My priorities are clear: God first, Family second, Ministry third.
Sometime between last and this year, it came to be that I had to choose between my family and church, failing which I’d be in a prolonged state of tension and misery between both. I chose my family.
Sometimes the separation between God and church membership/ministry can be a tricky thing. Will one’s devotion to God be put into question when one gives up his/her ministry? To this day I do not know if I made the right choice. Everywhere I go, I seem to hear something (good or bad) about CHC. I still miss the people, the preaching, the ministry in CHC. But I’m also mindful that God is bigger than one church; it is the combination of local churches that make up the body of Christ, and I can serve God equally in another part of the body of Christ, if anything stops me from doing so in the part I was originally planted in.
The uprooting process was rough, I felt lost, forgotten and neglected. I questioned myself multiple times about whether I made the right decision; because had I stayed, I’d still be a part of a cell group, I’d likely be dating someone P_ was going to introduce me to… but whether I could feel a sense of belonging in the cell group; whether I could get along with the guy P_ would introduce me to… that is another question. I know that I had been feeling jaded in the church over the past few years, crushed by the ever-growing list of responsibilities and the lack of genuine relationship / connection with the people there.
My decision to leave was a slow and gradual process, made possible by gradually extricating myself from different ministry responsibilities – first bookstore, then children’s church, and finally, cell group. This separation was a painful process; as I removed myself from those roles, I also lost the relationships I had built up with the people in those settings. That’s when I came to the painful realisation of how transactional and transient many of the relationships I had with church members were – they were more like professional working relationships and not genuine friendship relationships. Most of the time, people were more interested in what I could do, how I could serve and how I could be useful to them, rather than how I was doing, feeling and coping with life.
By the time it was appropriate for me to leave church (given I had hardly any responsibilities left), nobody looked out for me. No one asked how I was. Probably nobody remembered me. I had managed to turn into a piece of background furniture, and it didn’t matter anymore whether I was there or not. On the other hand, there was also a sense of relief, possibly because I was able to slip out in such an anonymous fashion. I didn’t have to explain to people where I was, why I was no longer attending, whether I was backsliding, etc etc, simply because nobody asked / noticed my absence.
The only ones who really asked after me were the children I follow up on in children’s church, bless them. Two years on they are still texting me to tell me about little nuggets happening in their lives. One kid messaged me one day and asked, “Teacher Anne, will you be my godmother? I was thinking of finding one and I thought of you.” The same kid sent me a video of himself beaming into the camera, and asked for one in return. “Teacher Anne, I just want to say hi. I don’t remember how you look like anymore, can you send me a video of yourself so I won’t forget?” Another kid texted me almost 2 years after I stopped visiting her, because she only just got a cell phone after her PSLE. “Teacher Anne how are you!” She texted excitedly. “Why haven’t you come in such a long time!” These texts never fail to bring me to tears. Tears of joy because they still remember me after these years, tears of sadness because attachments once formed are not easily broken, and to these children (many of whom come from broken families), such attachments are all the more precious in their lives. Leaving them was almost tantamount to rejection and withdrawal of love.
I think the most heart wrenching moments were the teary conversations I had with God during my quiet times in the still of the night. I questioned why it had to come to this, why my family continued to be so hostile towards my religion and my church affiliation after over a decade of serving God and sowing into the church. I sacrificed my time, money, energy, youth, basically almost all I could offer to the church and to God, and in return I received taunts, criticisms and hostility from my family (extended family included), but minimal or no earthly source of comfort; my leaders and members didn’t seem to fully comprehend or be concerned with my struggles. I felt fatigued, financially insecure, and lonely without genuine companionship and relationship.
I suppose these desperate moments allowed me to turn to God completely, in the absence of meaningful earthly companionship. For a prolonged period of time, God’s silence was deafening; and I felt as if I was knocking and pleading against a brick wall. I agonized over my decision and wondered if I had made the wrong choice, since God had been so silent over my questions and ponderings. It’s easy to think of silence as punishment, and allow guilt to consume you. I felt intense guilt over the un-Christian-like things I did (or did not do), like church hopping, not giving tithe, not serving actively in ministry, not following up on the remaining of my members, etc. I wondered if I had lost the approval of God since I had stopped doing all these things. But through it all, I experienced an amazing revelation too – that continual feeling of God’s presence and love for me in spite of the silence. It was as if God’s love pierced through the dark fog of silence and enveloped my entire being. It was as if He was trying to assure me that this silence was not a punishment of abandonment, but a lesson He was taking me lovingly through. The startling realisation that God loves me simply for who I am, and not because of what I do, leapt off the pages of the bible and into my heart. It was a great sense of liberation; I mean, I still cry often, and I continue to grieve over my imperfections, but I’ve learnt to depend on Him, to trust Him, and to recognise His sufficiency in all things. I’m still learning.
Today I feel much more joyful, at peace and contented than I had been for a long time. I’m still healing, from past hurts, rejections, disappointments. But I’m taking small steps at a time. I’m thankful for my Christian friends – (one or two) existing CHC members I still keep in touch with, alienated CHC members or ex-members, other Christian friends I met at work, school etc. They have been my lifeline between my earthly carnal emotional self and Jesus, especially during the dark and lonely days. Without them I don’t think my Christian faith would have sustained so well.
I can only say, our Christian walk is a series of peaks and valleys, and the only unchanging factor in this journey is God Himself. Not ourselves, our friends, our family, or even our spouse (if I eventually have one). The only way to practise this “religion” is to have a personal relationship with our most high God – to talk to Him, sing, shout, cry, or project our deepest thoughts and emotions to Him in any way possible, to share our happy, sad, and boring moments with Him, to allow Him to gently guide us, direct us, and redefine our understanding and knowledge of Him time and again. He is truly the anchor, the rock, the everlasting hope of our salvation, and He is the only One we can depend on, through all seasons, in all terrains, through all life’s ebbs and flows. When Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses against the door of the church and proclaimed the five solas, he made a good point. Solus Christus. In Christ alone can I have my hope and salvation.