When I pass a church building on a Sunday and see the cars in the parking lot, the people milling about the entrance, greeting one another with smiles and nods, with their clean-cut families ironed, showered, and put together, I get a knot in my stomach. It looks exhausting and feels fake.
I don't want to attend services at a church anymore.
The last time my husband and I visited a church was in July. We were treated kindly, being friends of a friend of the pastor and his family, and were ushered to a seat front and center. As worship began and announcements were made, my legs grew restless. I squeezed Mat's hand using our secret signal indicating I wanted to leave. I counted the knees I'd knock in our row if I were to make my escape to the exit. I stayed in my seat because I didn't want to be a distraction. I didn't want to be rude. Then it was time to turn and shake your neighbor's hand, the part about service I hate the most. Being introverted, I never understand the point of engaging in a two-minute, purposely awkward conversation. I'm usually asked if my husband and I have kids. I say no. They ask why. I say I don't want any. They say nothing - because whoops, I made it too uncomfortable - and turn to someone else.
As the message was being delivered, I withdrew further inside myself. The Christianese was all too familiar and made me feel hollow. Sometimes I feel speaking the language of Christianity is a way to pretend to value someone else without really giving the other person any worth, without validating true feelings. Responding with generic Christian quips and phrases only makes it sound like you care; because as long as we come across empathetic we don't have to actually be empathetic.
To be clear, I don't think church is a complete waste of time. But for me, right now, it's not time I want to spend on a Sunday - the getting ready, the meeting strangers and recapping our lives in digestible bites, the standing and sitting and smiling, the wondering who might want to invest time outside of this building to really get to know you, the feeling of disconnection when you're simply handed a registration card to fill out.
Someone asked me recently if my husband and I were going to visit the church we used to attend, before we moved away. Then they laughed, "You'd have to tell us when you're coming because that would be entertaining. We'd need popcorn. You'd shake things up just by showing up!"
My soul shuddered. The assumed drama of our mere presence is not a way to entice me.
We are not coming to your church.
My husband and I have decided to implement Pajama Church. On Sunday mornings, we wake up whenever we wake up. There is no alarm. I make coffee and we sit on the couch in silence; in our sweat pants each of us curled up in our own blankets, our hair matted in classic bed head style. Then Mat takes his guitar off the wall and we sing as many songs as we feel like. After warming up our voices, I warm up my coffee and we open the bible to read scripture.
In the past few weeks, I've cried out of joy and anger over the words we read aloud. There is tension in my heart around what is literal truth and what is cloaked in metaphors and stories. Sometimes an hour will pass as we discuss the scripture, sometimes we'll be done in 10 minutes. Every week it's different. Then we pray together. You'd think being a former pastor and former pastor's wife we'd be pros at praying together, but the truth is, up until we quit our jobs at the church, we never prayed together. We were always too busy praying for everyone else.
After prayer, I make breakfast and we eat at the table, deciding what to do with the rest of our day and predicting what the week ahead might bring. Last Sunday, I opened the fridge to grab eggs but we were out. We brushed our teeth and drove to our favorite spot for biscuits and gravy. Sitting at the bar eating alongside a group of men drinking beer in an attempt to recover from their previous night's binge, I learned what Hair of The Dog means and where to score a free meal when you're hung over.
This season of being absent from church services is necessary for my husband and I as we transition from our years in church ministry - where church was hard work and measured by numbers, and people-pleasing and expectations were killing us slowly. Pajama Church inspires us; we are assured God has not left us and we are listening even more closely for the Holy Spirit. We are reminded why gathering together and discussing how to live the faith we cling to is a valuable practice. We have not abandoned our belief system for the most part or cursed God with angry fists, we are simply maturing our faith by allowing space to be alone, away from outside influences, to truly rest in who we are and who we know God to be.