Thoughts on the Response to "Churchless in the Crescent City"

Last week, I published a blog post I'd been writing for a few months. It began, really, as a way for me to think through the thoughts and feelings I'd been having regarding church and relationships and, of course, singleness, because, lets just have this said: when you're single for an extended period of time, pretty much everything is about being single. Relationships, social situations, work, family, church, taking out the trash, financial decisions, grocery shopping, weekend plans, birthdays, holidays, Facebook posts, retirement plans, dieting, your period, movie choices, how to use 2-for-1 coupons...everything. But, that's another post for another day.

After posting "Churchless", I was surprised and overwhelmed by the responses. So many, married and not, young and old, introverts and extroverts shared that they were right there with me, feeling disconnected, alone, adrift...and pretty confused and conflicted about it all. As I read the comments and private messages, a picture formed in my mind of people all walking the same road, together but alone. All they could see was the long, lonely road ahead...not the people traveling it with them. What I got from that mental picture was:

1. We, none of us, are really alone, and
2. Loneliness can be isolating.

That second point might seem redundant and maybe not make a lot of sense upon first reading, but track with me for a minute on this. I think we can agree that loneliness is a relative, subjective thing. What makes one feel lonely and the degree to which one feels it and is impacted by it varies from person to person. To be sure, the way I experience loneliness as a single woman in my early 40s is different from the experience of a teenage boy or a widowed person or a Stay-at-Home mom or a business man who travels frequently. Each person "wears" loneliness differently, but one thing, I think, is certain: our response to loneliness can isolate us, even simultaneously as we make efforts to keep ourselves from being isolated. Whether it is someone who feels sad or angry about their loneliness and becomes hyper-sensitive or another who tries to vomit's a week's worth of internal dialogue on someone who dared to ask "How are you?" or the person who sits in a corner/at home waiting for someone to reach out to them, the result is that their experience or reaction to loneliness only makes it more pronounced.

The degree of difficulty in reversing the "loneliness effect" increases because, often, the lonely person is unaware of how detrimental their behavior is.

So, I say again, loneliness (no matter the cause) can be isolating.

I also say again, we, none of us, is really, truly alone.

Admittedly, that is of little comfort when your house is empty or the calls and invites and interaction on social media or in the work place is almost non-existent, but, it is nonetheless true.

So, what I've taken away from this whole experience by way of application is this: Go with the go-ers and keep reaching out.

I think if any of us really look at the people around us, there will be at least one that makes an effort, that always responds positively to opportunities to meet or chat or visit. Even if they aren't your age, even if they aren't able to be as connected as you want or need to be, invest in them anyway.

You never know what could grow and blossom if but for a little watering.

If you weren't already in the habit of reaching out to others before, or if you (like me) reach out and reach out and the response seems lukewarm at best...keep at it for the same reason I gave above. It will be hard and frustrating and sometimes hurtful, but the adage about having to kiss a few frogs first applies to friendships, too. (wink)

In my previous post, I mentioned that I'd reached out to several women in my small groups and none of them resulted in a bestie. While I still don't have that, the reaching out led to a friendship that is in the process of potentially blossoming. She is younger than me, but married with kids and at the time I first extended friendship to her, she was very much needing a friend. We enjoy the time we are able to visit in person and are both invested in keeping up with each other as much as our busy lives will allow. If I hadn't reached out to her, the friendship wouldn't have happened. While we aren't BFFs, and while having a social circle of people like me (of both sexes) is my ideal, I'm grateful for a human person who wants to spend time with me on purpose.

Finally, to round things out, I have a story about a person who actually reached out to me. Like my friend above, this person wasn't my age (though I was the younger this time) and our lives were very different, but we did have a few things in common like Jesus and our sarcastic sense of humor. Again, we aren't "attached at the hip" or anything, but she is consistent and thoughtful and honest, and for a while there recently, felt like my only friend in the world.

I'm grateful for both of these ladies, even more so now, and have determined within myself to water these friendships more instead of wishing I could find friends more like myself.

To bring it all back around now...I think, perhaps, this revelation prompted by the responses I got to my last post, might combine to be the "equation change" I said I was praying for, allowing me to venture back into church again. Maybe. Hopefully. Because, now I know that though the ages and marital statuses and dress sizes don't reflect it, there are a lot more people there like me than I originally thought.

In closing, I'd just like to add a big "THANK YOU" to everyone who read the post (almost 300 of you) and especially to those who took the time to encourage me or share their experiences. It meant so much. I think I teared up as I read each one. Please know that I am praying for "us" to find meaningful relationships and that we will find the courage to "go with the go-ers" and keep reaching out and extending friendship to others.


Churchless in the Crescent City

I haven't been to church in over a year.

That is really difficult to type. If someone had told me a year or two ago that there would come a time where not being in church regularly would be "normal" for me, I would have given them a "Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" look and probably a "Psh! Have you met me?!?!" as I walked away laughing and shaking my head at all the nonsense.

Yet, here I am, 12+ months of virtually no church. I've visited a few places in that time, but there've been too few Sunday's that actually included church to really count them. Prior to that, I had lapsed into this sort of twice-a-month routine of church going, plus small group. I was always very active in my small group no matter what. Prior to that, maybe as much as 5 years ago, I was an "every time the door was open" church-goer. I was involved in many outreaches and ministries and showed up to participate in or serve at church-wide events. I even lugged my small nieces and nephews along with me, navigating car seats and diaper bags and toddlers on hips like a seasoned single mom. I greeted. I handled the calendars and communications for my small groups. I served in the nursery. I sang with the worship team. I had "my seat" and sat there Sunday after Sunday without fail.

So, what happened? 


A lot of things.

1. My church changed. From the time I joined until now, it has probably tripled in size. We went from one small building where everyone knew each other, to a 1000 seat auditorium where you could go weeks without seeing someone simply because they sat on the opposite side of the room. The growth also had an impact on and caused leadership to rethink how they did small groups (which were no longer working). Over time, the connectedness and sense of family I had turned into a group of people I sat in a building with once a week and maybe "saw" on Facebook now and again.

2. I got older. I had always been on the older end of the single spectrum, but over time, I became a veritable anomaly. In fact, there was really only one other lady close to my age who was also still single. My previously single friends married and moved on to motherhood and babies. I was thrilled for them, but their friendship needs and limited time led to me being phased out of their lives. Their friends were now the mothers of the kids their kids liked to play with or that also home schooled or who had kids at the same school.

3. Life happened. Despite the whole "lone ranger single" thing, I did have some remaining friendships with people who were married. Some of them had been friends from the beginning of my time at the church. I had roots with them. They knew my stuff. I knew theirs. We'd been in the trenches together...and done a fair amount of laughing, too. But, over time, my people all went away. Some changed churches, others moved away for work or family reasons and I was left having to start over a large church...full of younger, married people, most of which had grown up with or were related to one another. It was fun. :/

4. I failed to make new friends. As I mentioned earlier, I was always active in my small groups. I always made efforts to get to know all of the ladies in the group and had at least one or two one-on-ones with each of them. I don't know why...maybe I talked too much, maybe I talked too little, maybe I had B.O. that day, or maybe I didn't fit into their existing friendship circle...but almost none of them resulted in any sort of mutual friendship. If we saw each other again, it was because I extended an invitation. If we communicated in any way, I was the initiator. For the better part of 5 years, I extended friendship and, for the most part, was kept in the acquaintance zone. Finally, I gave up on Operation: Find New People.

5. My feelings won the day. After 5 years of loss and change and pretty intense loneliness, I just couldn't do it anymore. I felt like I didn't fit anywhere. I expected to feel that way everywhere else, but not at church. It got to the point that I'd dread going to church, knowing I'd walk in, sit through service and leave alone, and then choke back tears on the way home. I didn't really think anyone was shunning me on purpose (though I confess, I did sometimes wonder if I was "one of THOSE people" that makes people run away from them for one reason or another) but it was hard not to take it personally. I tried to make friends, to be a friend, to pray for and follow-up with people; I tried to serve more; I tried to strike up convos before or after church. Yet, still, unless I reached out to someone, I had virtually no contact with anyone. And, so, the better part of the last year of my regular church attendance was filled with many absences and pleading with the Lord to show me my place at this church or lead me to a place where I did fit in. Finally, during worship one Sunday in April of last year, I felt the Lord release me to visit other churches. Not to run away...that was not my heart at all...just to step out and see what might be. I broke down. I sobbed quietly in my seat all through service. Alone. I left wiping tears. No one stopped me. Then, I emailed the leadership to let them know what was going on.

I'd like to end this by saying that upon stepping out and seeing how the Lord would lead, I found a great place and made new friends and am growing in the Lord with them. But, that is not the case. Shortly after stepping out and visiting, I had a house fire and my life was turned upside down for 6 months. I did continue to visit a few places, and go back to "my church" from time to time...but still just don't feel like I fit anywhere, in fact, all I've really seen is a big underscore beneath the reasons why I don't fit anywhere. I'm too old. I'm too fat. I'm too single. I'm too "whatever that thing is that kept me from making friends before."

Now, I can hear you fussing me in your head "that's not what church is about." You're not completely wrong. I know this. I know the primary purpose of church is to be taught and encouraged and to humble ourselves in worship with other believers. But, we are also called to gather together and to fellowship and to edify each other with songs, hymns and spiritual songs, to bear one another's burdens, to serve one another, to rejoice when others rejoice and grieve with them when they grieve. I.E. we are called to have meaningful, godly friendships. And, I would also say...if you can't even manage to pee alone, then you don't know what it is like to be alone in everything...and, thanks to Facebook, watch all these people you know and care about doing life together, without you.

I don't blame my church for growing and changing. It isn't their fault that growth didn't include an abundance of singles closer to my age...or a husband. My pastors preached the word faithfully. The worship songs were well chosen and soul-stirring. The ministries were set up to serve the vast majority of people in an intentional and thoughtful way.

I don't blame the people I tried to befriend for having other friends. They are good people and I don't expect to be everyone's cup of tea. Though, I would expect to be someone's, if I'm honest.

All that to say, when I started visiting other churches, I didn't go in with a bitter heart or trying to find "better" people or "better ministries". I just wanted to not feel like that one puzzle piece you just can't find a place for anymore.

I stepped out hopeful. I wanted to believe that the demographics would be more in my favor elsewhere. They weren't. In fact, the average age in most of the churches I visited was younger than "my church"...and they were less culturally diverse. I also found that the sermons were crafted appropriately to speak to the demographic, i.e. people who were 15-20 years younger than me and, for the most part new believers or just returning to the church. The worship, also, was a bit more seeker-sensitive than I was used to. I didn't hear much about Jesus or anything that reminded me of the debt that was paid for me. I saw no reverence or joy on the faces. No hands raised. No tears being wiped away...including my own. It was just very sad to me.

My visiting wasn't all bad. I did find one place that was full of kind, joyful people with a heart to serve and were pretty culturally diverse, but again, the demographic and content was me 15-20 years ago, not me today.


I don't like where I am. I miss "church" desperately. I know I'm being disobedient by not going. But, going just to go when really I am just afraid of being alone and miserable in a crowd of 800 people again keeps me hitting that snooze button every Sunday.

I don't want to stay "here" but I don't know what to do...and I don't feel like I have many options.

Until something in that equation changes, I guess I'll continue to be home on Sunday mornings.

For my part, I am praying for an equation change.