Sunday's Empty Seats
Once upon a time, not that long ago, I was seeking out God and Jesus ... through church. I had found a very nice church where the atmosphere was young and casual. I knew lots of faces in the crowd, and I thought that this was the place where I could rejuvenate my faith.
My faith had been battered over the years. (Various negative experiences at the hand of churches and Christians, and also that thing called life.) But ... at this point in my journey, I was actively searching for faith. I wanted to strengthen my relationship with God. I wanted to feel the spirit deep within my soul, like so many of those around me claimed to feel.
Just like anyone else, I knew I wasn't perfect. I had a chip on my shoulder about my divorce. I felt like it had marred me somehow. And even though I knew that the divorce was not something my son or I should have been ashamed of, I still was. I had about 79 other skeletons in my closet - various sins on my register. I was very well aware that I had messed up. In lots of ways. And lots of times. And I was in church hoping to learn to forgive myself. I wanted the ultimate forgiveness. I wanted, needed, and wholeheartedly yearned for Jesus and his everlasting love.
I tell you all of this, so you can recognize that as far as Christians should be concerned, I was in church for all the right and best reasons. I had my doubts, sure. But I WANTED to be saved. I was actively doing my part. I was there. My heart was open.
Here is where my story takes a turn. This is where I hope that the Christians of the world will hear my little voice: I was turned away.
I will never forget the moment. I was seated in the congregation, holding a 4 year old on my lap (who refused to go to the kiddie area), praying that God would point me his direction. "Please God, let me find you. Please God, help me hear this sermon with a full heart. Please God. Save me."
The pastor walked on stage. He made his opening statements - lighthearted. Warm. And then he opened up his sermon, deciding on the topic of divorce. Divorce! My most vulnerable wound. My biggest failure. And he preached on and on and nothing he said was about how I was forgiven. Nothing he said made me feel closer to God. In fact, what he said made my blood boil. He found verse after verse to justify his condemnation of the divorced. And my heart, already cracked ... broke.
I listened all the way through, hoping my forgiveness would be offered again. Waiting. But I was just beaten with "sinner, sinner, sinner". I felt as though my big open heart, desperate for God's acceptance, had been turned away.
Now, before you fault this pastor. He was just another guy. And his message wasn't as personal to plenty of the congregation. Lots of claps of agreement occurred. Those who (likely) hadn't been divorced, rallied behind him as he spoke of this flavor of sin. It's easy to see a mistake when you aren't the one making it. It's easy to see a sin, when it isn't yours. And while I can absolutely assure you that for me, this moment was the straw on the camel's back ... It was not unique in any way. I have seen this time and time again. In church. In conversation. Online. The Bible is used to justify hate. It's used to find fault in others. It's abused.
Christians! Please wake up. Please recognize that the verbal stones you cast - the fingers pointed, the scripture you blast ... Isn't bringing anybody in. The behavior I experienced didn't bring me back the following Sunday. In fact, it didn't bring me back again.
I do not hate Christianity, though after my last church experience, I left it forever. I will always love Jesus, and I will continue to try and live my life like him. By accepting people. And loving people. Maybe and especially when they are different than me.
The world is full of sin. In fact, I am sure your own cup runneth over. Mine sure does. But the way that you treat others - whether they are gay, a different religion, or divorced - whatever their flavor of sin - it doesn't being anybody in on Sunday. The Christian culture, which should be solely about Christ and his unwavering love for humanity - has become instead, a way to push people OUT.
I know. I was one of them.
*** I do not mean to say that I think any certain behavior is sin. You can look to the Bible, or your own religious manuscript, or your heart. Your life, your mistakes, your highs and lows, those moments are between you and your God. I am eternally grateful that I have no bearing on where your soul shall land. I am even more grateful that you have no bearing on where my soul will land.