Just show up as a human. God expects nothing more. God wants nothing more.
I’ve heard it one million times: “The church is a hospital for the sick.”
But is this true of the modern church? The one plagued with sex scandals, under-the-table financial schemes, and a reputation for joining political bandwagons? Is this place disinfected enough to bind and heal the wounds of the hurt?
Truth be told, I’m skeptical of today’s church. Stacking that wariness on top of the religious trauma I experienced in my teen years, it takes gritted effort and mental mantras for me to show up on Sundays. It takes even more conscious effort for me to behave once I get there.
I roll my eyes at the deacon in a three-piece suit, sporting a tie decked in heavenly doves and carrying a bulletin that subtly reads, “for KJV members only.”
I scoff at the wannabe-hip youth pastor in skinny jeans and a polka-dotted short-sleeve button-up whose tattoo features Hebrew verbiage he boats is Christianese.
I think some children’s ministry curriculums are too goofy and cheesy for the modern kiddo.
I believe some children’s ministry programs are so boring that even the teacher doesn’t want to be there.
I shake my head at worship teams that clearly haven’t practiced as if God doesn’t call us to excellence.
I grow disgusted with worship teams that have clearly practiced for the sake of entertainment; forget the Spirit of God.
I criticize pastors who yell and scream, pushing hell’s narrative as a scare tactic that never seems to convert a sinner’s lifestyle.
I become angry with calm, cool, and collected pastors—so collected that they feel emboldened to water down the gospel so it’s more digestible for people who aren’t in the mood to die to themselves.
Perhaps you’re in the same boat as me. You see so many problems within the church, but if you’re truly in my boat, holding the same heavy paddle I row with, you’ve realized you are part of the problem too.
Deep down, you know you are called to gather with believers and invest your heart, mind, and, yes, even time and money into the local church. After all, it’s hard to hate on a watered-down church when you don’t mind ducking and dodging Hebrews 10:25, which says, “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Further down, you know that you shouldn’t allow other people to dictate whether you honor God.
And at rock bottom, you’re aching to feed your soul with what the church was meant to offer, with the hope and healing it was meant to administer. You’re ready to go back to church, but it’ll be awkward, tough, and sometimes triggering.
So how do you get back into going to church?
While I’m not Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, or a groundbreaking woman for the gospel, I’ll offer my story, what I’ve done, and what I’ve learned, and hopefully, you will find peace and purpose in giving the church (and yourself) a second chance.
Show Up Knowing Hypocrisy Is Unavoidable
I believe it’s hard for the church to convince the world it’s a hospital for the sick because no one seems tired, hurt, or exhausted when they walk in its doors. The guy greeting you wants to talk about how well he did at this weekend’s fishing tournament. The busybody Sunday school teacher wants to tell you how excited she is for the upcoming potluck.
Meanwhile, nobody says how they’re really doing, how they’re honestly feeling, how life isn’t going the way they want it to. Everybody is talking but saying nothing, so when you show up at a hospital full of “well” people, it’s easy for hypocrisy to surface.
But let me remind you that hypocrisy is everywhere, including the nooks and crannies of my soul—and yours. If you still show up to work, attend book club, or pitch your lawn chair in the softball moms’ section, you’re in the very throws of human deception. Most days, you expect no more from a world filled with hypocritical people, so transfer that same expectation to those in the church.
Show up at church expecting people to be people. It sounds a little off, but lowering your expectations in this way isn’t watering down the gospel or excusing hypocritical behavior. Instead, it’s an extension of grace that allows your frustrations, anger, and wariness to take a back seat so you can love others as you were called.
Along the way, you’ll realize how open and honest many believers are and how vulnerable they can be when you get to know them. But you must stick around long enough to discover these wounded, kind people.
Show Up Feeling Emotionally Detached
If I only went to church on days when I felt like I was madly in love with God and had my ducks in a row, I don't want to contemplate how few times I would show up.
We are flawed beings who don't love well. We are masters of tainting love. Thankfully, this doesn't surprise the Great Shepherd. So He continues to invite us to meet with Him without any prerequisites outside of who we are, where we are. This is why Jesus had a bad reputation with the Pharisees—He extended invitations to the sinners in the middle of their darkness, not the saints.
I remind you of this to say:
if you’re feeling mad at God, go to church.
if you’re frustrated with God, go to church.
if you’re blaming God, go to church.
if you’re doubting God, go to church.
if you’re over God, go to church.
if you’re disappointed in God, go to church.
The church is, truly, a hospital for the sick; it’s a modern picture of the feet of Jesus. It’s where you and I should bring everything we aren’t, everything we’ve failed at, everything ugly we feel, and let Jesus do the work in our hearts that only He can do.
If you have a hang-up with people showing up to church pretending to be something they aren’t, why would you wait to show up until you feel put together? Is that not the essence of hypocrisy? Hiding your life behind closed doors until you can sweep enough mistakes under the rug to seem happy and joyfully ready to worship when the band strikes the first praise song?
Show up to church feeling emotionally detached, feeling you don’t belong, feeling you aren’t put together, feeling frustrated that this is how Jesus can use us.
Just show up as a human. God expects nothing more. God wants nothing more.
Returning to church is hard, whether you walked away because of hurt, trauma, disgust, or boredom. Trust me; I take mental health medication that helps prod me into the church’s double doors on Sundays. I have wounds and valid reasons for why I feel uncomfortable attending church. But I have invalid reasons why the holes in my heart take so long to heal when I bypass the messy, imperfect, but Spirit-filled hospital God offers each Sunday at 10:30 am.
Embrace the church for all it is and isn’t, and allow God to do beautiful things through sick, messy people. Give God another chance, give church another chance, give yourself another chance.
And see what happens.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Ehrlif
Peyton Garland is an author and Tennessee far mama sharing her heart on OCD, church trauma, and failed mom moments. Follow her on Instagram @peytonmgarland and check out her latest book, Tired, Hungry, & Kinda Faithful, to discover Jesus' hope in life's simplest moments.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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