"Elizabeth, we're here!"
"Just a minute!" I yelled as I tossed the last romance novels from my shelves into my armoire. Done, I shut the door, took a deep breath, plastered a smile on my face and headed to the door to greet my church friends.
Welcome to Pretense-ville.
After spending so many years being angry, it was a relief to be in a more accepting and peaceful place when it comes to attending the church.
I reasoned that the playacting was for the benefit of my church-going, church-loving friends because they were firmly in the Doing stage (some, by the way, would never leave it) and far be it for me to crush their worldview.
But, the truth was I just wanted to be accepted, and I thought behaving a certain way would make it easier, and I could side step many confrontations this way.
In church, people would remark how shy and quiet I was. (And to which my friends will all laugh uproariously, convinced that I'm lying through my teeth.) But I became this introverted, withdrawn person to "fit in". The pastor of one of the churches I was attending is still convinced, till this day, that I'm an introvert.
After a while, I noticed a weariness in my soul. I began to drag my feet to church. And I started to have the same sinking feeling each time I approach the sanctuary. Once, I bolted out of the rock concert worship "service" in a fury, totally disgusted by it all but not knowing exactly why.
Why in the world do I do this, you may wonder?
I've always thought that the Real Liz was far too abrasive for church folks. Her theology isn't conservative. She does yoga. She thinks this church-going thing is far too pedantic.
Oh, she drops numerous f-bombs throughout the week.
I was really confused by my reaction to the church I was attending. Sure, it's a shiny mega church with all the bells and whistles and with a smoke machine at ready every Sunday, but they mean well. Right?
Still, I dared to confide my doubts to a friend, and this is when the Returning stage came to a screeching halt for me.
My dear friend of many, many years dismissed my complaint and told me to "change my attitude" or else I'll always have problems with the church.
The terse remark, sent via the impersonal mode of phone text, made me blink in astonishment. It hurt because it came from an unexpected source; it hurt because again, I was told that I was the problem.
This feels rather familiar.
The next day, while I mulled tearfully over my latest church-going misstep, a quiet still voice whispered into my heart:"Elizabeth, the reason why you've been having these problems is because you've never accepted how I've made you."
And I smiled, and laughed. (Only God has the ability to wipe my tears away and make me laugh in the next second!)
I wish I could fully convey the magnitude of God's message to me that day (that will take way too many sentences). A zillion things became clearer by just that simple sentence. For one, I realised I've been through this before. It was a major facepalm moment.
And but of course, I thought. How can I be happy when I put on a mask and become a pale, non-threatening version of myself? And how is that strategy working out by the way?
You know, my friend was right. I did have to change my attitude, but probably not in a way that she would like.
So, last December, I took a break from church.
I did this not because I'm sulking (though I'm sure many of my churchmates believe that it is so) but because I wanted to reevaluate how I want to be involved with organised church and the people in it.
Oh yeah, and to recuperate from all that mind pretzeling I was doing to myself.
If I do attend Sunday church again, I will do it in a healthy way. It'll be both edifying to me and the church.
A part of me, however, is almost convinced that there's no such path, but we'll see.
And that's the start of what Katie Escobar calls the Rebuilding stage.
Next in the My Shifting Faith series: Rebuilding: Resignation, joy, acceptance and sadness (April 5) . Do bookmark the blog series post schedule or subscribe to the blog to have the posts delivered to your inbox so that you do not miss a post. (You will also receive my posts outside the blog series.)