me as I would be going to church with my family every Sunday but I had a job to do, I didn’t have to attend services. For a year, this worked beautifully. I was in the church environment without being triggered. What a win! I was focused on my work and distracted by responsibilities on Sundays. The events or programs not on Sundays were great too! I loved being with my family in this way.
Then…enter a new staff member. I had never been bullied or falsely accused in such a way. In the end, it was me or them.
I had given “the church” another chance and it happened again. This person had been church leadership/staff for nearly as long as I’d been alive. This set me back…years of work…Trigger-Fest 101. I’d been tripped by a stumbling block.
While still reeling from the pain, feeling misunderstood and abused, asking questions and in shock - I felt the Holy Spirit speak to my heart. “Give yourself permission to never go to church again.” And that’s what I did.
I cannot tell you the burden that was lifted. The guilt and shame rolled away. Then I heard, “I love you whether you go to church or not.”
Now, these words are not written to tell you to never go to church or that the Bible is wrong. Nope, nuh uh. If you have that pull in your heart to go to church - you need to go. If you have been wounded by people in church leadership and mis-used and misunderstood teachings of the church and it’s too painful for you, you don’t have to go. When you are ready to read the Bible again, you will know. This is a season.
Jesus brings life. When you walk in the doors of Worship and the life is being sucked right out of you, something is terribly wrong.
I do challenge you to do three things…
Find a psychologist, licensed counselor or certified coach who can help you process your thoughts, emotions and evolving beliefs. Someone with specialized training in trauma and/or religious abuse is optimal.
Seek a community of Believers to support you on this journey. This may be a tribe of people you hang out with all the time or a group you join online. Iron still sharpens iron.
Allow yourself the time you need to heal. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a triathlon. Don’t give yourself a deadline.
There are many positive benefits from being part of a healthy church community. When it’s time, when you have healed, perhaps you’ll find your way back to a pew again…maybe not.
But in the mean time, take a deep breath. Again, this is a season, but make it a pro-active one. Open your heart and mind to God - allow Him to guide your beliefs and opinions. You may feel awkward for a while. You may not have answers to certain moral or political questions like you used to. What you thought that Bible reference meant, you now discover is completely wrong. Take another deep breath.
God’s truth hasn’t changed. His original intent is still intact.
God doesn’t love you any less because you can’t go to church. You were lied to. Someone abused you. You are His wounded child. He wants to help bring healing. Search for His truth. Not man’s version of truth. Allow yourself to ask those questions you’ve always had. This is an exciting time! Don’t lose hope. The real God is still there, He’s waiting for you and understands.