Churchless but not Faithless

I haven’t gone to church in over 2 years. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was in a church building. COVID hit, and everything shut down, and when buildings opened up again, my little church hadn’t survived. We were renting a space in a strip mall, and it wasn’t worth paying rent when we weren’t using it. Then our pastor got a job at a different church in a different city, which was so good. He and his family need to eat and pay rent themselves, so none of us begrudge him that. So I was churchless. And my hobbity self who would like to snuggle down in a hole in the ground with some good food and drink didn’t mind all that much.

Most Sundays, my mum and I would livestream the service from my old home church in LA until they stopped livestreaming. And when it was safe enough to start meeting with other humans again, my family and close friend’s family formed a little home church where we meet outside or, if the weather is bad, inside masked, and study the Bible, pray together, and let the kids run wild together. Sometimes, we take communion together, and we did some advent together near the holidays. I also meet once a month with my women’s global prayer group, on our back patio or masked indoors.

So fellowship and Bible study and communal prayer and communion are happening – just not in the traditional sense. I’ve thought about going back to a church in person – like with a building and ordained pastors and formal small groups and all that – but the local churches where I live are not welcoming spaces for non-Republicans who are fed up with the current state of the white evangelical church and believe COVID was/is real. Even the churches of people of color tend to lean right here.

I must be honest, I don’t miss traditional church as much as I thought I would. My mum misses it a lot more than I do, which makes sense as she’s gone for over 70 years to my over 40. I’ve also never or rarely fit in to the church environment, so have always felt on the fringes anyway. I’ve also been struggling with the politics/ethics of the white evangelical church a lot longer. But it breaks my heart to see her grieve the loss of church. I’ve been there, I’ve felt the betrayal and pain, and I hate to see her going through it too.

I’m not deconstructing my faith – my faith is the same as it ever was. I love God and try to love people. I am a sinner, saved by the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, who loved me and gave himself up for me. This is why I try to love others – because I am so loved in a way I do not deserve and I want others to experience that too. My faith is unshaken and permanent. But the churches I see around me do not reflect what the Bible says about God and humanity.

I am not naïve – I do not seek a “perfect” church. I know the church is for sinners, and therefore will never be perfect. I do, however, seek churches that are trying to love God and love others well. Which are willing to admit when they’re wrong, and do everything in their power to grow and change. Which are not willing to bow to the right wing worship found in these spaces, but which seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

I’m no longer willing to bend to religious spaces which actively harm women and vulnerable minorities, which pull the “both sides are equally wrong” crap or go further and believe you have to be right wing to be a Christian, which prioritize the tastes of the more powerful or favored congregants over what is right, which pick and choose which sins to rebuke while holding tightly onto sins like greed, lust for power, and violence.

For me, the biggest struggle in this leaving of the traditional church is also leaving behind my calling as a Biblical Counselor. I never quite fit into that world well, and in fact got into many debates with my professors in my years of study. I also purposefully never turned in my completed NANC (now ACBC) exam to get certified by the Biblical Counseling big wigs because I could never 100% sign off on their statements of belief and didn’t want my name to be associated with them. Still, I paid tons of money (loans which I’m still paying off), gave a lot of my time and effort, to get my Master’s degree and be trained in that discipline. I also have 16 years of experience in Biblical Counseling. I’ve attended many conferences and classes over the years, continued in research and reading, and have given a huge amount of my adult life to that particular field of counseling. Giving that up is the hardest part.

I am a good counselor, sometimes I am even excellent. I am a good speaker and teacher, sometimes even excellent. I am a good writer, sometimes even excellent. And giving up that call and gift and skill is like giving up a huge part of who I am. I currently only have 3 counselees left, 2 paid and one pro-bono. And after them, I do not plan on taking any new counselees for the foreseeable future. The tradition in which I was taught and trained is so wrapped up in the white evangelical culture that I do not think it can be separated. And I do not have the time, energy, and money to go back to school and start over again to get trained in a different kind of counseling. So I must let it go. This breaks my heart the most.

I’m still working through a lot of this stuff, so things may change, but this is where I’m at right now. And, for those of you who know me well, this will not be a surprise. It’s actually been a very very long time coming. But I appreciate your love, support, prayer, encouragement, and listening ears these past few years as I’ve weighed these decisions. Feel free to message me if you have any questions about any of this, as I know I’m not the only one out there going through this.

The one thing I know for certain is that pursuing God and faith in Christ is still worth it, still beautiful and good and true, and that forming relationships with his children is still worth it. It just might look a little different for a lot of us.

Getting a Little Messy

It’s springtime, which means things get a little messy. Mum and I have done some backyard gardening, with Dandelion as our “helper.” And with all this new life, my allergies go crazy, so my head is frequently a stuffed mess. Being a permanently single 40-something Christian dealing with other Christians’ strongly held views of singleness? Also messy.

A couple months ago, I was able to have 1½ hour long conversation with my friend, pastor and writer Scott Mehl, about “The Mess of Singleness” for his podcast, “The Messy Podcast.” The episode aired at the end of March, but I didn’t think to mention it here at the time. If you haven’t had the chance to listen to it, I strongly encourage you to check it out. It holds truths, challenges, and encouragements for both singles and marrieds. 

You can find it on Apple or Spotify:

Just when I think I’ve said everything there is to say on this topic, someone like Scott comes along with great questions, and I realize there is so much more that needs to be expressed about living the life of a single adult in today’s Christian church environments. 

One of the main things I wanted to express is that singleness is vast and varied. From the young 20-something who has just started dating, to the 75 year old man who recently lost his wife of 50 years, from the divorced single parent, to the never-married person in middle age, singleness is not one-size-fits-all. 

If the Christian community wants to serve its single people well, it needs to expand its perspective and be ready to truly get to know each individual and what their specific needs are rather than treating singles ministry like a monolithic entity, usually geared toward young adults with the goal of marrying off as many of us as possible.

I’d love to hear what you think of the topics touched on in this interview, so feel free to comment or message me back once you’ve listened! What would you like me to discuss next time? What needs to be repeated, delved into more deeply here on my blog, or what have I missed thus far?

Grieving Is Difficult in a Society That Worships Happiness

Welcome back to the blog series on Grieving an Unfulfilled Future, during which I will explore 5 different aspects often included in grief for the single and childless by comparing our grief with that of someone who grieves the death of a loved one. For the fifth and final theme, I will explain how our society’s obsession with happiness makes grieving even more difficult, especially for those who don’t get the “happily ever after” our culture presents as the goal.

Our culture – modern America, the media, and the white evangelical church – allows for grief up to a point, then expects us to move on. When we lose a loved one, we are hugged and cared for for a period of time. We are expected to be sad, to cry, and to withdraw a bit. For awhile. But there comes a time when every grieving person will hear “didn’t they die awhile ago?” “Why aren’t you moving on?” “Shouldn’t you be better by now?” We are expected to process death in a healthy way, go through whatever the steps are in popular psychology or biblical counseling at that time, lament, grieve, and move forward.

America, the media, and even our churches worship happiness. We are allowed to be sad for a time, but if we don’t get back to happy at a certain point, we must be doing something wrong. When those of us who have lost loved ones realize you don’t “move on” from grief, you just learn to live with it and grown around it, it can be a shock to those around us.

Imagine this expectation to process grief, then get over it and get back to happy, when lots of people don’t even realize we’re grieving? When we ourselves might not even know that’s what is happening? Imagine the expectation for us to be just fine while we are actually in the middle of trying to understand the greatest loss of our lives. Imagine people being sympathetic, but to an even lesser point, because it’s not like anyone died or anything.

Imagine trying to deal with the sadness, heartbreak, regret, anger, and fear that come with true grief, all while trying to convince ourselves and others we’re ok because we don’t realize we’re allowed to take the time to lament and grieve. Because others certainly don’t understand this – not pastors, not friends, not family, not even some counselors. Because there is not GriefShare for those of us who have lost all hope for our future, but no one actually died. Because there are very few books that address this. Because we are still expected to be happy for everyone else around us while we have a gaping wound inside our hearts that is still untouched by any healing.

When we accept that happiness is not always the goal, and that much of life will include a complex mix of joy and sadness as well as the entire range of emotion and experience, we will be in a better position to help those who are grieving, including ourselves. We need people to weep with us and sit quiet as we lament, recognizing our loss for what it is – a deep heartbreak, not some shallow papercut. We need people who will walk alongside us when the grief hits hard, and remind us that our lives are still valuable, that God still loves us, that our pain is real, that we are seen.

Thank you for joining me for these past few blog posts on grieving singleness and childlessness. These 5 points I’ve presented over the past few blog posts are by no means the only aspects of this type of grief, I just wanted to give you a window into what this experience can be like for many of us.

If you are heartbroken over the loss of your dreamt-of-future with a spouse and/or children, please know you are not alone and the grief you feel is real. It is valid. And you do not have to suffer in shame and silence. 

If you are the friend or family of someone going through this grief, I hope these past few posts help you better understand some of what they may be going through so you can walk alongside them, just as I hope you would if they were grieving the death of a loved one.