Stepping Into Community
I sat in the pews of our Church for three and a half years — sitting upright, hardly anyone ever talking to me. Sitting and listening and praying. Feeling our pastors and elders are not accessable to the church body, except to the privileged few. I still feel that way, at least a little. While sitting and worshiping without much connection is what I wanted and needed at first, I grew to long for a true community. As Nora Gallagher wrote in her book, “Things Seen and Unseen,” I didn’t want the “false camaraderie.” Rather, I grew to long for community, in all its joy and brokenness.
But I was fearful and tired. Too many times had I found myself stuck between the married, the divorced, and the unmarried. Being married to a non-believer puts you in a category that seems to make you an untouchable to some. Not that others don’t want to know you or connect with you — but I think people don’t know how. Married couples look for other Christian couples to connect with; the divorced want to find others who are single and who understand the pain and hope of divorce; the unmarried seemed to be indifferent or maybe even shocked that I would be unequally yoked. Most didn’t know my story at all before I felt the pain of the nails of judgment and the loneliness and hurt of being excluded from small gatherings.
No spiritual community at home and no spiritual community at church. Just communion with God and self. A place of pain and darkness at times. But a place of hope and comfort if I would look to Christ.
I felt like I was standing outside a circle of people, all with their backs turned to me. And yet, I felt God’s grace.
At one point a few years ago I attended a church members’ meeting at which the elders brought in a position paper on divorce. While I was not sure — and I’m still not sure that I agree with the position of the church on the issues of divorce–I found it refreshing and encouraging that the church actually would take a stance and be supportive of those who have divorced. I spoke up about how I was encouraged, because as a person who was married to a non-believer, I understood the feeling of being marginalized in a community of believers. I don’t think I used the word marginalized, but apparently that was the message that came across. At the end of the evening, the Women’s Pastor came up to me and said she would love to talk to me further about what I meant. So, we scheduled a lunch date.
I appreciated her effort and concern to bring all women in the community together. She was genuine, a good listener, and engaged. I was encouraged that she would help me to find a place in the community — even if it meant helping me to find a group of women who were also married to non-believers.
She did try.
But, more than ever, I realized that finding a place, if at all, was going to be a long and arduous and very lonely journey. And, it was my journey — not hers.
Time has passed. And, I am at peace. God has brought some amazing women in to my life. They are women like me, who love God, but who are not afraid to talk about our faith and our doubt, our joy and our brokenness. They have issues with their marriages and families, just like I do. They grapple with the church and its position on so many things, just like I do. I have found community and hope.
God was and is faithful. I feel alive.