At 16 years old I was becoming disillusioned with church. I had gone to church my entire life. Every Sunday we were up early and on our way out of the house. My mother made sure we went every single Sunday. As my brother and I grew older, these Sunday mornings went from excitement to go see our friends and church family to not wanting to get out of bed. We drug our feet and took our own sweet time. This lead to an overly stressed mother speeding down the back roads between small towns trying to make it just in time while my brother and I held on for dear life in the back seat. There was no slowing down. Coming up on train tracks? You’d better have your seatbelt on or your head was going to hit the roof of our conversion van. Actually, that was our favorite part. (Sorry Mom) My father did not attend church with us. He only came if something special was going on such as one of our Christmas plays, or when I sang during the service. The topic of my father and his lack of attendance at church is what began my journey to not going to church anymore. You see, during the Sunday school lesson one morning, the teacher brought up people that do not attend church when they have the ability to do so. It was explained to me that these people would not make it into heaven. So I asked the question that weighed most on my young mind. What about my father? What about my father who was so loving and generous? One of the three people that I loved most in the world at that time would be going to hell because he didn’t go to church? The teacher paused and tried to delicately explain to me that yes indeed that did include my father. That absolutely did not sit well with me. I remember asking him if someone was a good person for their entire life but never went to church, they would still go to hell? When the answer to that was yes, I was done. I was 12 years old at that point and that single conversation put an end to my blind faith. My mind could have gone in a completely opposite direction and I would have begun pestering my dad to attend. I knew that would never happen. I also knew there was no way my dad would end up in hell. I had a short list of people that I considered to be very good people in my world that did not attend church. These people were going to hell as well? No. No thank you. So I began questioning everything. What about people of other faiths? Were they going to hell? The answer was yes. What about people who were also Christians but attended different churches? Were they going to hell? The answer to that was yes. That was why we must try to tell others about the glory of God and our church and how important it was for them to attend. This hole this teacher was digging was just getting deeper. I stopped paying attention as much. What was once an exciting thing to do became a chore. Therefore, by the time the event I’m about to describe happened when I was 16, I was ready to stop going to church myself. The threat of hell didn’t scare me. What was heaven without my father?
So I found myself at 16 years old counting down the time until I could make my own decisions regarding my church attendance or lack thereof. This particular Sunday there was a guest speaker from a different congregation. I had never met him or his family before this day. I do remember finding his sermon engaging and thoroughly enjoying his sermon. At some point during this service (I believe it was right before a prayer) his daughter walked up to the pulpit and said, “Before I begin, I feel that God has a message he wants me to deliver. Is there someone named Heather here?” As she began looking around the room at our small congregation, I felt frozen. I didn’t know this woman. I was not involved in the service on this day. There were absolutely no other Heather’s there. Her eyes settled on me as other people pointed me out. I smiled and nodded at her. She looked at me and said, “God wants you to know that you are going to go through some very hard times in your life. You will not be alone. He wants you to know that he will be with you every step of the way. Even when you feel desperately alone he will be right there with you”. As she spoke, I felt tears beginning to stream down my face and I didn’t know why. She smiled at me and then continued with whatever she was about to do. I didn’t hear one other word that day. I was too wrapped up in my own head. Did my mother put her up to this? Did someone else? I was far too shy at that point to try to talk to her after the service. As a matter of fact I believe I avoided her. I had already made up my mind. I was going to stop going to church. I hadn’t told anyone. I asked my mother about it after we left and she said that she hadn’t said anything to this woman about me.
As the years went by, I did in fact stop going to church. I didn’t stop going altogether. I tried out my friends churches. I went to different congregations within my own church. I fluctuated in and out of my relationship with church. I began to see myself as more of a spiritualist. I just could not reconcile myself with everything the bible was telling me. My world had broadened further. I knew/know amazing people who were homosexual. I knew people who were trans. I knew so many good quality people and I just could not and still cannot reconcile the fact that the bible tells us that this is wrong and that these good people I know are doomed. I attended some classes on the theology behind the bible and what the bible was saying to us in the context of the time it was written. This stopped some of the doubts. I do not pretend to be a theologian, but I do highly recommend theology for anyone of any faith.
When I met my husband, he had also had a childhood filled with church but had stopped going a few years prior due to a number of his own personal reasons. A few years into our relationship, he suggested we give our faith another shot. I am so glad he did. I began praying on a regular basis. Our family began reading the bible together and praying nightly. We still pray nightly as a family and I have my own private prayers throughout the day. I have gone through some terrible things in my life and that woman’s words have stuck with me. I’ve ignored them in the past but in the last few years I find myself embracing them. Do I believe God spoke to her and passed on some kind of message personally to me? I want to believe it is true. I’d say I normally do believe it is true. I know I believe in God, I still can’t reconcile good people going to hell simply for not attending church, or because of their sexuality, or that they cut their hair, or that they eat shrimp or because they believe in a different God than I do, or no God at all. So I pray, I teach my sons about God and I tell them that their faith is their own. I’m teaching them what I believe and letting them make up their own minds. This subject is by far a touchy one for many people and while I hesitate to write it due to the fear of backlash, I know that I am not the only person out there who struggles with their faith and ideals. I live my life and try to be a good person. I falter and fail and know that I will have many trying times ahead of me. Who doesn’t or won’t? Yet, I believe in a God who loves others, who helps others, who wants us to help others. I believe in a God who holds us up in our darkest hours. I cannot explain why bad things happen if God exists and I don’t believe anyone really can. I only have my own personal faith that he is there guiding me, protecting me, and rejoicing with me in my successes. He is there when I fall. I write this for the person that feels it’s all or nothing. The person on their own spiritual journey. Are you that person? How has your faith changed or fluctuated over the years?
EDIT: I do feel I did the church I grew up in a disservice. The people of this church and the church itself are more open and forward thinking than the church I knew when I was young. My mother is a pastor in this church and an amazing woman. They are accepting and the person who taught me is no longer a member of this church. The answers I was given at this time are not the same answers I would be given if I were growing up in this church now. I do still attend from time to time. I have kept in touch with many of the people from this church and are still good friends with them to this day. Much love to them and to progress.