I know what you’re thinking: Great, just another person to preach at me. That’s all I need.
But you’re wrong. That’s not what I’m going to do. I’m going to tell you I miss you. I’m going to tell you that it’s so hard seeing your spot on the pew empty at each service. To not have you by my side during prayer, during outreach, in the church van, or really, everywhere we always used to be together. I’m going to tell you how hard it is to see what you’re doing to yourself now. You say it makes you happy and that you can finally be yourself–but truth is, deep down inside you know that the person you’re portraying yourself to be isn’t you. It’s you trying to be something else so you can be accepted by the world, or by a different group of friends, or so you can try and convince yourself that “See?! I can do just fine out here on my own!”
I know this because I was where you are once. I know what it’s like to go my first full Sunday without church. I know what it’s like to sit around on a Wednesday night trying to convince myself of how great this new found freedom is to have time to do things I wanted to do–and yet in my mind keeps popping up thoughts about the church. I wonder if so-n-so got the Holy Ghost yet. I wonder how that guy and girl are doing now that they’re dating. So weird to think they’re old enough now. I wonder how that newly married couple is doing and if they’re having kids yet. I saw on Facebook that what’s his name is in the hospital–man I miss him. He was always so nice to me. Maybe I should stop by the hospital and see him. No, I can’t do that. What would he want to see me for? I left. Besides, people would just judge me. Nobody cares about me anymore. If they did maybe I would’ve stayed. Not even God cares about me. If He did, all this stuff wouldn’t have happened. Well, I’ll show Him I don’t need Him anyway…
And on and on it goes. You push it out of your head, only for it to enter the next time you’re showering. When you’re standing at the sink doing dishes. When you’re folding your laundry. When you have downtime at work. Whenever you drive past the part of town where the church is. Whenever you see another Christian at the store. But over time it gets less and less. As each day passes it’s easier and easier to ignore the thoughts that come up. It’s easier to go deeper and deeper into the world and to do things you said you’d never do. To do things you used to say “I can’t believe he would do that” about that other guy who left. Or that other girl who backslid. All of a sudden the things they did are normal because every day you walk farther and farther away from God.
Sometimes it makes you hate yourself. You think about all you threw away, and how not everything out here is working like it should. People outside the church have let you down just as much as people inside the church may have. You get hard on yourself thinking about how maybe it was you who failed God. I mean, God can’t fail, right? Maybe it was just me who wasn’t good enough. I’ll never be good enough. Just another reason to never go back to church.
Time goes on. Occasionally you think about church. You laugh because sometimes out of habit you thank God for your food, even though you really don’t see it a necessity now. What has God ever done for me? you begin to question. Then you think about it, and realize He did a lot. Sometimes you push that out of your mind and attribute that success to your own hard work or to a person who did it for you. Sometimes you acknowledge it really was God, and feel like a failure again. How could I leave Him when He did so much for me? Because I’m a stupid failure, that’s why. Now I can never go back because I ruined it all. I messed up my life. God doesn’t want me back, and neither does anyone in the church. Nobody cares.
It eats at you as you go further and further into depression. Once in a while something good will happen, you’ll forget about the whole God and church thing, and think, See how great things are going for me now? My life is really starting to look up! But then something bad happens again and it starts all over. You get more depressed. Bad things happen, you blame God. Good things happen, God gets no credit.
Before you know it, you’re further away from Him than you ever planned to go. You’ve done things you always swore you’d never do. How can you fix it all now? Can God fix it?
You think about maybe visiting church for one service. You talk yourself into going next service, only to think about it over and over again and decide not to when Sunday rolls around. You think about it again a few weeks later. Ok, if someone invites me I’ll go. That way I’ll know if God really wants me to go back. God, there you go. If you really want me to go back You’ll make someone ask me. It becomes like a choose your own adventure book here. You want to go, but also want a reason to not go. But then you really want a reason to go.
What’s stopping you? Are you waiting for that sign from God? Are you waiting for someone to ask you? Are you waiting til you’re done living up your life, and then plan to get back in? Are you scared to get back in because you think people will judge you or that God won’t take you back? Do you just not care anymore? Can you genuinely say you are happy where you’re at? That you never worry about what will happen to you for all eternity?
Can I ask you for one thing? Can you put aside all those questions, all those fears, doubts, reasons, excuses–can you put them away just one night and come to a service?
I remember the first night I went back. I had every intention of going just so I could prove to God that He and church were not going to fix my situation. I was going to go to get the questioning and guilt off of me. And then, because I hated myself and my life so much, I was going to kill myself. But when I walked in the doors of that little church down the street from me, everything changed. It was nothing like I thought it would be and everything like I hoped it would be. Sure, life didn’t get perfect but I had a peace that I hadn’t felt in years. I was able to walk away from all the filth I allowed my life to crumble in to. And I found a God who was ready to take me back. I found a church family who was ready to rejoice with me.
That’s all we want to do with you. When you post pictures on Instagram or make posts on Facebook we’re not judging you. We’re praying for you. We’re trying to think of all the ways we can help you. What we can say to help you realize that what you need is God and not the empty promises of the world. You know this because you remember a time when a friend or family member of yours backslid. You remember what you thought. Nothing is different.
So as you are cycling through all the thoughts you have about God, the church, your lifestyle, what went great or what went wrong, etc, I’m here thinking and praying for you. God, please save my friend. He needs you right now. She’s hurting right now. I know they feel alone. I know things aren’t going right. Help them to see where they will find joy and peace. Help them to come back to you. I don’t want to see them lost, Lord. Please, whatever it takes bring them home.
You see, because I’m not judging you. I’m loving you until you come back–and then I’ll keep loving you. So will the rest of your church family and so will God. You mean so much to us. I love you.