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What Church Looks Like When You Don’t Go to Church

Posted by Marie Fang on

 

Almost a year ago I wrote a post about my journey of burnout. After writing that post, I attended Sunday service only a handful more times. And then I essentially stopped going.

Naturally, people ask a few questions in response to this information: Are you looking for a new church? Are you leaving the faith? Is something wrong?

To each of these questions and other common concerns, my response is a resounding no.

In my younger years, I viewed the world as unsafe. I was fearful of my home, school, and church environments.

In retrospect, I understand now that I was rather depressed as a child. However, I found solace in my faith. I have vivid memories of returning home from school as a five-year-old, going to my bedroom, and giving a high-five to an invisible Jesus waiting to greet me at my bedroom door.

Instead of having a more conventional imaginary friend, I had a real friend in an invisible Jesus. He was only an inch or two taller than me, with his head just barely clearing my bedroom doorknob. He was both a young child and a full-grown adult. He played with me as a peer yet he also guided me with wisdom I didn’t have.

When I went to school, I imagined Jesus could shrink to the size of a Polly Pocket toy and live in my heart for the day.

Instead of outgrowing this phase, invisible Jesus simply changed with me as I got older. He no longer took on an imaginary physical form, but I could find him if I closed my eyes or wrote to him.

As I became an adult, he was there as an aura with me, like a confidante that lived in my spirit.

This is the Jesus I walk with today. There are some ways that I’m wired a bit differently than the average person. I meet the criteria for a trait called the Highly Sensitive Person (or HSP).

This means that my body takes in and processes much more information than the average person. It’s partly what enables me to be an awesome therapist, but it also means I can become easily overstimulated by my environment. In particular, I can become burdened by the emotions of others in large group contexts.

Church services have been overstimulating for me ever since I was a child. In high school, I joined the sound team so I could sit by myself in a small booth in the back and wear headphones. In college, I found any excuse to lead others into another room to pray together during musical worship. More recently, leading worship focused my energies and helped me move through the overstimulation.

But, despite the many things I enjoyed about leading worship, I would still walk away from Sundays feeling like I’d been hit by a bus.

Being overstimulated fries my system and makes it difficult to experience reality, like trying to enjoy a sweet fruit after burning your tongue or trying to see clearly in a dim room after being outside on a sunny day.

For now, not attending Sunday services has freed me up to see and experience God in the nuances of life. Church lives in the gratitude I feel waking up in the morning. It lives in the joy I find while gardening or petting my dog. I find church in simple, creative DIY outlets.

These days, Christian community lives in a tearful prayer with a good friend. It lives in the moment of attuning to a client’s specific needs. It lives in sharing a meal with friends with open hearts. It lives in 5:00am yoga with housemates and early morning coffee with my husband, Daniel. Christian community lives in online communities and text threads with loved ones far away.

Jesus is no longer a Polly Pocket-sized friend in my heart. He is the whisper I can hear in the calm. He is the love and compassion I feel toward others when I set aside my fears and my desire for control. I can hear him in my heart if I let myself tune out all the noise of life.

In all of these moments, I can feel the same Jesus moving within me and within all of us. It’s in these moments that I feel connected both to God and to the body of Christ.

I can’t vouch for where my journey with church will take me. My every desire is to be able to participate in community the way others do. In this season of life, I am choosing patience with God as I hope he will teach me what I need to rejoin with The River church body, as an HSP and all. For now, I trust that he is guiding me even at this point in my journey.

 

 

 

Marie Fang has attended The River since 2012. Before moving to the Bay Area, Marie was involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and at Coast Vineyard Church in San Diego. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and works part-time at a Christian practice in San Jose.

Marie and her husband, Daniel, have been married since 2009. Marie is passionate about learning to love those who are frequently unloved and guiding others in their journey of developing a healthy sense of identity.

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