I wish I didn't have to write this post. Truly. I wish that my experience was so singular that no one could relate, that everyone else felt truly at home in a Christian setting.
Say yes if the following fits your experience:
1. You ask for "silent" or "unspoken" prayer requests/ intentions because you worry that your prayer group will gossip about them
2. You have received more empathy and compassion about mental health issues from "secular heathens" than you have from Christians
3. You have endured or witnessed bullies in church environments who were either ignored or encouraged by leadership
4. Those bullies were the leadership
5. You have a "church smile"
6. You have been to revivals or discipleship events or camps or retreats which acknowledged these realities, but when the emotions died down nothing changed
7. You feel shame about your lack of Christian friends, afraid that you're not good enough for that ever-elusive fellowship, afraid that your spiritual life suffers as a result
8. You feel extra shame if you are perfectly able to find friends outside of church/ Christian settings
Here is the typical response to this problem: well, the church is full of sinful people. What do you expect? When people get in groups you naturally get gossip and infighting and favorites.
Friends, are you as tired of that excuse as I am?
Here's why that reason isn't good enough: because I've had better friends and support in non-Christian environments, almost without exception, than I have in Christian ones. Those groups were also filled with people, non-perfect people who make lots of mistakes. And yet, the fellowship was better. Those friendships were made without the fear, perfectionism, and one-upmanship that plagues most Christian groups. Not to say life was perfect, because of course not. However, most of my truly supportive friends are not "believers." They aren't crazy heathens - they are law-abiding citizens who make plenty of mistakes but try their darndest to live peacefully with others. But they also are not Christians, or they are burned Christians who keep their distance from religious organizations.
What's the answer? I don't know. I'm struggling with church locally, for reasons too private to put online, but I'm also struggling with church in general. There is only one thing that I can do, and it's one of the hardest things to do.
I can be honest. I can refuse to put on the church smile. I can tell anyone who asks how I'm doing that I'm battling depression. I can be honest about my recent sojourn in a mental hospital.
If we aren't honest about our real selves, the problem will persist. As someone whose husband is working for a church full-time, whose life is wrapped up in things related to "church," that's not a viable option for me. At bottom, I'm simply tired of hiding.
Friends, let's stop hiding. As long as we hide, nothing will ever get better. And if we reveal our true selves and are still disliked... Then we make friends with those on the outside, like we always did. At the end of the day, we are responsible for living authentic lives, not for how others talked about our truth.