Saturday night I was sitting in church next to my husband. I was holding hand with my left and taking notes vigorously with my right. I had on sweatpants and sneakers since I’d just come from visiting my sister and brand new niece at the hospital. My husband had a smoothie in the cupholder next to him, and the couple in front of us were sharing a scone. In the sanctuary. Blasphemy, right?
I thought about how I used to STRESS about what I was going to wear to church. I’d buy stockings in bulk in case of an unexpected run. My cleaners bill was obnoxiously high. I’d have to keep a mental note of when I wore each outfit so I didn’t repeat them within a 6 week period. I liked shoes, but I didn’t have the budget for more than 3 pair of heels so I rotated my black nine west with my navy enzo angiolini’s and my beige Payless specials that I hoped no one looked too closely at. Earrings, bracelets, rings, perfume. It all had to be just right, especially when I started leading worship and had to either sit, stand or sing on the pulpit one or ore times during the service. I remember coming to one Tuesday night service when I wasn’t scheduled to sing, wearing black dress pants and a simple blouse. I was politely scolded by one of the women in leadership. “If I have to always look the part, so do you.”
I grew up in church. I watched my mom go through the Sunday morning ritual every week. But, she seemed to like it. She has more of a knack for dressing up than I do. (Her 2 closets packed full of women’s suits and shoes in every color are proof of this). We grew up in a small, but power packed church. EVERY Sunday we had “church”. The deacon would open up the service (usually my dad or my grandfather) with a hymn, the choir (when we still had one) would sing a soul-stirring selection or two, offering would be taken up, and then our pastor (who had been playing the piano or organ through the entire service), would take her place at the podium and preach the good news. Sure she preached about sin and hell sometimes, but she preached Jesus much more often. Her loving but direct personality made her a wonderful pastor. To this day I’ve never heard anyone say a negative word about her leadership as a pastor.
I’m not sure what happened. I don’t know if I simply got older and understood more of what was being talked about, or if things really did change. Somewhere in my teen years I remember being deathly afraid of hell. I would ask the Lord to forgive me at least 30 times a day. I was scared almost EVERY night when I laid down, that the rapture would come and I’d be left behind. Once, I was out riding my bike in our neighborhood and came back to grab a drink of water. All the doors were open, lights were on, tv on, but my mom was no where to be found. I ran frantically through the house calling her name, but she didn’t respond nor could I find her. I laid on my parents bed and started to confess every sin I could think of. “I’m sorry for lusting after Andre’ at school. I’m sorry I don’t like wearing skirts. I’m sorry I stuck my tongue out at my mom behind her back. I’m sorry for sneaking a pepsi after school. I’m sorry for kissing my wall and pretending I was kissing Andre. I’m sorry for saying a cuss word so Eli M would think I was cool and possible consider dating a black girl. ” I was literally snotting and on the verge of crying at this point. I was certain I’d missed the rapture and signed myself up for the tribulation and oncoming mark of the beast. I thought of all the adults in my life who had left me behind. How would I eat? Pay Bills? Drive? I had to call my grandparents. If one of them answered then I KNEW I hadn’t missed. I mean….my grandfather had a direct line to God. The phone rang twice, and then my grandfather answered , “Praise the Lord…. _____________’s Residence.” YESSSSSSSSS!!!! I hadn’t missed the rapture!!! I still continued to cry, but I was relieved. Turns out my mom had taken our neighbor dinner and came back only to find me hugging my grandparents whom I’d insisted come over until her whereabouts were discovered.
I lived in fear. Even in my 20’s I was scared. I had a horrible experience when I was 19 with a woman prophesying something over my life that made me feel like I was struggling with something I actually wasn’t. But she said it out loud in front of people…..so it had to be true, right?
I led worship with a commitment and fervor that never let up. I planned and prepared like I was going to be singing for the world’s greatest diplomats every Sunday. When things didn’t go as planned or people didn’t respond like I’d hoped, I’d go home feeling like garbage and questioning my abilities and anointing. Every. daggone. week.
I remember learning that if you didn’t pay your tithes you’d be cursed, and walk around with a hole in your pocket. I barely made enough to buy groceries, gas and chip in on rent every pay period. Not to mention the fact that I HAD to dress a certain way and therefore HAD to shop for dress clothes regularly. But of course, it was my fault…because I’d stopped paying my tithes (I couldn’t afford to), and was now cursed.
I remember the PRESSURE I felt not to be just at church, but look and act a certain way. I confided in a mentor once that I was struggling with some feelings of inadequacy and heartbreak from a relationship I’d been in. The relationship had been near perfect. We’d made general plans about marriage and even received prophesies about being together. Then, he stopped talking to me one day. No rhyme or reason, just gone. I was doing my best to recover, but I was pretending. I was heartbroken, and feeling less than in all areas of my life. “You just have to believe,” she told me. What a let down. I didn’t need a soup can answer. I needed help and compassion.
I continued to pretend. I shouted and danced on cue, even when I didn’t feel God. I stood in $100 lines because I needed a blessing and that was the way to get it, right? I felt guilty at every altar call even if I couldn’t think of any sins I’d been actively committing. I prayed and read my bible regularly. I knew I was anointed when the people responded, and questioned everything about my relationship with God when they didn’t. I was okay believing God was angry and waiting for me to mess up so he could abandon me and watch me pine after him in condemnation until He decided to take me back….THIS time.
I thought it was okay for the pastor to tell my husband and I that our “personal lives were of no concern to him. He expected us to be at church at every service, working in the office 40-50 hours per week, and giving above and beyond others since we were in leadership”.
I thought of all of this on Saturday. I looked around at the auditorium filled with people of different colors, different backgrounds, and different levels of spiritual commitment. A guy behind us had just finished drinking….I could smell it on his breath. But, he was in church. A couple to our right seemed to be visiting. He listened to and hung on every word our pastor taught. She wiped at her eyes throughout the entire message. Obviously hurting, but in church. In the balcony I saw a group of young adults who spent most of the message on their phones, texting, tweeting, whatever. But, they were in church. There was no heaviness. There was no pressure. There was no fear. But God was there. Jesus was revealed. He was there in the freedom.
People ask me often, “Don’t you miss CHURCH?” It’s sad that “church” has been defined as the way we dress & the way we worship rather than the way we are challenged to actually BE the church when we leave. I have watched my family grow spiritually in the last year that we’ve been going to what most call a “seeker friendly” church, than we’ve grown TOGETHER in all my years. It is most encouraging as a wife to see my husband soaking in the message and then bringing it up later in the week & sharing how the Lord is challenging him and encouraging Him through that word days later. I love that my children honestly believe God is their best friend, even when mom and dad are giving them the blues. They’re not afraid to love God and whisper to Him at night when they’re scared or tell Him thank you over the simplest of things. I love that for them. and I love that I no longer have to feel less than because I don’t have a budget the size of California to keep up with all the latest fashions and expectations so I can “look” the part. I’m even back to leading worship….and I sing in my JEANS.
I love the Body of Christ. I love seeing people eager to get to their respective churches on the weekends and share what their pastor preached. We all have different needs and preferences. I no longer need the key of Bflat to announce to me that God is in the room. I now understand He dwells within me, and He never leaves. When I open my mouth to praise Him, it’s because He’s real, not because I do or do not feel “the anointing”. When I give…it’s because I love Him. It’s my honor to give to Him. And when I don’t have it, I pray and ask Him to bless me with more so I’m able to give more. And He does….because He gives seed to the sower.
I broke up with the black church. And while I’m thankful for the firm foundation I was given as a child, I’m even more grateful for the house I”m building on it…in Christ with my family. Wearing sneakers and all 🙂