There was a time when I said I loved God, but I hated his people. I hated church – the displays of worship, the preaching, and the music. It was all fake, disingenuous. God was distant. I raised my eyebrows and muttered “good luck with that” when people said they prayed.
The same attitude that the Grinch had towards the Whos in Whoville, I had towards Christians, and I sounded a lot like him. I was cranky and judgmental, cynical and superior.
A Heart That Was Two Sizes Too Small
The truth is that I was broken inside. I didn’t truly know God’s love. Christians had hurt me, and I built walls thinking I could avoid pain. The problem with walls is that though they are great at keeping things out, they are also great at keeping things in, and a heart that isn’t flowing, isn’t growing. . . it shrinks.
I blamed my pain on others. Instead of looking to God for healing and using pain as an opportunity to grow, I saw myself as a victim. I went through hard times, hellish times, and all these people whom I went to church with seemed to go on smiling and not seeing my pain, so I went on smiling and tried not to show my pain. A big part of my inability to open up was because I had no grasp of grace. But I didn’t know that then, and I turned the pain that I felt into hatred towards my fellow believers.
I began to notice how people “fell short.” The same people whom I labeled as judgmental, I judged quite severely. My reason for going to church wasn’t to worship God, I was there to fulfill a Christian duty and to keep up Christian appearances. During worship, I was looking at other people and judging them or envying them. During the sermon, I could barely keep my eyes open.
I had no compassion or empathy for Christians whom I immediately held to a higher standard just because they professed to believe in God. Very few, if any, can change overnight once they accept Jesus into their lives, so why did I expect Christians to be perfect?
The Climb to Mount Crumpit
My bitterness and pain mounted, and I lived on that mountain for many years. I no longer went to church. Then eventually, I no longer read my Bible, and soon after that I stopped praying, except maybe occasionally. Then, I questioned God’s existence entirely.
I tried going to church a couple of times during this period, but the experience was so viscerally displeasing, that I vowed I’d never go back. The first time, I was with my husband and some friends, and I had a full on panic attack. I left before the service ended.
The second time, I went to my brother’s church for an event. A woman there greeted me with a big smile and said something to the effect, “It’s such a beautiful day in the Lord!” How cloyingly sweet, I just might puke! I thought. I refused to smile and rolled my eyes. During the whole service, I wrote in my journal about fake Christians and tried to pick apart every word someone said to prove my point.
The third time, was after my daughter was born. I went back to the church my grandmother had taken me to when I was young. It was a different church by then but the same location. I can’t remember anything “wrong” with the service or the music or the people. In fact, the pastor even stopped me and my husband in the hall and kindly introduced himself to us. But I was short with him and couldn’t wait to leave that place. I never wanted to see another church again. Little did I know that I would find myself back at this church a year or so later.
The Fall from Mount Crumpit
Surprisingly, today I am a person who genuinely loves going to church, multiple times a week. I would go to every service they offered if it wasn’t a burden on my family. I love worshiping God, and the preaching, and the people. The wonderfully imperfect people.
I didn’t get there overnight. Rather, God was planting seeds in my life for some time. Ironically, the deep pain that drove me away from the church was the same thing that drove me into God’s arms. For a long time, I thought I would handle things my way, but when it got to be too much, I sought God. What a loving God that He would pursue me even when I hated him and his people!
Eventually, I needed a space to worship God, and so I started to go to church again. I tried several churches, and finally felt at home at the same one that I almost ran out of while the pastor introduced himself to me and my husband a year prior. The sanctuary indeed became a sanctuary from the turmoil that I was experiencing.
In those early weeks of returning to church, I felt so overwhelmingly grateful to worship God and be surrounded by people who sang the same songs to the same God. It was powerfully moving. During that time, God so clearly spoke this to me: “Church is a tool, not a replacement for me.” I had a tendency to replace God with checklists and rules. I made people’s opinions my god, instead of looking to God for my worth. Just like the Grinch needed to know that there is more to Christmas than presents, I needed to know that there is more to a relationship with God than a checklist. I needed to know that if I allowed it to become my god, even this church that was filling my heart with joy could spoil my faith. My Grinch heart began to grow with God’s grace.
We Love Because He Loves
Maybe you have someone in your life who is like me, and they don’t understand your faith. Maybe they are bitter and resentful. I urge you to be patient and keep on showing them love and grace. Know that God loves them, and He is working on them. You can let go of trying to change them. Keep looking to God to fill your cup with love, so you can send His love out into the world.
Maybe you are like me, and you once felt God’s love and had passion for Him, and now you are unimpressed. I urge you to assess where the disconnect is coming from. Talk to God about it even if you’re not convinced He’s listening. If you’re angry at God, let Him know why. Maybe you are like me and people hurt you, and you blame God for that. He still wants to make things right with you. Ask Him to soften your heart. For us wall-builders, this is a bold prayer. It’s an invitation to let God in. Be brave when you start to feel pain again as He reveals wounds that you hid or denied. I assure you that He will lavish you with His love and there is no balm, no cure, no treatment on earth that can replace the great healing power of God’s love known.