Lonely at Church

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kelly christian -lonely at church3By Kelly Christian |  Instagram

I sat in my seat at church and began to write a prayer that said, “I thought I was okay. But I’m not. I really need your people, Lord.”

For the last nine months we have been attending a new church and until recently I have joked that this is the first time in my whole life that I am watching my husband make friends left and right and I know no one. Think invisible cloak. At first it was funny to me and I enjoyed it, sending him off after the service was dismissed with a joking, “Okay you go talk to your friends and I’ll just, you know, stand around and stuff. But I’m good! Go!”

And I was good. I was happy for him to have guys because a lot of times guys are not awesome at being welcoming and friendly. I figured my time was coming. Around the next bend. Nope. The next one. Nope. Hm. While I waited, I wandered around. I stood. I watched. I made eye contact. I mouthed, “Hi.” I smiled. I looked approachable most weeks (I think). I walked around. I sat in a seat alone instead of booking it out the door. But none of it led to anything much.

I think the fact that I’ve visited dozens of churches and gone to five churches at each of the places we’ve lived, I know what’s coming, I know it takes a while to get involved, and I also know that no one is perfect. Everybody in the room is in a different state. A lot of people are just in church mode: enjoying the service, saying hi to their friends, and taking off for lunch. Some people really don’t want to be there. Some people are there and hurting immensely. All of this is happening in one service.

I have a rational side that is very pulled together when I’ve admitted I’m lonely at church. “Rational Me” is very understanding that the church is a mess, you’re a mess, and I’m a mess, so there’s a ton of grace and I’m not bitter or going to give up. Rational Me says what lots of Christians would say to me: “If you want to meet people, maybe you should pursue them the way you wish they would pursue you.” I’ve probably said that to countless people who’ve either mentioned feeling lonely or outright complained about people being uncaring. Hey it’s valid. Great point. Yes. Amen. I’ll get right on that.

But I also have a Just a Girl side. And not just a girl who would like to feel included in church. I happen to be a girl who is also hurting. A lot. Who is duking it out in relationships and in life and in her identity. And if you could see the bruises on my spirit, you would think I’ve mostly been losing. I’m fighting for a comeback. The Lord is surprisingly kind and exceedingly gracious. But. I could really use the ministry of the church. This is why it’s not an easy fix it when someone says, “Why don’t you just go up to people?”

Even as I write this essay, I am waiting for what I hope. This essay doesn’t end with someone walking up to me and me rejoicing right after that prayer I wrote about needing God’s people. Sometimes that happens. I love a quickly answered prayer. But it isn’t this time and that’s a real story for lots of us. In fact, right after I wrote the prayer, during a break in the service, a girl in my row smiled at me, passed by me and sat down with a girl right behind me. She asked her some things and then invited her to lunch after church that day. And it nearly felt cruel that I had just in tears asked God to send his people to me because I did in fact need them. But that prayer was not answered. Divine graces are encouraging, but that’s not always how it goes.

As for my ongoing story, I am the girl in the eighth-ish row on the right side of church for the ninth month straight who is mostly always crying and is not yet being met there by her sisters in Christ. In the waiting, Just a Girl Me has some choices to make.

One choice is to respond in unbelief and be swarmed by lies. This week I wanted to do that. I was just done. I began to agree with isolating thoughts like, “Why are you still sitting here? You’re not waiting for someone are you?” These thoughts can stay on this level or they can begin to attack your very worth with, “No one cares about you. You aren’t approachable. You’re not the kind of person anyone wants to know.” These thoughts will lead to debilitating views of yourself, of the people in the room, and eventually will probably lead to a depression and/or isolation. I know because I have been there.

But the other choice that rises up when I am lonely and wish I weren’t is to believe in who God says I am, to be held by truth, and to keep hope close. It’s okay to want friends and to want to connect with sisters and to want to be encouraged. I am not idolizing people because I want to experience the fullness of the body of Christ. (Do not let anyone tell you that). I can want friends and still be okay. I must recognize my true identity, because that’s where my head rises up. I am God’s beloved daughter. He really, really loves me. And he’s right there with me. I am not less. I am not nobody. I am worth knowing and worth befriending, and he has given me a heart to recognize that worth and dignity in his other lovely daughters as well.

In this mindset, I can sit in my church, without a friend, not knowing when that will change and feel completely well. That is no joke. That is not some kind of Christian feel good garbage. I am seriously believing with all kinds of okay-ness, and even irrational confidence, that things will not remain as they are.

As I sit and stand and wander this life in the cloak of my daughterhood, no matter what happens in this story next, I am not alone in the body of Christ. God has invited me.

I have a place here. And I’ll find it.

About Kelly:

KellyKelly Christian is ever reckoning life through wonder and conversations, always wishful for the next chance to put everything that means anything into type. Her heart is riveted by faith, questions, beauty, creation, identity, and sparks in conversations with strangers and friends alike. Kelly resides in Charlotte, North Carolina where she writes nonfiction, teaches English as a second language, and enjoys loving on her four little dignified souls alongside her husband. Find snippets of her life and writing on Facebook and Instagram @kellychristianwrites.

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  • Thanks for writing about your faith for the yet unseen. It’s a hard place to sit (like sitting alone in that eighth-ish row), but I’m slowly learning that it’s O.K. to be there.

    • Kelly Christian

      Thanks Michele. Yes. Something has kept me there in my seat. And has kept me hopeful. Because the church we attend is so beautiful. I have really felt God keeping me tender. Even yesterday I met someone new who was also lonely. So then neither of us were :).

  • Kelly, thank you for sharing so vulnerably with us. I think some of my loneliest times have been at church. Over the past few years, I’ve had more experiences of the body of Christ and those deep connections that I was longing for outside of church. Whether in church, or outside of it, I hope that you find the connections that your soul longs for.

    • Kelly Christian

      Yes! This is true! My best friends are all involved all over the country. I sure wish I could pull them all together :). The conversation for us here has been – we want to build community at church because that’s where overlap happens. That’s where we’re having discussions, hearing things that matter, and then we want to respond to what has been talked about. So I’m incredibly thankful for bonds all over the place but still always hoping for a special community to be a part of to share consistently. I hear you 🙂

  • AK Phelps

    Full disclosure, the following is pretty negative. While I really related to the writer, my response is much less graceful and hopeful…

    I haven’t found myself okay with being “unseen” so, if I am being honest, I have given up. For a long time I was the person reaching out and making the new, the lonely, the out-of-place, welcome. 6 years ago, I found myself uprooted and laid, bare roots exposed, in a new place where no one reached out and I didn’t last. I’m NOT okay sitting in the pew/folding chair (me? 1st or 2nd row, center aisle), smiling and mouthing, “Good morning”, only to be smiled back at and walked by. I can no longer stomach the “we’re so glad you’re here” platitudes because what it translates to is, “God brought you here, He can invite you to lunch Himself”. And I am finished, showing up at the meetings to volunteer in whatever group is working on whatever project that church is throwing themselves into that month, only to re-introduce myself for the 3rd, 4th, 5th time, as if it is my first… Stick a fork in me, I’m done. No matter how dynamic the message, if I’m not engaged by the people around me, then the message will be lost to the indifference of the people. If I’ve taken the time to walk in the doors, someone should be responsive to my presence and make sure that I don’t walk out unnoticed!

    And, yes, this is a very lonely place to be. But I don’t have the heart to stick myself out there anymore.

    • Kelly Christian

      AK, I’m sick with you. I don’t have a perfect response to pull out of a hat and my sensitive heart for you right now guesses you don’t want one, for sure. I mainly just want to say, I deeply grieve that people hurt people and people fail people. I feel like it’s the kind of grief that would be offended greatly if my next sentence started with “but…” and I tried to say all the things that could happen next Sunday. I gave up on church community for a long season of my life too. Then when I went back (this was another church before this one), the service made me weep in ministry every week but no one talked to me. For a year. I think this is why places like SheLoves exists. I think there are women who want to love and to learn how. I believe it does exist. When I get off right now I’m going to pray for breakthrough for you. And the word “surprise” came to mind. And I don’t know what God will do with your story. But I know we have to fight for our stories and duke it out with God too, yelling out our hurts and letting him bind us up. Thanks for the honesty AK. And for sharing a few minutes with me, a sister out here thinking of you.

      • AK Phelps

        Thank you, Kelly. I don’t really know what more to say other than I really do feel like you understood what I am saying and you “get” that there isn’t much more to say without the “but…” 🙂

        I, too, hope that this is a season for me and that I will find myself back in a place where I can worship and celebrate with people who I love and who love me and SEE me… perhaps even find myself “surprised” 🙂 (I look forward to what God might have to say about that!). Thanks for letting my bare my bruised and raw heart – I certainly didn’t intend to miss your own honest pain! God bless you!

        • Kelly Christian

          You didn’t miss it! You related and that makes me feel less alone.

  • Trisha

    What is difficult is to be seen and then……not. Because you are going through a difficult time, because you want a deeper spiritual life, because you cannot keep silence about the racism and sexism in your local church, because we would rather “blues live matter” than about the millions who died in slavery, because you want your life to real, transparent, and honest and not hide pain, suffering, and ugliness but no one wants to see that!

    • Kelly Christian

      Hi Trisha, thank you for taking a moment. I think we’re all an imperfect response to one another, all the time. I have screwed up so many pursuits of people. I have blurted nonsensical things. I have asked questions and then thought, what did i say? I have overlooked. I have missed opportunities. I have missed the point. And others have done the same for me and the things that matter to me. We fail each other. But if there’s room for re-do, for ‘can i try that again?’, for ‘will you forgive me?”, for giving it another try the next time – then all of our communities can have hope. We’re fail when we don’t see each other and then when we’re too hard on each other and especially when there’s not room to fail and try to grow again. I am on both sides of the church community – as one who would like to be seen and as one who has the opportunity to see others. Thanks for posting!

  • Rosy Keane

    Kelly, I feel so deeply for you. I want you to know I have been praying for you right now and the Holy Spirit within me is deeply stirred. It made me think that many there cannot be listening to the Holy Spirit, as it would have prompted a movement of people by now, surely. It must be a lonely thing to feel so acutely and eloquently the separation from that sisterhood. But Jesus is the friend to the ‘un-‘s. The unloved, the unimportant, the un-befriended. And boy, is he fierce in his devotion. I pray the fiery, gentle, loving fierce love of God will come upon you and that all other assaults will halt. Kia kaha (Maori for – Be strong!). The Lord delights in you, woman of valour, and you can be weak with Him. He loves that and you. May the Lord come quickly and reveal himself unhesitatingly. I am with you.

    • Kelly Christian

      Rosy! Thank you so much for praying for me. i feel loved by you taking a minute to do that for me, a stranger to your life. What a gift. It’s a really neat church that we are a part of, very special actually. I just think we’re all learning how to see one another. And there might even be a reason that I have been lonely this long – so i am trying to sit in it and feel it and let the lonliness teach me what it means to notice people. So i’m learning. Also I began this writing a couple months ago and since then I see glimmers of what could come, so I will keep moving in this direction and resting in Daughterhood. Thank you Rosy!

      • Rosy Keane

        No worries. Don’t want to be weird but I had a picture of a ‘korowai’ which is a Maori (they are the native New Zealanders here) cloak. It was made for the chiefs of the village out of highly prized local feathers and collected materials by hand. The cloak imbued much honour, dignity and respect upon the wearer. Those who saw one wearing this understood the status. I believe that Jesus has cloaked you in this same way – a lineage of fineness and equisite wonder and beauty and mana (Maori for power and respect and dignity). Keep standing in your priestly authority and while some may be afraid of the depth of the waters rushing deep in you, others will stumble across you and drink in such refreshing, cool waters that their very souls will be refreshed. Keep writing. It’s powerful.

        • Kelly Christian

          Rosy I am so stunned by your intentionality. I absolutely do not think you are weird. I just wrote an essay about my best friend, about how she is special-different, and that is what I now wonder about you. I really feel opened up in my spirit by word pictures, so this blesses me uniquely. I will carry this korowai with me and ask the Lord what he has for me. I really feel an irrational okay-ness that comes around me, and it does feel protective, like a reminder. Like a cloak. I will ask him to say more to me on this. I am very thankful for your words, Rosy, and for seeing past the surface conversation. Surely you are gifted at touching others with bursts of life all along your way.

          • Rosy Keane

            Praise the Lord, that touches me deeply. I will pray for you too – I have a prayer wall at work. The last thing – which I also don’t want to be weird but I believe is a revelation (and Holy Spirit will confirm or deny that within you and your context anyway) is ‘stranglehold’. I don’t know what that is in relation to, but often those who feel that separation keenly and have ‘eyes to see’ will see things in churches and people that others don’t. You have a gift of communication and that gift implies first seeing too – so keep seeing what (and who!) Is both there and not there… Whatever that means. Praise Jesus for sisterhood – and friends for the dark places where we are just kindling light. That part of the Body is blessed to have you calling it home.

          • Kelly Christian

            I really want to be one who can see others. It’s one of my greatest desires as I live and move and in my writing. I’ll add that word “stranglehold” to my journal and see what God adds to that too.

  • Mackenzie Jager

    This is exactly my life right now. Thank you for understanding; sorry you are living this too. I wish we could sit together at church next week. I’ll be praying for you during my service! A friend recently reminded me that I am worthy of friendship. So now it’s my turn to remind you of that too. Don’t give up. You are a worthy, lovely person and friend and someone will notice.

    • Kelly Christian

      Mackenzie, what a great idea. I will remember you during my service as well ;). You are very much worthy of friendship. I always say this but – we are all Dignified Souls. All mysterious and wonderful wells, worth knowing and sharing. I have had moments of giving up, I felt the heat of bitterness invite me into a “better” isolation. But instead I’m fighting inside. And I understand everyone is hurting. And I think God can help us all be better for each other, with a ton of stumbles. Thank you, sister.

  • Michelle Bates

    You know I love you. I would totally go sit in the back with you and listen. New churches are a tough joint, man. I am with you, lady.

    • Kelly Christian

      I know you would. Every church needs one Michelle Bates. Or maybe fifty❤️.

      They are a tough joint no doubt. But some God magic never stops happening there. Something about his people gathering. Something about him choosing to whisper in those walls “there’s more”. So I keep going.

      The people piece will move. Surprises happen. People like you happen.

  • Lisa Milloy

    Kelly, I so appreciate what you have been able to put into words, and I hate the reality.
    I have tried to figure out for many years what the disconnect is among believers. I have been where we both are for almost 8 years now, and I still feel on the outside a lot of the time. But…I care, and I would love to chat with you more.

    • Kelly Christian

      Thank you for your welcoming and gracious response Lisa. I want to believe together in this honesty and I feel nearly teary that we can do so:). You seem like such such such a light to me and I believe keeping the conversation going will only bring more life to many women as we let it. Thank you Lisa❤️

  • Anna Williams

    These are thoughts that have been going through my head now for a while too. I do not feel that I have been in a church that I have not felt these feelings. To the point that I am now on the verge of giving up. It is not that I do not have a faith in God just in the people that worship him. I guess it is just persistence but it is hard work, especially on your own ego.

  • Anna Williams

    Hello Kelly. Just wanted to say I loved your article. I took down my original message as I had post comment regret and was a little embarrassed. I did get your reply though. Thank you very much 🙂

    • Kelly Christian

      “Post comment regret” – I hear you. I could write a few pages about that feeling 😉. I respect you commenting again to let me know, how kind. Lots of grace and thinking of you.

  • Alina Paliy

    This story hit home. Thank you Kelly for writing such a beautiful thing. Just like you, when I first joined a church community, I was a teenager, with issues, and seeking to find validation from girls in God’s house. It took years to learn that my identity was in how God sees me and not how many people approach me after service to validate how awesome I am. I think many girls can relate to this so thanks!

    • Kelly Christian

      Thank you Alina. I suppose it’s all of our stories at some point. Growing up in church and being known by everyone since my mom was on staff I didn’t have to walk through be lonely in church until I was older. But once I did i realized how much of my identity’s foundation had been on approval, acceptance. So I’m glad the bottom dropped out. The loneliness is hard, but it carves some important things out in the spirit. Though we are made for community so I always cheer for it for everyone – eventually – and to fight for it hard and with lots of fierce hope. Peace, Alina.