When I was about 18 years old, I had a few not-so-great experiences with Christians and decided to leave the Church. It’s not worth digging up the details on all that right now; that’s another (long) story for another time. Let’s just summarize it all to this: it felt like a big decision for me, but it seemed like no one else cared at all.
No one chased this lost sheep.
No one attempted a conversation with this isolated woman at the well.
No one drew a line in the sand for this chastised sinner.
At that point, I was positive that Christians, aside from my own parents, were nothing more than hypocritical do-gooders who patted themselves on the back for saying, “Jesus” and didn’t actually know a thing about the real world.
If you’ve walked away from the church and felt unseen, unheard, unloved, unchased… I’ve been there, too. If you’ve felt like you’ve not only been skipped over for the invite but just straight up uninvited… I have been you.
When I was running from the Church, there were three little thoughts with big repercussions that I embraced. They gave me the freedom to not only accept the divide between me and the Church, but to find comfort and safety in it and spit venom right back at it.
Here’s what I wrestled with:
1. “The Pastor isn’t leading me.”
The Pastor loves them more than me. Why don’t I get the same attention?
What I was missing in this season was the understanding that my pastor was just a person. If Jesus had twelve disciples that he poured himself into, why did I expect my pastor to give himself to the thousands that engaged his church? I had unrealistic and uncommunicated expectations.
The vision modeled by Jesus is that each of his disciples would be developed to then lead people of their own. Once I’m able to view the pastor as human, suddenly I can allow myself to be led by other people; perhaps, the very people the pastor has developed. It was easier to be mad at the pastor than to dive into relationship with the people standing next to me. God had placed people all around me, but I let anger block my vision and venom take over my heart.
2. “No one is seeking me out.”
Someone should be coming for me, but they’re not.
I remember sitting through a sermon during my period of reconciliation with the Church where the pastor explained how a shepherd actually goes for his lost sheep. For starters, the sheep is often baa-ing (bleating? let’s go with baa-ing), making it able to be found. However, I regularly responded to someone’s ask of, “Hey, how are you? Where have you been?” with “I’m good, just been busy.” I wasn’t making it known I was wanting someone to find me. People were seeking me, but I was not being honest and allowing myself to be found.
And, the shepherd… In the time when this passage was written, it was understood that when a shepherd would finally get to their lost sheep, they would do one of two things: a.) they would throw the sheep on their back and take away their freedom to walk, or b.) they would break the sheep’s leg so it literally couldn’t walk, and they would carry it until it healed. Both moves were made in love with an attempt to train the sheep to follow the shepherd. The shepherd was showing the sheep that it could trust his leading. The sheep either had pain inflicted and/or freedom taken. The outcome was a closeness and a deeper understanding of the shepherd, but I was going to have to swallow some pride, accept painful truths, and give up my freedom to get it.
I chose, “I’m good.”
3. “They’ve never invited me to something.”
There’s no real community happening here.
My perception was that while gatherings were being talked about and posted in bulletins, I wasn’t being personally invited so therefore I was uninvited. This is a lie straight from the pit of hell designed to keep you clinging to the gap that has been created between you and the church.
Community requires attendance and covenant requires acceptance. These things take work. When the announcements are made about gatherings happening, that’s your invitation. No one can get to know you during brief, post service interactions on a Sunday morning or on a Facebook Live Stream. However, they can get to know you when you show up more than once and choose to engage. They can get to know you when you honestly offer your brokenness instead of saying, “I’m good.” That announcement is for you. That social media post is for you. Your pastor is for you. Your church is for you.
These little thoughts have big repercussions.
If these ideas resonate with you, I challenge you to dig deep and ask, “why?” Anger is a secondary emotion that is rooted in something else… usually unmet, and often uncommunicated, expectations. Start the process of reconciliation. I promise it’s worth it.
You are seen. You are wanted. You are loved. You are invited.
You are an important part of the Kingdom of God.
And, I am sorry. I am sorry for every moment you have ever felt like those words are not true. Those moments carry very real hurt, pain, and scars. I absolutely understand those feelings.
But, if you just trust me, I promise you… on the other side of those big feelings is healing that is worth all the work it takes.
Will you step across the divide and take the invitation?