Photo by Jessy, my favorite professional photographer (as well as being the only one I know).
I enter church with my confident stride and my casual smile. I got this. Church is my territory. I grew up in this culture and I know the unspoken rules here like the back of my hand. I sit down in my normal seat. In the space of sitting down however, I am transformed from a smiling woman to an emotional wreck. My mind is consumed by one thought; I should go, I should go, I should go. My casual confidence has gone to waste. I feel contained, trapped, like a bug under a microscope. I feel people’s attention on me and choke on it, swallow loneliness and nearly throw up. I grip the ends of my chair in order to not run out in front of all of these happy and clappy people. Perhaps it’s all in my head but I do not want to be here. I don’t want to be at church today.
I look at this church and know that it’s like any other church. I look around to see a favorable first impression. I see nice and decent people with their polite conversations and polite laughter. If I look closer, then I see bubbles. I see the student bubble, the couple bubble, the parent bubble, the elderly bubble, the middle-aged-but-hey-we-are-young-still bubble, the professional bubble, the international bubble, the academic bubble, the middle-class bubble, the working class bubble and the list could go on and on. They exist in some form or other in every decent-sized church you see. I see amazing talent from me and from everyone else at putting our most favorable spiritual impression out there.
“Oh yes, God is so good”, “I’ll pray for you”, and “yes, I’m good, how are you?”
I realize that I am looking at perfect people and that is why I want to leave. I tried to look perfect, to act perfect, but I do not look perfect and am not perfect. I have red and wet eyes and my mind is in a internal crisis which no one understands and which I don’t want to share just casually. I have my own bubble and I do not belong in any other bubble. I do not want to be here.
So what is stopping me?
Church is not meant for perfect people but for broken people. The people who I see are here at church because they live understanding this; I am broken and Christ is whole. I remember that underneath these polite conversations are people who admit to me their failures. Everyone I see at church has and does admit failures because that is one of the conditions with Christianity. We must recognize our broken humanity. Church is not for perfect people and that is why I feel the freedom to stay. It is okay. It is okay to not be okay, and if you look at that common string, that common cry, ‘I am broken but Christ is whole‘, then the bubbles disappear. They pop and you just see the crowd of broken human beings just like me.