The Way Back
I want to be, above everything else, sensitive to those who were in this journey with me and those I encountered over these years. Looking back on these events always brings things into perspective and I am very aware that I had high expectations, was in a super vulnerable emotional place, and was in school full time and working full time. Much was being demanded of me, and much I was unable to give. I am aware that my personal circumstances did not help me have a better perspective that might have helped situations feel and seem calmer than I interpreted them. I also know and am aware the church is an imperfect place filled with imperfect people, to which I am one.
Yesterday was a monumental day for me, one that I have been gearing up for over the past four months.
I went to church.
It may sound a bit trivial but I’ve been trying to get out to this church for four months now. Lockdowns, ice storms, gas leaks, overnight shifts all stood in the way up to this point. But yesterday I finally was able to make it to church.
This was a big moment for me mainly because I haven’t been to church in a long time- it’s been so long that I don’t even remember when I went to church last. My brain lands on Christmas Eve 2018 or maybe there was one Sunday in the summer of 2019, I honestly can’t remember.
The reason I haven’t been to church is a bit of a vulnerable story for me, and it stems out of a few reasons- habitual, shift work, pain and what felt like betrayal.
As hard as it is to say I have been distant from the church due to the hurt I’ve been hiding in my heart for a long time now.
I think it would be safe to say that the last church community where I felt truly accepted, was part of the ministry and genuinely felt like part of a family was the church I went to in New Jersey. This was 11 years ago.
When I moved back from New Jersey I had an extremely hard time re-adjusting to my social group and felt lost. This was a season where God really got a hold of me and we really grew in our relationship- the majority of this growth was outside of the church. The three years between New Jersey and Nova Scotia, I worked a lot of Sundays. When you are lower on the seniority list you get a lot of weekend shifts, and when I did attend church on Sundays I never really felt a part of the church simply because it was too big, and I never saw the same face twice.
This set me up to the habit of not attending church on Sundays, and normalizing it somewhat for me. The motivation behind not being in the routine of going to church went from being habitual to a place of brokenness when I moved to Nova Scotia.
For the first 8 months of my time in Nova Scotia I lived in Digby. I can’t even tell you how many churches I tried in this area as I definitely lost count. Here, I felt abandoned.
I experienced a lot of ‘hard’ during these 8 months in Digby and I just needed a community to help encourage and lift me up and I looked effortlessly and could not find a safe place to land. There were invitations with no follow through, people who were disingenuous and people who when I encountered them outside of church wanted no part in having a conversation with me.
I know that the church is for broken people- it’s a place for sinners to come together in their weakness to help one another and lift one another up in hard times. God's plan for the church is the people- not the building. Sadly, I didn’t encounter God's purpose for the church in this season.
When I moved to Halifax I was excited to meet other Christians, especially ones my age as most church goers in Digby were much older than me, and to get connected after a rough 8 months. Unfortunately, my short four months living in Halifax were even more difficult than my 8 months in Digby.
I was a very vulnerable person looking for encouragement and ended up walking into an abusive relationship where things only got worse. My health, both mental and physical, deteriorated in this season. This is when I needed the church the most.
For those who might not know Halifax’s Christian community is very small and I felt like I couldn’t get the help and encouragement I needed due to mutual connections of this fractured relationship. The one church I initially felt most connected to become a church I could not attend due to all the ties that were connected to my situation, and it became an unsafe church for me.
I also must note that I started working full time in Halifax and was scheduled every second weekend so I only had two opportunities a month to look for a church and somehow get connected. It was honestly just so discouraging.
I moved to Boutiliers Point on St Margaret’s Bay for the remaining 14 months of my time in Nova Scotia. I continued to look for churches where I could feel connected or even just make a friend. In the end I stopped going to church because it was too emotionally exhausting for me.
As an introvert, and the fact I was in school full time and working full time, I didn’t have the energy or mental capacity to go every second Sunday to a new church, put myself out there, introduce myself to strangers and try to make some sort of connection that would bring me back to church again.
I do want to point out that there was one church that I made a few connections with but after feeling like just another number I stopped attending. It was hard to go to church and sit alone, when no one came over to say hello, and no one would have noticed if I had attended or not. To save whatever remainder of energy I had and to try and save a fractured relationship with the church, I had to pull out.
I felt broken and I felt forgotten. I needed a community to lift me up in some of my darkest times and could not find what my soul needed.
When I moved back to Ontario, I was completely broken and within two months I found out my mom was sick so I had to trade in my brokenness for survivor mode so that I could mentally be there for my mom.
What I’m about to say isn't easy for me to unfold- I really struggled attending my home church in Ontario because it was a constant reminder of the pain in my life, the life seasons I wanted to be in and wasn’t, and seeing everyone I grew up with living the lives I wanted and had prayed for all my life, and still was waiting to see. It also took a lot out of me when I conversed with those who watched me grow up, constantly ask, “…Are you single? Are you married? Do you have children yet?” It was too much for me. This broken girl had nothing of what she had dreamed of and was constantly questioned to the why and being reminded I was still waiting for many answered prayers.
I again started looking for other churches in the area. I attended churches all over the valley and even in Ottawa- until I felt in my spirit I just needed to stop and heal.
I know that this season was really hard for my parents- as I lived with them and they grew up in that you always went to church every Sunday- regardless of what you feel. I know they might not have understood the hurt and pain I was dealing with and trying to work through but they respected my decision and gave me the space I needed to work through the hurt, to which I am thankful.
When God opened the doors for me to move to Arnprior I initially felt excited. I hadn’t ventured out to the churches in Arnprior yet and felt that this might be a good thing for my soul. But when I moved to Arnprior I had no peace to attend church. I constantly came up with excuses not to go and would let the littlest thing make my decision to stay home. I wasn’t ready.
I didn’t know if I had the energy to go through all of this again, so I didn’t go.
Then the pandemic hit and I felt relief. I had a reason not to go to church. I didn’t like this feeling. I know the benefits and joys that comes from being part of a church community, growing up I had amazing experiences with the church, but as an adult things changed.
During the pandemic God started really working on my heart in this- I think I finally let Him in a crack to do so.
One day an old friend of mine from College posted that his church was starting a campus in the West End of Ottawa and so I started following their church online and really enjoyed the preaching of their pastor and really loved what their church represented. After several conversations with my friend I just knew this was the church I was going to attend. There was something about this church that felt safe and inviting.
So this brings us to yesterday… yesterday was the first time since December that the church has met and I was there. I can’t remember the last time I felt so at peace in a church.
I walked in only knowing Kevin, and I was sitting alone in my pod of one (Thank you Pandemic), and it didn’t bother me. I didn’t feel stress, awkwardness, or isolation at all- and the biggest reaction I normally had- tears, was the farthest thing I was feeling.
I was excited to be a part of this community and wanted to get to know people. I initiated several conversations with others in the church after the service and connected with some amazing women and I’m excited to attend again next week. I was even invited out for coffee afterwards and another lady exchange contact information so that we could get to know each other outside of church. This may sound simple but guys, my interactions with the church (mainly in Nova Scotia) were hardly this friendly or inviting.
I feel like God has brought this full circle for me. I know it’s only been one Sunday, but how I felt walking away from the service is what I’ve been looking for, for a very long time.
I know that the church is not perfect, and I know that we are all flawed and that we should never expect perfection, but a church should be welcoming and a church should feel like a safe place to be yourself and to know that at the end of it you’re there for God, you’re there to be lifted up and you’re there to be a light and help to others.
I’m believing and praying that this time will be a time of restoration and redemption that not only will this church community pour into me, but that I can finally pour back into it.
Thanks for listening to a part of my church journey throughout the last ten years… there is so much more to have been said but I felt that this was the content that needed to be shared today.
As always, thanks for spending some of your Monday with me,