This is long, but I hope it’s fully read.
For a long time I’ve contemplated relaying my experiences with church over the internet. Some times I just didn’t want to, but most of the time, I felt that people needed to know. What if there were other people out there with similar experiences to mine but without a strong relationship to God? I feel, no I know, that after a similar experience, it would easily make someone lose their faith. We tend to put too much faith into people.
My previous experiences with churches weren’t good and they weren’t bad. My parents let me live freely: they instilled morals in me but never forced me to go to church or anything like that. I’ve always had this connection with God, though. I had never once doubted His existence. Even after meeting other children in a church I chose to go to in the 6th grade who bullied me (and one was in high school or older, bullying a 6th grader…pathetic, right?) and leaving there by the end of 8th grade, I didn’t lose faith. I just assumed those people were misled and didn’t understand.
Throughout high school, I didn’t go to church often at all. I visited the church I chose to go to in middle school once in a while, taking friends there, or I would visit my friends’ churches, but otherwise it wasn’t a routine for me to go. My mom reads the Bible every morning and on Sundays, as a family, we would sit and watch a sermon on TV. I had a very close relationship with God despite not going to church. I prayed to Him nearly every night and had complete faith that He was guiding me in the right direction with every decision I made.
Then college came and my life started getting bumpy. At one point, the summer before my third year of college, I couldn’t take things anymore. I was so broken, and even though I prayed and prayed to God, He didn’t give me what I asked for. I had never had that problem before, so I didn’t understand. Little did I know He had other plans for me.
A girl began talking to me and befriending me. I knew her from my second year of college but we had never really become friends. Though hesitant, I knew I had to start a new life. I felt so depressed and alone. So I started hanging out with her and some new friends. I loved them. I had so much fun and I started to feel so much better. Kristen then began inviting me to her church, and so Patrick Black, Ryan Turner, and I all decided to go together.
At this point, I was still having a previous issue with, no exaggeration, someone I’m convinced is evil or stupid. I thought out loud, “God, whatever this pastor says to do is what I’m gonna do!” So after getting a chance to speak with the pastor, I told him about my issue, and he gave me advice. It was great advice, and I’m really happy I decided to just go for it.
I could never find the courage to just delete this person out of my life, but I suddenly had it and I went for it. The church was really somewhere that I felt really good. I felt an even deeper connection with God and I was very dedicated. I wanted to do everything I could to please Him. My heart was really in the right places, though sometimes, like anyone, I struggled.
I tried to make friends. My personality can be somewhat hard to handle because I’m a naturally contradicting person. Most of the time I’m relaxed, but I’ll keep people at a distance. I was still recovering from the traumatic experiences I had. However, I wanted more spiritual people in my life. I also wanted to try to get further involved in the church.
Well, needless to say, there were cliques among my peers. I wasn’t “hipster” enough (gasp from some of my friends) to hang out with most of them. I also kept hearing the phrase, “Well, I don’t really know you or what your relationship with God is so it’d be wise to hang out in a group setting.” <–one of which, I don’t do well in. If I’m going to be with a BUNCH of strangers, I prefer one-on-one settings. The girl’s only talked about God, God fearing guys, YoungLife, the Office, and/or crafts most of the time. Or coffee. Anyone who knows me knows that I just can’t do that. If I’m going to have a conversation it has to involve music or animals or nature or different shows or SOMETHING else.
And then the guys. Well they would talk to me, but I was treated as if I had a disease in a way. I was kept a distance. Perhaps they perceived me wrongly, and I thought of that, but I didn’t quite feel like it was fair.
I’ll never forget an awkward conversation with a guy who did bring up music though: He asked, “What’s your favorite church song?” And I replied, “Um…uh…well I like the one where the chorus goes ‘Your love is an ocean wide’ or something like that.”
“You don’t remember the name?”
“Oh…well… I like this song.”
I felt so inadequate somehow.
So I turned my attention to try and get more involved in the church. I helped with Sunday school for a consecutive amount of times, but the organization of the rotation of Sunday school helpers was very disorganized, and I lost eventually lost the availability to help because of my job. So I figured, I play guitar, I can sing, let me try to get involved with the church band at least once.
I was completely left out. Though told I could help, I was given the wrong sheet music, and though they had my contact information, nobody contacted me to practice so I didn’t know when it was. Still, I practiced in my apartment and memorized all the songs. When I arrived early Sunday morning, they were already practicing without me, and I came to find that I was moved down to simply playing guitar. Of course, I was upset, but I said that I thought I was singing, and they gave me a mic after that.
Well, come to find, they gave me the wrong sheet music. Everything was in a different key, and I was treated as if I didn’t know anything about music at all. My feelings were really hurt by all of this because I finally accepted that maybe I was just left out. I wasn’t being spoken to with any respect either. I kept myself from crying but of course negative vibes were emanating from me. While I was sad, I was also really angered by all of this. It was really unfair. I still remember the hurt I felt from being talked down to and being so left out.
Somehow, I whittled it down to the fact that maybe I wasn’t communicating effectively. So I later Facebook messaged Josh (the worship leader at the time) to help again next week. I just wanted to play guitar. At first, he told me that he felt I didn’t know music well enough to help out, and that they would really like experienced people to be there. I was really offended, and I thoroughly explained my experience with music. After a little bit of back and forth, he called me. I’m sure he could tell I was upset, so I figured he called me so that he could get his tone across. Perhaps I was misinterpreting.
Instead, he called to tell me that the reason he didn’t want me helping the worship team is, and in his EXACT words because I will never forget this, “I don’t believe you have a good walk with God. You were giving off really bad vibes.” Of course, I yelled at him. I couldn’t believe someone would say that to me when the entire time I’ve tried so hard. I angrily hung up on him after yelling, and somehow right on time my friend Dylan had showed up at my apartment because we planned to hang out previously with Kristen. I immediately broke down sobbing.
The situation only worsened when I was told by the pastor later that I probably misinterpreted what Josh said to me and that he also trusted Josh’s judgement. I told him that there is no way to misinterpret that, first, and second, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
And this was the first time in my life that I doubted God.
I couldn’t understand why I felt so… prosecuted. I was giving everything up so that I could more closely follow the Bible and have a closer relationship with God, but somehow these people, people that I’ve never spent time with, people that didn’t know me one bit, and Josh who didn’t even know my own testimony and barely my name, wanted to tell me about MY walk with God. I received some comforting from friends, but it’s a situation that has stayed with me and still hurts to this day.
Still, I continued going to church because I really loved the way the pastor taught the Bible and the way he explained it. Some time passed.
Another incident was when one of the church guys actually showed some interest in me. I was really happy, honestly, because I thought that maybe this time I wouldn’t meet someone that was such a jerk, and previously before that I lost someone that was close to me because I was so terribly broken. Now that I felt better, I thought that this was really cool. We eventually went on one date and we hung out once or twice afterwards. Conversation was hard so I decided that even though he was cute, perhaps it just wasn’t anything to be interested in any longer. Also, I told him my testimony and he seemed sort of weird about it. Then, I made the mistake of thinking that a girl from the church was my friend. She spoke about how her cousin was going on dates with him and whatnot, so I simply mentioned that I went on a date with him once and that I thought he was cute and cool, but conversation was lacking. You know, girl talk.
Instead, as I pull up to the “cafe night” that the church has on Thursdays, I get a call from him. He asked me why I was telling everyone that he and I were dating. I had only told two people: Kristen and Kendall. Looking back at it now, I suppose she happened to gossip with one of her friends and that’s how it all started, but I was still so embarrassed. I had never said anything like that, and then for someone else to be telling everyone that I’ve been saying he and I dated? I couldn’t even show my face inside the church. After having a good cry in my car and explaining to him that I never said that he and I were dating each other, and that I had just told Kendall that we went on a date once because she was telling me about her cousin, I drove away from the church.
I’m one of those weird people that find comfort in sitting in an empty parking lot at night, and that’s exactly what I did.
I suppose it was about this time that I started losing faith in the church. I felt really alone. Once, I talked to the pastor about it, and his only response to me was that I was different from them and so it was unlikely I’d be friends with any of my peers from the church, and that I should try to find new friends. And I had.
Instead, I stated hanging out with a different group of people. Though it was it’s own handful of terrible and wonderful experiences, it was still a time where I found a few people that I could actually spend time with and feel happy with. I also met my best friend Emily about this time, and I was very thankful for that.
I continued going to that church, however, because I still very much liked how the Bible was explained in an easy to understand way that made complete sense and wasn’t way off kilter. I just didn’t show up as much. As my life improved, and I improved, I returned to church consecutively again.
I hadn’t seen my friend Kristen much, but she invited me to a prayer night at her house. I happily went because I wanted to also be able to spend some time with her before I headed to Indiana to see a friend and hang out. Plus, they were going to shoot a music video and it was going to be fun being a part of it. The night went pretty okay. However, it was getting late and I needed to be up early if I wanted to make it to Indiana on time. Kristen had disappeared with some people upstairs for a while, and I wanted to give her a hug goodbye before I left since it would be a couple days.
I knocked on her door, but I heard no response from her. Instead, I heard Randy on the other side of the door asking who it was. I told him that it was me and I just wanted to say goodbye to Kristen. He told me that they were all busy and that I should just leave. I thought it was really strange, but it was late and I headed home. Before I left for Indiana the next morning, I called Kristen. She acted really strange on the phone. I don’t recall the events perfectly, but I can tell you that she and I ended up not talking for about a month.
She finally told me the reason why a month later when she called me and requested to hang out and get coffee. Apparently, they all told her that I had a demon, that I was being a bad influence on her, and that she should not talk to me. They assured her that they would hang out with me, but that God told them that she should not hang out with me at all. She said she realized now how stupid it was. I couldn’t believe it.
I told her that within that month, their friend did hit me up to hang out with me. I didn’t think anything of it whatsoever. In fact, I was even happy that maybe I’d get to be friends with someone else from the church. However, after telling him my testimony after hanging out with him a couple times, he stopped responding to my texts and never really talked to me much.
Later, I was home schooling a girl through Lancaster Christian Academy. I found this to be a great opportunity to also perhaps try and get involved with Sunday school again since I loved teaching. Now reading through my experiences, I don’t know why I was still trying.
I helped with Sunday school once, and had a lot of fun laughing with the kids and listening to Patrick read Bible stories to them. I was even considering teaching education at this point, so this was a fun insight of what it’d be like. The next Sunday, I was told to turn in an application-type thing so that I could officially be helping with Sunday school. I was taken aside by Jamie and told that there were rumors that I hung out at bars so I was not allowed to hang out with Sunday school because the parents might worry.
Me hanging out at bars? I hate bars. I went to one for a music show which, two other Sunday school helpers were with me that night there too. That was finally the last straw for me. Jamie smiled and said I could still attend service, but after everything I’ve gone through, who the heck would?
I walked out and Brittany walked out after me. I drove off and I haven’t really looked back since. I even laughed when Jamie texted me saying I could talk to her because she was my friend. She had my number for two years but never once asked to spend time with me, even after I asked to hang out with her to which she was too busy.
It was probably the worst experience I’ve ever had with a church. Through all of this, I kept asking, why am I going through this? I wanted God to tell me why so bad. But after I left the church, I was suddenly surrounded by so much light. I had three friends that were consistently there for me, and we always had so much fun. I reconnected with a guy of strong faith who makes me incredibly happy.
I realize now I had to go through those experiences because God wanted to show me that I’m doing okay. He showed me that I don’t have to act like those bozos to be considered close to Him. He showed me that I could find light in the darkest of places. He showed me that I have a faithful, spiritual guy that loves me. He showed me so much through all of those things.
And don’t get me wrong, there were good people there at the church. I’ll never forget the kindness of Jake or Jacob or Dylan or Andrew or Malcolm, and even Kristen. I think the most important lesson God showed me was that there are people who claim to be devout, try-hard Christians that want to be very close to Him and spiritual, and they are the ones that are most likely going to severely disappoint me.
I guess it makes sense. If you really were in love with God, you wouldn’t have to act like such a try-hard.