For those of us who have deeply struggled and have not grown up in the church, we look at other Christians who seem to have it all together and feel that we will never fit into the perfect mold that seems so prevalent in the church setting. We smile, we say hello…then we move on, assuming that no one else is having the same struggles that we are. Because we don’t look any deeper in our relationships, we assume too often that the people sitting next to us really do lead perfect lives. But I will share a secret with you:
That perfect life – it doesn’t exist.
When you first meet me, you might assume I am that person with the picket fence. What you see is a woman who loves to smile and laugh, who loves people and loves her husband, her kids, her church. But that is not all that I am or who I have always been. I am very far from having it all together and the path I’ve walked in this life has not always been so pleasant or easy.
What you don’t see is my past. That my mother was an alcoholic who battled a lot of demons, so lost at times that she attempted suicide. She was frequently in hospitals and rehab centers – which meant I was frequently living somewhere else or staying with friends, wondering if/when she would come back to me. You don’t know that my older brother was murdered when I was 16. That I watched my dad weep over him, holding his hand while the paramedics tried to revive him. You don’t know the anger I’ve had towards God, the doubts I’ve had about his goodness. For those of you who have lost someone, you know what I mean when I say that something died in me the day I lost my brother.
Please don’t think that this is easy for me to talk about. What I’ve told you has cut me and my family deeply and I was very hesitant about putting this out there on Facebook. But today I realized that some may need to hear this and I felt compelled to speak up.
I shared this with you so you would know that my walk with Christ is not about picket fences and perfection. The truth is, my life was a nightmare that only God could wake me up from. There were times when I pleaded with God to take me home, because He was the only One I could lean on and heaven was the only thing I had to look forward to. During these times, I always assumed that no one else at church struggled. I saw the nice clothes, the smiles, the “perfect” lives…and I felt like I didn’t belong.
I struggled with those doubts until my husband became a minister. And what we saw, what we heard from so many was that on the outside, they looked perfect. But in their homes, when the doors were closed and there was no one watching and no need to pretend anymore, they were in agony. Their lives were shattered by alcoholism, addictions, affairs, depression, disease, suicide and countless other battles we fight in this world. There was no one, not a single Christian in any of those churches, that was untouched.
That’s when I realized they are just like me.
The church that Mike and I attend now is focusing on building real relationships and getting rid of all the pretense we so often find in our churches. It is not perfect, because no church truly is. But we’ve sought out friendships where we don’t need to hide our struggles. Where we can tell the gritty and honest stories about where we’ve come from, confess the depths we have fallen to, and share with each other how desperately we need God. We’ve chosen to destroy the white picket fences that divide us.
The truth is, we are all going to church for the same reason – we are desperate for grace, for redemption, for a Savior to pull us out of our very real nightmares. But it can be so easy to lose faith in each other, afraid of judgment or pity or feeling uncomfortable.
If you are new to a church and feel out of place, or if you’ve been going to a church but feel alone because you don’t yet have those deeper relationships, please know that you are not alone. Keep an open mind and realize that the friendly faces you see and the “perfect” people you’ve just met might very well be the same faces you will see praying with you and fighting for you in the trenches of your struggles and suffering. Stay, reach out, hear their stories. You might be surprised at how much they sound like your own.