Written by Serene Schwalger
NZ Born of Samoan descent
To whom it may concern,
Sometimes… the church hurts.
Finally accepting myself as Serene and everything I am made to be I am able to see what transformation is through the love of God. I know it. I’m me and I am loved. Fervently. Wildly. Passionately. I am loved – so why, throughout the course of finding God in my life, have I felt (at best) a skewed version of that from the people who are supposed to embody it the most?
Sometimes… the church hurts.
When I was a young Christian I remember getting up with the rest of my youth group and performing at our little youth services. Declaring our love for our God in form of song, dance and drama. One particular time I remember singing a solo while a friend played the guitar. I had a huge fear of singing in front of people but thought ‘nah – I’m good. God has me through this. Mum always says “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Do it’. The song went fine. At the end of the service I had ladies come up to me telling me I had done well. I’m really awkward when it comes to compliments in general so I tried to get away from those conversations as quick as possible. Once I escape I look up and I see my grandmother walk up to me. What I wasn’t expecting was the scolding I got for wearing earrings…EARRINGS in front of the church on stage. How very dare I wear big earrings in front of the congregation. Never mind that I was singing my little 15-year-old heart out for my Jesus. I love my nana. She’s one of the most softest and faithful women I know…but after that I never sang in church again. Sometimes… the church hurts.
When I was in high school there was a group of Christian girls who prided themselves on being Christian and in the Lord’s army and they all belonged to a Christian Group. I joined and befriended them all thinking it’d be a safe place to be unashamed of my faith alongside my other sisters in Christ. Not ever did I expect to almost be shunned and openly judged by so many of them because I didn’t look or act like a “Christian”. I never went back to a place of community in the name of the Lord ever again. Sometimes… the church hurts.
There are so many stories out there that I have witnessed and know of, that aren’t mine to tell so I won’t, of people being turned off of the love of God and everything He represents because of the way His people, the church, have represented Him out in the world. The judgements. Snide looks. Snubbed noses. Forced conversations. Church, you are not being subtle. We see it. We feel it. It’s heart breaking.
Please, from one follower of Jesus to another, can I ask that you stop. I beg. Do you realise that when we try to do God’s job for Him, that only He knows how to do, we are robbing people of knowing what we know? How can we expect people to know what we know if we don’t show what we know of Him? My goal as a Christian woman is to love people so hard and freely that they have no choice but to see the love of God through me. That I won’t even need to utter His name for them to wonder what’s different about me enough to ask. That through loving people, as they are as He does me, that that’ll be just enough to start a shift within. That there is no more confusion in our faith. That the same love I talk about that I am loved so wildly with I give to you. It won’t be perfect, because I am not, but I will try my hardest. If you have ever felt anything other than this from me, I am so sorry. I will do better. I will represent better. I will love better. Because the church shouldn’t hurt.
All my love,