• Barb Lownsbury

Feeling Safe in Church

I remember the first time I decided to go back to a church. I sat toward the rear of the sanctuary with silent tears streaming down my face nearly the whole time. I had come from a place where legalism and harshness were the norm. For the first time in a long time, I was sitting in a place that exuded grace, compassion and mercy. I was so struck by the contrast I couldn’t contain my emotion. It was such a healing place for me.

After a few weeks, I talked with the minister and let him know my background and circumstances. When I did, he gave me a priceless gift. He told me all he wanted me to do was just come. I didn’t need to get involved. I didn’t need to lead anything. I didn’t even need to give money. Just come, heal and get spiritually strong again. That was it. There was no angle, no future expectation. Just come and heal. For the first time since I was a young girl, I felt safe in church again. It was a freeing, incredible experience.

Religion can sometimes give us a nasty black eye. Well meaning people with warped views of God and the Bible can inflict incredible damage on one another all with the intention of saving and helping. Sometimes we’ve been that well-meaning person. Yet despite all that, I knew God had called me into community. You see it all over the bible both practically (they were alwaystogether) and specifically (“Do not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing” – Hebrews 10:25). How do you reconcile this?

Now the easiest thing to do would be to just run! Why bother with all this religion stuff?! It just hurts and it’s messy. People are messy. So many of us hold onto a love for God, but we ignore spiritual relationships, and we ignore the bible in particular. I know I have.

For me, it was a process. I had to start separating out God from what people had said. I had to be reminded the bible isn’t there to beat me over the head – it’s all stated with love and hope for my best life outcome. I had to step back and re-examine for myself who I am before God, what my personal boundaries should be based on how God feels about me, and look for answers on how to deal with others in a way that’s genuine but still loving when they’re trying to press their will onto me.

Ultimately, we’re wired to need people. Research has shown time and time again we need that connection, that sense of community to flourish. And I had to look at the second half of the scripture in Hebrews 10:25. It says we shouldn’t give up meeting together, but listen to the why –so we may encourage one another! Our role isn’t to fix, it’s to put courage back into each other over and over again.

Now I know there are times I need to hear things from someone who cares enough to point out a truth to me. After all, I tend to be the least objective with myself. Hard things may need to be said and challenges may need to be offered up for my consideration. But it should be done with the greatest respect, the greatest love and deep humility. We are none of us perfect. We are all hopelessly flawed. Love allows me to accept as I’m ready to receive without judgment.

So don’t give up on church. Don’t give up on people. The reward is worth the work involved. And when you find a place that offers you truth covered in a blanket of unconditional acceptance and love, know you have found a good home.

For further thought: If you haven’t found place of worship that resonates with you, don’t stop searching! There’s no such thing as a perfect church since it will by definition be filled up with imperfect people – you and me included! Remind yourself of Proverbs 17:17: “A truefriend loves regardless of the situation, and a real brother exists to share the tough times.” Those kinds of spiritual relationships are worth the effort and the wait.

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