So much to say on this topic. I've been contemplating writing a post about this for almost a year now. If that tells you anything.
I grew up in church. My parents began attending before i was born & we were one of those families that went to church every time the doors were open. Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights. As a teen, Friday nights. Also, as a teen, i don't remember my parents making me go. I just wanted to be there.
That isn't a bad thing. I needed the youth group. As you know, being a teen is not easy. I was not fitting in well in school, due to being shy and overweight. Not a great combination. I did have my friends & i was in musical theatre...great things. But i also experienced being made fun of. Not so great. Also, I wanted to fit in. And i think it's important to be a part of a strong youth group during those teen years where everyone is trying so hard to be just like everyone else (or trying so hard to be so UNLIKE everyone else! It's usually one or the other for high schoolers). I was very lucky. I had a great youth group. It's important to have friends your age who also want to live for God. My teens & pre-teens were my hardest years. Not just because of trouble fitting in, but because of my home life. I had a hard time. It should also be noted that i gave my life to Jesus in high school. I had become a christian at age 5, but surrendered to him fully, with the understanding of what that meant, at age 15.
In my late teens, i "graduated" from youth group, but i stayed a part of it & became a youth leader. Then, at 21, i became what they called a youth advisor. I would guess that i was a part of the youth group (as a member, leader or advisor) every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night & Friday night - not to mention all extra activities, summer camps, mini-camps & leading a bible study with friends at a home for troubled teen girls on thursday nights - for about 14 years - more than half of my life. God did incredible things in my life during those years & i do not regret them. I'm thankful for them. I learned a lot. I gained a ton of wisdom. My broken heart was healed. I loved every minute of it. But i'm pretty sure that everyone who was a part of it now understands that we spent WAY too much time in church. Is it just me? I don't think so. Sure, lots of it was necessary & i grew a ton in my walk with God. But seriously? There were a LOT of requirements. I think all of us realize that now.
My involvement there ended just when i was starting to get a bit burnt out. I'd guess so, after 14 years, wouldn't you think? It happened when there was a split. Some people stayed. Others left & joined my youth pastor in starting his own church. Some (like me) found another church altogether. Others stopped going to church completely. Some that stopped going to church completely also walked away from God.
It was a tough time. It happened in March 2006. I assumed I would join the church of my youth pastor because he & his family were (& are) so important to me. I imagined i would always be a part of his ministry. But I got invited to HeartsEase Family Life Church & I loved it. Everyone was so nice & I liked being a part of it. It was awesome. The music, the preaching, everything. I became involved & soon began to sing on the praise team. Made some great friends because of that.
I began going to HeartsEase in March 2006 & i got involved with theatre in May 2006. So i guess HFLC members only saw the committed church girl that i was for 2 months. Then i became the committed theatre girl. I still went to church all the time, but it had significantly changed from how i was at Victory. And i was fine with that. For i KNEW that God had led me to theatre. That is a part of my life that i know God ordained. Yes, i was surrounded by people of the "WORLD", but i was at a point in my walk with God where i could do that without being influenced in a negative way. I don't mean that arrogantly, but i'm just saying. I would not be easily swayed. I did struggle with temptation, especially during the fall of 2007. But I remained pure. I didn't give in. Though i wasn't perfect, my heart remained faithful to God.
Even so, my time in church dropped significantly. I kept going Sunday mornings & I stayed on the praise team. But if i was doing a show, i couldn't go to church on Wednesday nights. And i couldn't do extra things, either. Because of rehearsal. Then it got to where, i didn't have a show & still skipped Wednesdays. My excuse? Exhaustion. It was honest, but maybe not excusable. :) And i know i got judged for that. I know people thought i was not being a good christian. But i am convinced that our church attendance is not really what God is concerned about. I'm not saying you shouldn't go. I think it's awesome. I think it is necessary. I think you can read your Bible at home & spend time in prayer at home, but i also think it is good to do those things corporately. I also think fellowship is very important. So i still went to church on Sundays. But i missed a lot of Wednesdays. And honestly? i was okay with that. I think you will understand now what i mean when i say that I'd had my fill of being in church every time the doors are open.
When Brad & I got together he started coming to my church. It wasn't long before word got around that he is a terrific musician (he is!) & he joined the praise team, playing the organ mostly (R&B style organ, not funeral style). (FYI: our black worship leader asked my pale-skinned husband to show her how to play like a black person! Another band member told him he is a black man trapped in a white man's body. HA!) We had an awesome time as a part of the praise team. I miss it.
After we got married, we stopped going to church! I mean, not immediately & not on purpose, but it happened. We never intended to leave. We took a break from the praise team because Brad was doing some music work at home & it was taking up a lot of his weekend time. I stayed home, too, because i was usually exhausted from theatre during the week & missed my husband for the same reason. I wanted to be home with him.
Months passed & we did without church. It was crazy. I mean, we never intended to miss so much of it! We never intended to stop going to HeartsEase. But once you stop going it becomes easy for it to be an option. It was easier to not go. Please don't forget my background! I have missed more church services in 2009 & 2010 than i have in my entire life. Do i think God looks down on me for this? Nah. Do i think people look down on me for this? Absolutely. My relationship with God didn't falter, but i did come to some realizations. I stopped praying & reading the Bible & spending time in His presence. Brad did not. He studies the Bible like nobody's business. But i didn't. So even if God doesn't look down on me for missing church - it's not about works, people - that is really kind of besides the point. Church is important. Like it or not. But we got away from it.We had a legitimate excuse every week but it was kind of insane. We'd go have coffee with his parents, we'd have a family reunion to go to, we'd be sick, we'd be out of town, i mean, it was just one thing after another. One Sunday after another. Before long, we hadn't been to HFLC in so long that we didn't really know if we were still welcome there. I mean, obviously we were, but we felt weird. So we visited other places. We thought that maybe we were supposed to go somewhere else.
We visited a church near our house (that i will not name!) & hated it. We visited Brad's parent's church & liked it. We visited my youth pastor's church & enjoyed it, too. And we visited Victory, the church i attended before HeartsEase. We liked Victory a lot. I thought we would start going there. 3 of my best girlfriends go there & i LOVE the preaching. They have great people. It's closer to us than HFLC (not by much, but still). We went several Sundays in a row. We liked it. We thought we would start going there.
Then we went back to HFLC for a wedding shower (it was a co-ed shower). 2 members of the praise team were getting married & we were invited. I honestly didn't know if we'd be invited to the wedding now that we weren't at their church anymore. But they surprised me by inviting us. I was so excited about the shower, but nervous! I didn't know how people would react to seeing us there. Let's just say that i was VERY pleasantly surprised. And so was Brad. We were MORE than welcomed. I mean, i felt like people truly LOVED us. They were SUPER excited & overjoyed to see us! It wasn't fake. It wasn't a "well, where have you been?!" It was just "we've missed y'all so much!" It was great. It was crazy. We left there & said, "We are SO going back to HeartsEase!"
I mean, people often say they found their church because it just "felt like home". And that is how it felt when we went to the shower that day. I couldn't wait to go back.
SO we are going back. I mean, since that shower, our visits have been sporadic. Brad was given an awesome (paid!) music job & he has literally had to pour out all his weekend time on that project (because his time is so limited during the week). So we have only gone back a few times since the shower. Then i went once by myself 3 weeks ago, the next week we went to Istrouma to hear Kari Jobe one more time, & then this week i went by myself again (because Brad's project is due tomorrow). I hate going without Brad, but I just don't wanna miss another Sunday. I missed being in presence of the Lord, i missed their worship services & i missed the love & friendship of those who go there. Ever since the women's conference, i have longed to get back in church. Not just as a random Sunday morning church goer. But as an involved church member. I am sorry, but i will never again be in the church every time the doors are open. And i'm not going to feel guilty about that. I think there is balance in everything & i think it is okay to stay home at times. I know lots of people who would disagree with me on that...but it's okay. We're not going to agree on everything. I'll still do theatre, too (though right now i have nothing planned with theatre until December). But i am going to strive to involved at HFLC.
This morning & the last time i was there, i noticed lots of new faces. I am ready to get to know them & i'm excited to see our HFLC family on a much more regular basis. I am so ready to go back. I've shared this with Brad & he agrees. He misses it too. We both miss being a part of the praise team & I actually miss working with the youth (which i never did at HFLC, but i did it for years at VHC). Not that we will jump into those things immediately, but one day... :)
We'll be vacationing in Florida next week, but after that, it's back to HeartsEase. And i can't wait. :)