Five times. Five times I’ve started this post. Five times I’ve typed the words, “I didn’t go to church today,” and five times, I’ve deleted them. Five times I’ve closed my laptop, wiped tears from my cheeks, and walked away, wishing I could write.
I didn’t go to church today.
I haven’t gone all semester.
Five years ago if you’d told me I’d leave home, go to school, and one day give up on church, I would have laughed in your face.
Me? Leave the church? Impossible. But here I am on a Sunday evening, unchurched, unsorry, and mute.
If this post makes no sense, it’s because I’m still in the thick of it, still caught up in confusion. I don’t have all the answers. Some days, I doubt I have any at all.
Ironically, it was at church that I first heard of this book, Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. My preacher referenced it in a sermon, and after seeing the subtitle–“loving, leaving, and finding the church”–I knew I had to read it. But it was summer, I was home, and I was afraid. Afraid to read it around my parents, afraid they’d ask questions, questions I didn’t want to answer, questions I couldn’t answer, so I waited.
When I finally got my hands on it the second week of September, I’d already skipped church twice. For three years, I’d played hopscotch with the churches in Searcy, but now, this semester, I was done.
“You get out of it what you put into it.”
“You’ve got to get plugged in.”
“Church isn’t about you, it’s about God.”
“You’ve got to go every Sunday. Skip once and you’re done.”
I’d heard the warnings my whole life. I’d dragged myself out of bed every Sunday fueled by those warnings, scared to death by those warnings, those predictions that if I skipped–even once–I was done for.
But the funny thing about guilt is that it never works. Not for long. Oh, it got me out of bed on Sunday, but it also made me sick, sick because I knew I wasn’t going for the right reasons. I was going because I was scared. I was going because I wanted to tell my parents that I’d gone to church every Sunday. I was going so I wouldn’t have to lie.
I was going to be “a good Christian.”
I’ve never confessed my struggles. When I’m home, it’s easier to let people think I’m that quiet, godly girl from high school whose favorite author was Francine Rivers and whose greatest goal was to see my books in a Christian bookstore than it is to open my mouth and confess that I don’t know what to think of gay marriage, that I believe our God-language is broken, and that maybe, just maybe, we put too much stock in the Bible. Even now, typing these words scares me because they’re not what I want to say. They’re not what I want to say because I don’t know what I want to say. I’m still trying to figure it out.
Rachel Held Evans is still figuring it out, too.
Rachel Held Evans gets me.
She structures the book around the seven sacraments of the high church: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. From there, she eases into her story, speaking openly of her hurt and healing with an honesty that is both poignant and refreshing. She wears no masks. She offers no platitudes. She openly admits that she doesn’t have all the answers. And while there are remnants of anger in her words, as well as hurt and confusion, there is also love and laughter and grace. So much grace.
If you asked me why I’m not going to church this semester, I’d say it’s because I’m healing. Healing from what? From a lot of things. From the school that told me I’m not a good Christian if I don’t go to church three times a week. From the teacher who assigned us 7 chapters of missionary history and skipped the one on women. From the student who said I couldn’t lead prayer because he didn’t feel comfortable with a girl praying in mixed company. From a summer job that revealed the ugliest parts of my faith’s history. From the notion that God must never be referred to as feminine, because–because why? Because we’re lesser? Inadequate? Unable to evoke the image of God?
“[T]he kingdom remains a mystery just beyond our grasp,” Rachel writes at the end of the book. “It is here, and not yet, present and still to come. Consummation, whatever that means, awaits us. Until then, all we have are metaphors. All we have are almosts and not quites and wayside shrines. All we have are imperfect people in an imperfect world doing their best to produce outward signs of inward grace and stumbling all along the way. All we have is this church–this lousy, screwed-up, glorious church–which, by God’s grace, is enough.”
Searching for Sunday gave me permission. It gave me permission to heal, to admit that I can’t do church right now, and to believe that I’m just as loved and valued and valuable in my questions and my doubt as I am in my certainties. It showed me that I’m not alone in my questions, not alone in my anger, not alone in life at all.
But most importantly, it gave me hope.
Hope to keep on searching.