Deciding to take a temporary sabbatical from church has made me rethink the way I define “church” in the first place. It’s a very American concept to define “church” as a structure with walls, pews, and a stage, but when a news story about the persecution of Christians under ISIS crosses my social media outlets, I realize this is too narrow a definition. Church is, in a nutshell, a gathering of Christians to worship and learn about God together, regardless of time and place.
The first anxiety attack I had in church this year was when a visiting missionary showed a Powerpoint to illustrate where the half-million dollars came from to fund overseas missionaries – “funding” including airfare, hotels, food (for the missionaries, that is), and bibles, but not so much food, water, or medical care for the people they were intending to reach. Spiritual care over physical care seemed to be the priority, and this Jewish idea that permeated my childhood – that it’s a moral imperative to feed, shelter, and care for our poor in other tangible ways – means nothing if it doesn’t end up saving souls. I thought of my father’s life of compassion for others and the reality in Christendom that all his kindness was for naught because he wasn’t “saved.”
The second anxiety attack was two weeks ago during a sermon on faith healing, which regular readers already know is a trigger.
It’s one thing to be feel convicted about something, which can be an uncomfortable experience – a good church should do that. But full-blown anxiety attacks, even just one, is one too many. My history in evangelicalism has made me afraid of inquisitor-like questioning by Christians who will want to be “sure” that my avoidance of church isn’t because I want to justify some sin. I fear explaining what needs to be done for the sake of my mental health and being told that more church is the only solution. While accountability is good and necessary, I’ve become of afraid to trust my judgment regarding the final decision that is best for me.
I feel confident about this decision since I plan to keep attending my Thursday small group, which is a far better environment for an introvert, anyway. I thrive in theological discussion and healthy debate. While there are a handful of people there whom my paranoid mind suspects are “unhealthy Christians” (someone last week actually said atheists are atheists because they “lack intelligence”), I have met people who encourage and challenge me in all the right ways. For some people, “community” means hundreds of people, but for me, however many a typical round table can fit is good enough.