The Lonely Church Hunt

Church hunting is one of my least favorite things to do.

It is oftentimes frustrating and always nerve-wracking. I had a great church experience when I was going to school in Southern California. I was finally beginning to understand the church culture down there and found an amazing family at a new church plant in Orange, California. When I found them I knew my time with them would be limited but I enjoyed every moment of it.

Being back in Oregon means I have to find a church again. The one I attended through high school and the start of college simply isn’t my home anymore. I wanted to find a church within the community I was living in, anyway, not one twenty minutes away in a town I was out of touch with. So Sunday after Sunday (on the Sundays I can manage to get out of bed which is a different topic) I try new churches and I walk out of them feeling strangely alone.

The past few years have taught me that ‘little c’ church is not the same as ‘big c’ Church. The Church, which is the culmination of all God’s people all around the world regardless of denomination, is different than the little church communities that meet in buildings on Sunday. They are all connected to the bigger idea of Church and I would think that would make it easy to slide into a community and find a home. After all, we believe the same things. Death, burial, resurrection and all of that. Yet it doesn’t seem to be the case in my experience.

A favorite author and blogger of mine, Rachel Held Evans, posted this on Facebook yesterday:

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I appreciated it. I appreciated the admission of loneliness because it finally gave me the description of what I felt as I left churches. The thing is the loneliness doesn’t come from a lack of a connection with God. It comes from a lack of connection with God’s people, with my Christian family.

When I started in at my University I would have said that church was about me and God. It was about me going and connecting with God and then leaving until the following week. My view of church was narrow and consisted of me and God. Sure, interaction with other people was nice but it wasn’t a requirement. As long as I was on good terms with God I was fine.

Then I learned something very important: church isn’t about me it is about connecting with fellow believers. It is about joining into something bigger than just me. It is about communion and collective worship. God is seen in his Church, where ever his people gather together he is there, and I think this is by design because He knows that we need each other. His people need to be with other members of the body in order to grow, mentor, flourish, and change.

So when I walk out of a church building on a Sunday and feel lonely it isn’t because I didn’t get something out of God, or that I feel my connection with Him is lacking. I feel lonely because I felt like an alien, a foreigner, and someone who didn’t belong in that particular church.

I won’t give up my search for a church family and already have an idea of where I will go from here, but I wanted to share because I think what Rachel said is important. Any person – Christian or non Christian – who walks out of a church feeling lonely isn’t alone in that feeling.

You’re in good company. 

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The lie of loneliness

I am a student worker in two departments at my university. The first one I was hired in, and where I have been working for two years, is the Department of Learning Technology. It is the department that nobody really knows about, but everyone needs something from at some point. It is a funny little department but I love it with all my heart. Tonight we went out, the five of us, to happy hour in order to celebrate my boss’ new job (even if it means leaving us). As we sat around the table laughing, eating, and being merry I realized something that should not have taken me this long to realize:

The biggest lie I’ve ever told myself is that I’m alone.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve isolated myself from people. There are a lot of factors that play into it, including part of my upbringing, but the bottom line is that I have consistently chosen to be alone. Perhaps I didn’t have those founding relationships that are so important to children and I never learned to really talk about what was going on in my head, but that does not excuse the fact that I have always had a choice to speak out. I have always had the choice to accept kindness. Yet I so rarely do because I have somehow convinced myself that no one could understand where I’m coming from and even more so, there is no way anyone could love me as I am.

Oh how wrong I have been. Twenty two years and I’m still figuring it out.

Tonight at dinner it hit me: Every time I’ve struggled, every time I’ve had a bad day, every time I’ve hidden away and avoided people, and every time I have needed someone there have been people within arm’s reach. If I needed to sit in my boss’ office and vent it would not have been a problem. If I needed to sit in a co-worker’s office and cry, any of them would have sat with me in it. These people that I have been able to laugh with, play with, work with, and enjoy life with are not just in it for the good times but would be there for the bad ones as well.

Why? Because that is what family does, and these people are definitely family. Of course we all have our imperfections, our unwillingness-es to reach out, and our own insecurities that leave us feeling threatened and isolated, but they pale in comparison to the love and affection we have for one another.

For all the times I’ve told myself I’m alone there have been people waiting at arm’s length, ready to be there for me if I would just ask.

So to anyone who feels alone, you’re not. To anyone who feels like their problems wouldn’t be understood, they might not be right away, but with time even the most complicated problems can be understood. To the reader out there who feels like their problem is too big, too scary, too dark…it isn’t. People care. It is hard to believe it and even harder to reach out but I have found that sometimes we just have to push through the difficulty, do what doesn’t come naturally, and allow ourselves to be surprised when it works out in our favor.

Would you turn away someone you know who needed you in a moment of vulnerability? No?

Odds are the people in your life won’t turn you away either.