Church PTSD – one year later

One year ago, professor and author, Scot McKnight was kind enough to post something I had written. I had written it out of great frustration over the many articles I was reading about the importance of attending church. It was posted without my name or particular details that could potentially identify me, which I appreciated at that time. I was terrified of Christians at that point, and didn’t really want to give them a reason to hate me more. I was not surprised by the over 100 responses to the post that were mostly written by people that identified with what I was experiencing. It seems there are a lot of us out there. “Us” being people who would love to have the community a church provides, and would love to study and debate the teachings of Jesus, and would love to plan projects to show God’s love to the world around them… but who just cannot take the risk to find that community.

It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, only you have asthma and extreme hay allergies.

I am not a believer in the “time heals all wounds” statement. I think time muffles the pain and time gives perspective and becomes more of a lumpy scar than an open wound, but to think that time alone will heal a wound is wishful thinking, in my opinion.

So, one year later, (and three since the actual events that led to the PTSD) I am still hurting…but the pain is dull instead of sharp. The pain is intermittent instead of constant. The pain is bearable most of the time. I still don’t attend church, but I did go to a Christmas Eve service and found that I was not terrified. In fact, I found that I was frustrated by the way Jesus was being portrayed and represented, but in the past I wouldn’t have even known what they were saying. I would only have heard my own breathing and heartbeat and sniffling as I shook visibly in my seat. I count this as progress.

I’m not looking for the day that I will feel comfortable attending church. At this point, I think I am so annoyed with churches I just don’t want to have a part of them. But anytime I can get past living in fear and instead can choose logically whether or not to participate in a certain activity is a good step forward in my book.

Some people have called me brave for writing the original church PTSD post. I have always responded that writing something without my name on it hardly seems brave. I feel like I spoke for a lot of people when I wrote it, though, and would like to continue to speak for those who don’t have a voice. I think there is a large group of us spread out in this country that love God and want desperately to follow Jesus, but don’t find themselves welcome at a local church community. Oh, we’re welcome at first. Every church wants new people. But as we try to express our desires for the community and even our own families, we find ourselves being dismissed or told outright that we are misguided. I’m not saying I want to walk into a church and change their purpose. I’m saying I want to walk into a church and feel that I can join into the purpose there – because it’s something I really believe in.

Bono once said, “Stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Find what God is doing. It’s already blessed.”

That’s what I’m looking for; a church that’s already doing what I believe to be God’s work.

It’s so hard to express that without sounding incredibly judgmental. I don’t want to be critical and sound like I believe myself superior to the majority of churches in America. That’s definitely not what I’m trying to say. I just have found that the longer I have studied the life of Jesus, the harder it has been for me to tolerate the teachings of the evangelical church. I don’t know any other way to express it.

So, even though the PTSD symptoms have improved drastically for me, that no longer is what keeps me from attending a church. It still plays a part, for sure. The process of finding a group of people who share my beliefs wouldn’t seem to daunting if I didn’t believe I would run across many groups that would not accept me fully along the way.

Until that balance of wanting to find that group (and even the belief that it exists out there) outweighs the desire to stay away from uncomfortable encounters with people who will judge me, I will continue to be on this journey alone with my family … and a few internet readers and friends.

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