When You Feel Out of Place in Church

Out of Place – Anna’s Story

This might seem like a strange title for a blog by a christian writer, but just stick with me for a moment…

As the daughter of a church pastor, I have grown up going to church every week without fail, and I have also spent a good proportion of my adult life leading in church contexts too. So I am probably about as comfortable with church as anyone could be.

But the truth is that when recurrent miscarriage first entered into my life three years ago, all that began to change. For a few different reasons, church suddenly no longer felt like such a safe place to be. 

Firstly, most church services tend to be full of moms and dads with new babies and small children running around on Sunday mornings. I mean, who else is up at that time? To be fair, maybe that’s not true of all churches, but it was certainly true of ours and it would really press on our pain sometimes. 

Secondly, in my experience most churches also tend to be full of older women who love to cluck around younger moms and their kiddies, and ask ill-judged and poorly-timed questions like, ‘So when is it time for number two?’ Yes, that has happened to me!

But thirdly, and perhaps most significantly of all, church is just full of happy people singing happy songs. And since I’ve been living in a fairly continuous state of either trying to conceive again, waiting to see if a pregnancy would last, or grieving and healing from a pregnancy loss, over the last few years, those songs of celebration haven’t always fit with my mood!

Creating space for lament 

I know that there’s an argument for worshipping even when you don’t feel like it, and I agree that sometimes it helps to lift the soul. But when your heart is freshly breaking and you can barely get the words out between sobs, that doesn’t really cut it. Sometimes it’s good to be real about how we are feeling too.

It’s often struck me as strange how so many of our churches and Christian groups prefer to focus on songs of celebration rather than lament, on sharing testimonies of healing rather than finding grace in suffering, and preaching sermons about having more faith rather than honestly dealing with doubt.

I mean, I grew up in ‘happy clappy’ evangelical churches and I can sing and dance along with the best, but the more exposed I became to the less joyful side of life, the more I wonder if too many of our churches are missing the other side of the coin. 

Jesus was described as ‘a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief’ after all (Isaiah 53:3), so shouldn’t our churches also be a bit better tuned into people’s brokenness and pain? 

The Bible is just brimming over with songs and poems of lament, as well as thanksgiving. Just look at the Book of Psalms if you aren’t sure that this is true! But isn’t this a pretty good clue about how God wants us to come before Him just as we are, and honestly worship Him too?

Making room for questions

There’s just something about our pain that raises difficult questions about faith – questions which demand to be listened to, held and wrestled with for a while – not just swept under the carpet. Questions like, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ or ‘Why won’t God answer my prayers?’ Does He even see us, or care what’s happening to us at all?

There’s just something about our pain that raises difficult questions about faith – questions which demand to be listened to, held and wrestled with for a while – not just swept under the carpet.

To be honest, I still don’t have all of the answers to all of the questions my own pain has raised, but what I do know now is that it’s a little bit easier to handle when you can find people of faith who you can talk to honestly about your deepest doubt and fears. 

I know it’s not always appropriate to just blurt out your problems to anyone who will listen, but the church desperately needs to offer safe spaces for hurting people to explore their questions, and without just offering well-meaning but superficial spiritual platitudes either.

Seeking out support

Have you ever been going through a hard season, and got the impression that people are a bit uncomfortable with your sadness? Or have you sometimes sensed that people just want to tidy up your messy emotions and ‘box off’ your painful questions in case they start upsetting anyone’s faith too?

If so, I am sorry – I am sorry if that has ever been your experience in any social setting, but especially if it has been your experience in church at times, like me. Sometimes the bravest decision might be swerving away from some of those situations for a while to protect your heart. Friends, I have made decisions to stop attending church services for a while myself during the seasons when our losses have been very fresh, and there is no shame in that at all.

But at the same time, can I encourage you not to disengage completely? Instead, seek out those friends, leaders or mentors who will support you well, listen without judgement, and resist the urge to ‘fix’ everything fast, understanding that real healing takes time. 

For me, this was found in a small group of girlfriends from my church who I have met with regularly to chat and pray together for many years, and also with support from a christian counselor. But, I also wonder what it would look like for broader expressions of church to embrace the broken-hearted too?

What kind of communities are we building?

I love the passage in Romans 12:15 (NIV) where Paul teaches that we should Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn’. 

It sounds so simple doesn’t it? But I think it’s actually a pretty tough call. Because, whenever you are rejoicing, it’s hard to remember what it’s like to mourn, isn’t it? And equally, when you’re in the midst of mourning, it’s hard to stomach those around you who are rejoicing too.

Yet the more the years go by, the more convinced I become that in order to fully live the life of love that Jesus called us to, we must be willing to sit with people in their pain as well as share in their happy moments. 

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!

Thanks! I can't wait to connect with you!

Meet Anna Kettle

Anna is an experienced Christian writer, blogger, and a multi award-winning marketing professional. During her career she has worked with a wide range of organisations, from government departments and household brands, to churches and the not-for profit sector.

Her first published book, ‘Sand Between Your Toes: Inspirations for a Slower, Simpler, More Soulful Life’ comes out in January 2021 (under Tyndale House) and is available for pre-order now. She can also be found regularly writing words to inspire hope on her blog, Notes on Life.
Anna is a recurrent miscarriage survivor, a coffee lover and bookworm, a travel enthusiast, music fan, a gatherer of people, and a big believer in the healing power of words.

She is married to husband Andy, and mum to their son Ben (aged 5). They live in the beautiful waterfront city of Liverpool, England.
You can find her at www.annakettle.com, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

*Feature Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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