The P.K. Cliche’

I was raised in the Adventist Church. I have a degree in haystacks and hand bells.

I grew up with things like Mission Spotlight, vespers, potluck, AY reading lists, Ellen White, and Bible board games.

I didn’t get into trouble, and I could have been described as a “goody-goody” by my public school classmates. I made it to every church youth function, and did what was right every chance I got.

So, why would I leave the church?

It’s a question that is plaguing our churches. Kids (even pastor’s kids) are raised in the church, attend Adventist academies almost exclusively, and oftentimes college as well. They participate in church services, community services, choirs, missions, and praise groups. They know every hymn they grew up with; they know how to pray. So where are they going?

Though I’ve had a slightly different upbringing than those described above, I found myself seriously lacking in the spiritual department as I reached adulthood.

I knew the Adventist doctrinal beliefs. I knew how to pray, how to study the Bible with concordance, commentary, and lexicon. I knew how to learn about God, and that to have a relationship with Him, to grow, I had to “read [my] Bible, pray everyday.”

The Real World Is Mean

As I said already, I attended public schools for most of my education. I attended an Adventist academy for first and second grades, and then public schools until college graduation. Might I have had a different experience had I gone to academy? Possibly. It might have even been a better experience. Even having gone to public schools, befriending “worldly” children, and having worldly experiences, when I grew up and met the real world, it was a shock to say the least.

Knowing God in a Petri Dish

As I grew into a young woman, I realized quickly that my relationship with God had been one in a controlled environment. As a cell can grow into an embryo in a “test tube” or petri dish, so I grew into a relationship with God. Just as no harm can come to the embryo, so there was no real test of my faith or relationship with God. When I grew up and moved out of my family’s home I realized something shocking. The real world is harsh and Godless. The net that my church, family, and friends had established for me as a child was no longer present, and for the first time in my life I had to depend on God completely.

I felt let down.

Real World Lies

When I was about 13 I had my first drink of alcohol. At the time I was so naive (and confused about my relationship with God) that I cried myself to sleep for weeks, sure I was doomed to hell. Imagine! A 13 year-old girl with straight As, who sings praise songs in church each week, prays every chance she gets, and reaches out to others around her, crying herself to sleep, afraid she’s going to hell.

That was me.

I don’t remember when I realized that there was more to salvation than sin=hellfire, but at some point I did. I do remember the first time I experienced God’s grace and forgiveness in a very real way when I was 22 years old. That is nine years of my young life, spent in a spiritual roller coaster in which I can recall multiple “downs”, and very few “ups”.

When I was 21 I experienced a divorce following an abusive marriage, which was the culmination of my spiritual downspin. When I divorced my first husband, I came to the truth that Eve had encountered by the serpent in the garden: “you shall not surely die” he said. No, my issue was not “life or death”, but it was just like drinking alcohol at 13.

I may have thought I was going to hell for that sin, but I didn’t. I definitely had that feeling while filing for divorce at my young age as well. I felt I had done my worse, and yet had lived. What else could I do?

The lies of the serpent had entangled my heart, and my flesh was winning the battle over my spirit.

Leaving the Church

Ironically enough, during the darkest part of my walk with (or away from) God, I never stopped attending church each week. I showed up every Saturday morning, sat in my usual pew, and talked to people as I always had. I came to church in a drunken stupor for several weeks of the summer following my divorce, but still I came.

They probably could’ve asked me to leave, and I’d have obliged. But what they didn’t know, and what I didn’t understand at the time, is that I had already left the church.

Christ the Cornerstone

In Ephesians we are given a picture of the church, with Christ as cornerstone, holding up the walls, keeping the building steady. If Christ is the cornerstone of the church, I can rightly say that in my darkest hour, I wanted nothing to do with Jesus or what he wanted for me.

If the church is the bride of Christ as scripture says in Revelation, then I was furthest from the church, as I was cheating heartily on Christ with my own selfish ways.

Why am I rehashing these painful and ugly truths about myself? Who is this going to help?

When I Left the Church

My church family never once asked me to leave. When I wanted to help in some way, they let me. When I showed up and ended up sitting on the back steps smoking cigarettes through the whole service no one asked me to leave. When I wore jeans the day I was supposed to do Children’s Story, no one said a word. When I showed up to church with a stranger, and soon ended up with an unplanned pregnancy, no one asked me to leave and they welcomed him with open arms.

Do you know what they did? They prayed for me. I’m sure of all of them, my mom prayed for me the most. She probably prayed until her heart broke.

I don’t know who all was praying, and I don’t know what they asked God for–maybe someday I’ll ask Him. All I know is that during the darkest time in my life I couldn’t stop attending church. As if my life depended upon it, I kept going, and if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be in the church today.

I tell people that my parents taught me to get my toosh to church each Sabbath, but I’ve realized that’s not why I went. I know why I attended. It’s because when I left the church, the church hadn’t left me.

When I left God, God hadn’t left me.

Opened Eyes

Church membership or attendance is more than just that–membership and attendance. There may be people attending church who don’t want to be there, who don’t know why they’re there, and feel unwanted there. There may be people at church who fight with themselves through the whole service, telling themselves it will be the last time. Next week they may not be there. And when they stop coming, it’s easier the next week, and the next. Pretty soon they realize they don’t have to fight themselves. Pretty soon they start believing the lies of the serpent, and they may end up walking in their darkest hour without the church’s help.

I’m so blessed to have walked through that time in my life with a loving church family, and I hope to be able to help someone through their own darkness.

I challenge you to ask God to use you for such a feat. Throughout the Bible God used people to accomplish His will. Could He do these things on His own? Yes, but how powerful it is to help another person on earth! Open your eyes to the people around you, to the person in the pew near you. Everyone is going through something, and they may need you to walk with them.