Oh how I hated trying to plug in to a new church. The awkwardness of getting to know a giant group of new people, the trying to figure out who actually liked me and who was faking, the trite “hi, how are you’s?” in worship service when you were supposed to turn and greet your neighbor…it all bored and frustrated me. I felt guilty for my feelings. Good Christian people were supposed to want to go to church, right? What was wrong with me?
I watched the people surrounding me in the pews as they cheerily greeted each other and talked to their friends. My heart longed to be a part of the group, but I didn’t know how to penetrate the circle. My family and I had just started attending this church. Maybe I would feel more connected after a few more months went by.
I settled into my pew as the pastor walked to the pulpit and began to teach. This part, I liked. This pastor’s teaching was both Biblically accurate and deep. I always learned something and came away encouraged. What a novel idea! To come away from a church service feeling encouraged! My lip curled. Ninety-nine percent of the churches I’d been to always included frequent services that reeked of condemnation, guilt tripping, and turn-or-burn messages. Under this pastor, I could feel my spirit coming back to life with the nourishment and water of the Word, purely preached.
I closed my eyes as emotion welled up within me. Why are so many churches hell bent on condemning and making a person feel like a failure? Why can’t we just read the Bible and let GOD convict us as his spirit leads? Tears burned in my eyes. I didn’t understand why the majority of pastors felt it was their job to “discipline” their flock and make them feel like rotten good for nothings. I did a stellar job of beating myself up every day for my failures without the help of anyone else.
Since I’d left the “cult church,” I realized just how condemning and depressing the doctrine there had been. Instead of “by grace you have been saved,” it had been “be perfect and live the perfect life and MAYBE God will like you enough to let your prayers through and give you a break. Once in a while. If you are super good.” It was like my Spirit had withered up inside me.
“Jesus loves you! He wants to be close to you! He died so that our sins were covered by HIS sacrifice, not by our works that are as filthy rags to him!” The pastor’s words penetrated my mind and touched me at the core of my hurting heart. Tears began to stream down my face and, try as I might, I couldn’t hold them back.
I SO wanted to be loved, but I never felt worthy of God’s love. All of my life, church had taught me that God was like a distant and disapproving parent, always ready to frown upon and chasten me for my daily mistakes and transgressions. This view was emblazoned upon my mind and extremely difficult to shake. I KNEW I was a sinner. I KNEW I needed saving. I confessed my sins constantly to God. Still, I felt broken and miserable more often than not. I felt that in order for God to hear my prayers, I had to live perfectly and please him enough to turn his ear towards me.
As the tears spilled down my cheeks, I felt something begin to shift deep in my soul. This can’t be how God intended us to live—constantly fearful of his disapproval and miserable about our failings. For as long as I could remember, I had struggled with depression over my feelings of worthlessness and undesirability, constantly comparing myself to others in a negative manner. After 19 years of emotional instability, I was coming to the end of my rope.
There must be more to the Christian walk then this self-destructive cycle of condemnation and guilt. There just HAS to be. I clung to that hope. God, please show me how to find your peace and joy. I know you didn’t mean for me to feel so miserable all the time.
My spirt began to calm within me and I felt peace wash over me. God didn’t want me to be miserable all the time any more than my own parents would. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to saturate my mind with that knowledge. Church and religion had taught me that God was a disapproving taskmaster and that I would never be good enough. I HAD to overpower that skewed view.
You ARE good enough. God loves you regardless.
I opened my eyes, for the first time in my life feeling some of the burden of guilt drop from my shoulders. I made a promise to myself then and there. I will stop beating myself up for every little thing that I do, and start viewing God as a loving, accepting father. He loves me just as I am. BELIEVE it!
I let out a long, exhausted sigh. I was tired of the battle. Tired of the inner demons which haunted me, the evil spawn of warped religion and ultra-conservativism. I wanted to be free of the poisonous, deprecating thoughts which haunted my every waking moment. Thoughts like: God will never accept you, you’ll never be good enough. You are more lowly than a worm, and don’t forget it. If you were really saved, then you wouldn’t struggle with your weight and sexual desire. When Jesus returns, I’ll bet you’ll be left behind, because you’re a sinner and you’re not good enough.
I gritted my teeth. I WILL conquer this. I must. Although I wasn’t entirely sure how to quell these debilitating inner voices, something in me felt different. I sensed myself finally embarking down the path of enlightenment, and the first few steps were leading me away from conventional church. Although that scared me, since I had been a faithful churchgoer my entire life, it also wildly excited me.
I wasn’t sure what my future held, but one thing was certain. I was determined to break free of the inner negativity that enslaved my mind. Church and all the religion that came with it had brought debilitating amounts of guilt, shame, and misery. It was time to shake free of such a toxic influence and discover God for MYSELF, without anyone else’s opinions overshadowing my discoveries.
I felt empowered. I deserve to be happy. I deserve to feel loved. And God loves ME, just the way that I am.
And so…my spiritual journey began.
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