I Left the Church Because of Its People — Fortunately, God Chased Me Down
Anna Louise, 23, Massachussetts, USA
In early high school, I decided that the church life wasn’t for me. This had a lot to do with the fact that, frankly, I didn’t like any of the kids who participated. Most church kids were extremely privileged and seemed out of touch with the struggles of people like myself. At our tiny private school, cliques were divided along youth group lines and attending mostly seemed like a means of maintaining social status.
I didn’t fit in — I didn’t have the right clothes or like the right sports or listen to the right music. And on a deeper level, I felt judged for my lack of conformance to social norms, my struggle with my sexuality, and for the angst that was slowly becoming a major part of my identity.
I didn’t want to be anything like the people around me, so I decided to denounce the God that they claimed and forge my own path — a path that I hoped would lead to the kindness and understanding that I was searching for. I ventured out of my private school circle and found friends who were unbelievers. I was battling a lot of hatred at the time — I hated myself and the world, which I felt was so cruel. This led to an overwhelming numbness, which turned into a vicious cycle of self-harm. I felt that these new friends accepted me for “who I was,” mess and all.
I gradually began opening myself up to other faiths. I dabbled in different forms of paganism, briefly settling on Hellenism, which is rooted in the worship of ancient Greek gods. Certain attributes of these gods seemed more relatable than the Christian God; I felt that it better addressed the chaos I saw around me. But most of all, paganism offered a strong-knit community, which I so desperately desired.
Around this time, my family left my childhood church for a Southern Baptist mega-church. I was still so fascinated by different religions, so I willingly attended. I took notes and challenged everything I heard, using all of the new knowledge I felt the universe had provided me.
My sophomore year, I decided to go on a church retreat to the beach. I’d made it clear to myself and everyone around me that I didn’t think the God of the Bible existed, but I’d never been to the beach before and I wasn’t going to miss my chance.
On one of the last nights, we studied Luke 7:36-50, wherein a sinful woman uses her tears and hair to wash and anoint Jesus’s feet. This is done while Jesus is dining in the home of Simon the Pharisee, who shows Jesus little hospitality. Simon watches the woman and remarks to himself that if Jesus were truly a prophet, he would know the many sins of the woman and wouldn’t let her touch him.
Jesus responds to Simon’s unspoken thoughts with a parable. He tells the story of a lender who had two debtors: one who owed him 50 denarii and another who owed him 500. Neither of them could afford to pay, so the lender pardoned both of their debts. Jesus asked which debtor would love the lender more. Simon was correct when he said the debtor with the larger debt.
See, Jesus not only knew of the woman’s sins; he also knew of her great love for him, as seen in her washing and anointing of his feet. The Pharisee, on the other hand, who thought himself sinless, showed little love for him. Jesus says,
“You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven — for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47 ESV).
When I heard this story, my secular, unbelieving mind started dreaming of a world with more love. I thought about my role in this moral teaching and came to the conclusion that, in order for there to be more love in the world, I had to learn to forgive. I understood the verses, or so I thought.
Hours later, I was sitting on the beach. It was dark out and the waves were all I could hear. I was just relaxing, not at all thinking about the Scripture anymore. Out of nowhere, I heard the voice of the Lord. I’d never experienced anything like it. The voice sounded like it was coming from a far distance, yet it was like a close whisper behind my ear. Quiet, yet clear; gentle, yet firm. He asked me if I was loving others the way I was supposed to. He also asked if I had received the forgiveness I decided I was going to start giving. I insisted that I didn’t need anyone’s forgiveness; after all, I was the one who had a heart for the misfits. I was one of the good ones! The Lord replied, “You’re right. You don’t need their forgiveness. You need Mine.”
Hearing this, I was overcome with humility and a deep desire for reconciliation with my Creator. I recognized the truth: I, like the woman washing Jesus’s feet, was a sinner. I was consumed with anger, idolatry, and malice. I hated my neighbors, who, like me, were made in the image of the holy God. And I hated and defamed the body and soul for which God so graciously sacrificed Himself. I also knew that the same love Jesus had for this outcasted woman, He also had for me. He would not dismiss me the way the Pharisees thought He should or the way the Pharisees in my life had dismissed me. I gave my life to Christ on that beach.
Since that night, my debt has only grown. And as my debt grows, I fall more and more in love with my merciful and gracious Lender.
Readers, you are not too far gone. The debt is never too big. No matter how big your sin, God’s grace is bigger; repent and be forgiven.
I am able to love God, and therefore love the people of this world, in a way that would have never been possible if I hadn’t been forgiven of my sins — “which (I promise) are many.”
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