What I’ve Learned about Church Life…
BY: Madeleine “Maddie” Jomolca
On my return from a Christmas road trip, on my way back to Miami, I received a text message from an old friend. My friend, who attends the church my daughter(s) and I once attended for nearly 10 years, asked me a great question. She asked, “Maddie, I know that you’ve lost faith in this congregation, but have you lost faith in the Lord?’ I was initially stunned, then immediately angry at her disturbing implication. “Of course, I haven’t lost faith in the Lord! What does the price of apples have to do with a barren cornfield?”, I thought.
The ringing-in of 2017 was a quiet (well, somewhat) affair for me, and I’d have it no other way. I stayed home and babysat my two grandsons – Lucas and Landon, who after a long stroll, and dinner around the lake and an intimate glow-stick party, reluctantly nodded off a couple hours before midnight. I watched them sleep through the intensity of the exterior celebrating; the fireworks/explosives, and neighbors howling, and as the text messages and calls with well-wishers began to pour in, I thought about my friend’s text message and how I had never responded to it. I understood and was very clear about the pretext of her question, I simply felt that such a query was worthy of much more than a 3 -to- 4-word response.
2016 and the subsequent three years, since the passing of my mother, in fact, had and have been a very difficult and challenging time, specifically for my youngest daughter and me. We had to mourn my mother whilst dealing with the ongoing familial turbulence brought sibling addiction(s), unresolved sibling betrayals, and my fathers’ ailing health and his adherent inability to make sound, righteous decisions for himself, let alone, others. This consistent turmoil consequently prompted me to make the decision to distance myself and daughter for nearly three years now, from my all of them and the home I grew up in.
It has certainly been a trying time when I not only needed to lean-in daily to feel the presence and love of our Savior, but also felt and wanted the comfort found in a fellowship of believers, but instead experienced the same or more of the typical self-serving “clickiness”, pettiness and hypocrisy.
Now, I am not one to place expectations on “people”, church-goers or otherwise. In fact “live expectant of Christ, not people” is my motto and the very advice I’ve given to many of my friends who’ve felt the sting of alienation from their own congregation, most of them from within this very same church. I also, having realize that no church is perfect, as it is a place for sinners, not perfect people, and over the course of the last 15 years I’ve encountered a few disparities alongside the backlash of some pretty, down-right offensive slights lunged not-so-much from church members but from the staff members themselves. – But nothing was as tactless and cutting as the final, decisive event and a few others the led right up to it.
My youngest daughter- now eighteen, was only seven at the time we joined that CJC, and so naturally the friendships forged there were the very friendships that carried on into her early adulthood. While she had many friends throughout the years, she bonded strongly with two other girls, and they became the best of friends both in and out of the church environment, which, in turn evoked somewhat of a mutual bond between us, their mothers. In essence, as a single mom with only one of my daughters still living at home, I became and am very involved in her life, planning sleepovers, “gettie’s”, and short weekend away trips to nearby locations. These girls, and their extended friends and family became like my own children to me they endearingly called me “Momma-Maddie”, and so I grew to know much about them, their character, their struggles, and so on. Subsequently, much of the information I acquired, was not all positive. In fact, as the girls grew older, as can often be expected, they began to wander spiritually with a desire to explore some of things that other kids their age were doing, with a more moderate approach, or so I thought. – And it wasn’t long before events and incidences began to surface. Within the past year alone, one of the other girls, accepted and brought home pot brownies which she and the other, nearly overdosed on from right underneath her parents noses (EMT was called), during a sleepover,the girls, as my daughter admitted, also experimented with alcohol at a couple of parties.
Because of our long familial history with addiction, my daughter, confided in me and divulged not only her actions but also admitted that she was concerned about the paths her two “besties” were heading down. My heart plummeted several thousand feet and for weeks, I wrestled and prayed for the Lord to help me find a way to reveal and confide to these two mothers everything I knew, just as I would want and expect them to do for me; and the opportunity did, finally present itself. After calling them several times, and leaving messages, I finally sat down to write them an email, and in the email(s), I not only revealed to them what I knew (all of it), but also extended an occasion for all of us to schedule a night of prayer together.
After several failed attempts at communicating with them, I finally received a response from one of the mothers in the form of threatening text. It seems that she was more concerned about how this revelation might affect her 18-year-old daughter suffering from depression than about the trail of destruction her daughter had now embarked upon. As for the other mother, well, I never heard back from her. No conversation, no prayer, nothing! Instead, both women swiftly “unfriended” me from Facebook, and encouraged other mutual friends to do the same. Although being a Miami native has more than prepared me for this kind of (ahem) behavior, I must admit that I was initially taken aback. I expected this irrational, adolescent behavior from the girls but certainly not from their mothers… two adult, Christian women. Shameful.
Not surprisingly (learned behavior), the two two girls immediately took to social media making it a point to shred and demoralize her on social media (more bullying!), while Stazy, refrained, and, in fact, disconnected her account for several weeks in order to keep a distance between herself and the malicious posts.
When the girls realized that their angry agenda had backfired as many were siding with Stazy, they recently reached to her claiming to want to “mend their friendship”. -And while both Stazy and I were initially glad, as we felt there would be some sort of much needed reconciliation, although realizing that the relationship between them might not be the same, Stazy took yet another hard blow, when she realized that they were only attempting to save their own reputations all-the-while continuing to gossip about her and drag her through the mud via several mutual acquaintances. How’s THAT for Christ-like kindness?
Weeks have come and gone since that unfortunate incident, and we, the girls, the mothers and I, have regrettably drifted apart. – And while the whole experience had originally left a very bitter taste in my mouth, I know, too, that there is so much I can take away from it all by way of much reflection and wisdom, and it was with this wisdom that I later responded to my friends’ Christmas text message.
The last three years have taught me, like no other, to absolutely and entirely keep my eyes on God. I have also been in church my whole life, initially (growing up) as a Catholic and now a non-denominational Christian, and I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of church life. I probably would have given her a more unsavory response, had I not felt like 130 miles of bad road, and responded immediately, but I, instead took the time to reflect and here’s a more complete answer as to what I’ve learned:
- You/I really do have to depend on The Holy Spirit: this may read like a “duh” statement to most of my readers, but as a single woman growing in faith, I got used to depending on those in authority over me. The Holy Spirit was always there and always working, but I did not always see it that way. These last three years have taught me, like no other time in my ministry, how utterly dependent I am on The Holy Spirit. I’m grateful that I have to depend on The Holy Spirit because if I had to depend on myself or others, my girls and I would be in some serious trouble.
- Social media (Facebook especially) has become a band-aid for us: we, all of us, the faithful and non-faithful alike, live in an era of oversharing… of “make believe”. Rather than personally communicating and airing out problems, we have come to rely on the strokes of ego that come with every post about how absolutely perfect our lives are. These two mothers’ decision to ‘shoot the messenger” was in all likelihood based on 1. pride– how dare anyone step in and defy the perfect familial image they’ve worked so hard at displaying to the world, AND 2. shame and guilt, and instead of holding an adult-like, true-life conversation with me, they instead were convinced that their secret was out, the jig was up, as far as I was concerned, and so they felt they had no alternative than to boot me out of their lives.
- Good Christians aren’t perfect and bad Christians ain’t demons: in my 7 years as a mentor for single moms, I have heard the good and the bad about church members. I’ve learned that we tend to exaggerate in both directions. We tend to idolize those who we judge to be good Christians and demonized those whom we judge to be bad Christians. In reality, most Christians are somewhere in between. The good ones will hurt you and you might come to appreciate the difficult ones. I’m not denying the fact that there are some in leadership or serving in our churches who aren’t truly Christian, but I’d like to think that the majority are.
- We need less revival: let me try to explain this one. I can’t go to a small group meeting or Christian conference without at least one speaker calling for the fire from heaven to come down and revive our dying churches. The longer I walk with Christ, and the more I seek God personally, the more I realize that we don’t need revival experiences more than we just need people who are committed to consistently living out their faith on a daily basis. Passionate, worshipful experiences with God are a blessing but if they don’t produce a believer who consistently walks with God day after day, then what have they accomplished? That’s not a rhetorical question. I am interested in your opinion on that one.
- We (the church) need(s) more godly parenting and less self-serving volunteerism: Studies show that 7 out of 10 believers who volunteer in churches over long periods of time, tend to fall into the category of serving with the “Ecclesiastic Ego”; they begin to make serving about themselves, under the premise that it is their acts of volunteerism, rather than God, that which will make them holy, thus adopting a “God complex”. These girls along with their parents “serve” at church, and for what it’s worth, as recent actions prove, seemingly aligned themselves with this statistic. Because they did not take the necessary steps to restore order and discipline their girls to live out the example of their service, my daughter continue to be bullied by them, and I am now forced to take the steps for them.
- Loving thy neighbor and praying for your enemies is really hard: I think I already knew this one, but I was really much better at letting things slide when I wasn’t a believer. There have been several days in the past thirteen years when I’ve wanted to call my former friends and apologize for my own offenses… Asking to be forgiven is even harder.
- Jesus loves me: I’m more aware of the depth and the riches of Christ’s love. I love being a Christ-follower, a mentor, and leader, and I love being a Christian mom and grandmother. – And while this very sense of purpose has provoked friction within my immediate family, in many ways, I feel a lot like a pastor, only the people I pastor are those in my personal life. I love people and have a heart for our youth, especially, but I love Christ more and I know that nothing will separate me from The Son of God which is in Christ Jesus.
I’m curious… How would YOU have responded to that very question my friend posed? Would you have taken the very steps to reveal and prevent (or attempt to) further destruction in these young lives; or would you have kept it all to yourself for the sake of pretenses? Are you in a similar place of stagnancy within your own walk or church life?
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”~Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV