I got on the church bus every Sunday morning. It was part of their outreach to the unsaved in the area. I was probably 13 or 14. But just because I got on that bus didn’t necessarily mean I actually went to church. I did go to my Sunday School class but when it came time for church I would more often than not find myself at the nearby Burger King having french fries and chocolate milkshakes. I just couldn’t buy into this whole God thing.
Then one summer night the year I turned 15 I attended a youth emphasis night featuring a concert with George King and the Fellowship. It was upbeat and fun with good music and cool lighting. The only thing I really remember about that night is that they did “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas. (Yes, I know I am dating myself!) Something about that song in that particular setting spoke to me. It was the first time since going to church that I was told that the Father loves me. It didn’t matter that I had squandered all He had given me. He was waiting with open arms. Waiting to welcome me home.
After that night my eyes were opened. The God I met on Sunday mornings was not the same God I met that night. Sunday morning God was harsh and judgemental. Ready at a moments notice to punish me for my sin. Apparently that was all I had to offer. Sin and wrongdoing. I literally had the hell scared out of me every time the doors were opened. I found myself crying at the altar, begging forgiveness for all of the things I was doing wrong. I was going to hell. A hell full of fire and brimstone where I was destined to spend eternity.
I began doing everything I could to buy myself a ticket out of hell. I went to church every time the doors were open. I became active in the youth group, the youth choir and drama group, joined the adult choir and worked in the nursery. Surely I was doing enough.
Through the years I saw hurting people cast aside because they would tarnish the reputation of the church while other things were hushed up and covered up to protect family. The prodigal’s Father was only a distant memory. I wasn’t even sure He really existed.
Fast forward 10 years. I’m a young mother with a 3 year old and a newborn. My life is crashing and burning all around me. Apparently, all those good things were not enough – were never enough. I had already walked away from church because I was so weary of doing. I was told in no uncertain terms that this was the reason my life was falling apart. I had no safe place to turn so I then walked away from God. I was tired of the demands and tired of the works that were never enough. I guess all those years I was told I was going to hell it was true. I just never realized it would be hell on earth. I was so weary. And I just didn’t give a damn any longer.
I wanted the prodigal’s Father. The Father with the open arms. The Father that didn’t demand works and didn’t care that I had squandered what I was given. I wanted the Father who loved me and was waiting to welcome me home. It took a whole lot of years and a journey through hell to find my way home. That journey brought me full circle – back to church. This time I found the prodigal’s Father waiting with arms wide open and a love for me that was full of grace and healing and peace.
We are damaged. We are broken. We are hurting. We are scared.
We are victims of the church.
We are desperate for open arms. Desperate for grace. Desperate for love. Desperate for peace.
We are desperate for a safe place.