Day Eleven: Church Psychology


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Very rarely do I want to go. I wake up into Sunday morning and the promise I made Saturday night feels suddenly negligible. I tend to feel extremely productive on Sundays. The moment my eyes open, I start listing all the things I need to do, things I’ve ignored all week long: the laundry, the dishes, the homework, the lawn heavy with leaves. I think about how I have a whole big day ahead of me to accomplish it all, and then I see church- standing there in the middle of it like a hurtle that will require all of my strength to leap over. I sink back beneath the covers.


It’s not really a struggle to get out bed; my church meets in the evening. And it’s not a problem with the church itself; I have a great pastor, we take communion after every sermon, and sometimes we even sing hymns. The struggle, it seems, is within me. In the slums of my psychology.


A Sunday night forecast typically includes lots of small talk, which I’m seemingly incapable of doing. In these little foyer one-on-ones, I tense up, bracing for the potential personal question asked by a sweet sounding stranger, and so I wind up waltzing from person to person, keeping it light, keeping it short. Sometimes, I just sit in my car until ten minutes after.


In the service, I know there will be songs sung that sting, but I won’t know why. And inevitably, in the midst of them, someone on the team will break into an impromptu, breathy prayer, and it does less to inspire me than simply remind me of certain people in my past. Their ghosts wreathe around me, and I get critical. I check the clock. I check out.




I’ve been, forever it feels like, trying to quit cynicism. In my recovery from church trauma, I entered into what I felt was a completely appropriate snarky, loud, assholey phase. I picked fights with strangers on twitter and then laughed at how seriously they took it. I sent my brother, a pastor, several profanity-laced texts a day with articles from the Gospel Coalition and Christianity Today, and I ranted on facebook and on my blog and to pretty much anyone that would listen. I was mean and I was extremely raw, a fledgling with a voice, and yet it was still appropriate. I had to spout or implode.


It never occurred to me, until recently, that my cynicism might better be understood as a pattern of thought, a habit of mind, an addiction. A trap not too different than the anxiety snares I stumble into. The crux of it was (is) this: all people are hard, but Christians are the hardest.


I’ve always trace back much of my own issues with church to the evangelical culture I was born into, a culture that conditioned me towards open-hearted trust and then betrayed me in the worst ways. Afterwards, I learned healthy boundaries. I learned better discernment. But I forgot how to trust and kept my heart caged in.


Now, looking back, I try to see it through a neurological lens. The hard hits and the subtle shifting they brought about in my circuitry, the way everything broke all at once and I reassembled my thoughts it in a jaded, darker style. And it makes sense, when you think of it that way, why I can’t just sing the song without the judgment. Why I can’t just listen to the message without getting tripped up on the verbiage. My mind is trained to notice it, and hate it.


This is why I got to church: because it’s like an antibiotic. I have to see all the people that are hard, and they bump against my thoughts, like friction, like they’re sanding me down. We talk and we sing badly, I watch them chase my little nephew through the pews, his voice loud with laughter, and all at once I am reminded that people are also soft. I am reminded of the thousand soft moments before that my cynical mind tries to look past.


I am reminded when I, of all people, was asked to serve communion. The way when my second nephew was born two months early, the people of God brought my brother and sister-in-law food throughout the week, showed up on Sunday nights with the bread and juice to serve them. The warm faces of strangers that come up to me to tell me they love my blog.


I am reminded, most of all, that I am hard and I am soft, that I can hurt as much as I can heal, and I am growing right along with everyone else. I am learning to see them the way I hope they see me. Hard. Soft. Every bit beloved.