We all know how the story goes…
At some point in time, we come across something that teaches us what it means to love. We start smiling a lot more, we feel a deeper sense of joy, and colors seem brighter. All is well with the world and we feel like nothing bad is going to happen. We’ll always be this happy, this content, this in love.
Then just as suddenly as it comes, it is gone. It starts slowly at first. An unkind word here, a sideways glance there. A bunch of little things that add up over time to become a big thing. We start to look for things that are wrong instead of choosing to show grace. We pick fights about things that aren’t important because it’s easier than really dealing with the things that are.
We think about it all the time. Every person we pass, every song we hear- it all reminds of us of what we once had. It hurts to remember, yet it hurts not to.
Slowly, but surely, the hurt becomes less. We see the part we played and how it wasn’t as one-sided as it once felt. Eventually, we forgive.
We forgive all the looks, all the glances, all the disagreements, and we begin to feel peace. We get to a place where we can look back, remember the good times and smile. A place where we can appreciate the lessons we’ve taken away and know that despite all the bad, we came out a better person. Our first love becomes a fond memory in our minds and hearts, and we even look forward to doing it all over again.
I have definitely had this experience with a person, but what most sticks out to me is my relationship with the Church. I grew up going to church- I may as well have been born right in the sanctuary with how quickly my parents got me there. I knew all the words to be able to sing along with the choir, which eventually turned into the band when my mom decided she wanted to be able to wear pants to church. I knew enough Bible verses to get a badge in Awana (religious version of boy scouts and girl scouts) every week. The church is where I met my first boyfriend, led my first small group, got baptized (twice), and made my first significant friendships. It’s where I learned to not be afraid of leading and to not shy away from new opportunities. When I was there, I was home.
But as I got older, something happened. I started to realize that churches are full of people, and as we all know- people are messy. Which means church is messy.
It wasn’t one big event that happened and suddenly I was jaded to the church. No, it was a bunch of little things strung together. Not being old enough to lead here, seeing a female not be able to speak from stage there. I listened to people talk about the way I should live in a way I had never heard Jesus talk. I watched people who were hurting and confused get turned away because their lifestyle didn’t “fit.” I saw churches make decisions based on financial reasons instead of Jesus reasons. I experienced leaders in my church saying hateful things about other leaders.
I began to pull away because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t (and still don’t) understand how an institution that is supposed to be about loving God and loving others could fail so miserably at both of those. I would skip a Sunday one month, which turned into two the next and continued that pattern until it was no Sundays. And you know what- I didn’t miss it.
I would turn off the radio if I heard a song they used to play in the lobby. I avoided going to the coffee shop where I knew a lot of members frequented on the weekend. All of it hurt. It hurt to think about how much I used to love it and didn’t seem to feel that anymore. It hurt to see old friends still thriving and somehow getting passed all the messiness I couldn’t. It hurt knowing that I still loved Jesus and still wanted a community where that was shared.
Then, slowly but surely, the hurt became less. I could see the times where I should have spoke up and didn’t and the times were I should have stayed quiet and chose not to. I could see that everyone there was just trying to figure out what it looks like to love God and love others, and sometimes they messed up. That not everyone was out to get someone, and there was more good than bad.
I can look back on it and smile now. Smile at remembering sitting in a living room full of women as we wrestled through how to let God heal us from our past. I smile as I think about the high school girls I would get coffee with and how excited they were to talk about life with someone who’d “been there.” When I hear a song on the radio that I recognize, I don’t change the station anymore. I let it play, and sometimes I even sing along.
I’m starting to forgive the church because I see now that the pain I’ve experienced isn’t the church’s fault. In fact, I don’t know if it’s anyone’s fault. When you choose to go through life alongside other people, you’re going to get hurt. You’re going to hear things you don’t want to hear and see things you don’t want to see.
I don’t want to do life if it’s not alongside other people, so I’m learning to be good with the mess.
And just like all first loves, I can look back with fond memories and be grateful for all the church has brought me.
I can even look forward to doing it again.