As I walk across the grass a familiar face greets me. I smile and, after obligatory salutations, move on. I hope no-one else sees me. I hope I don’t have to put on this face too many more times.
To avoid any necessary interactions, I put my head down and keep walking. The patch of grass out the front of the church is probably 40-50 metres long, but as I place one foot in front of the other it feels like 50 kilometres.
My breathing becomes shallow, my heart races, my throat tightens, my stomach is all in knots and tears threaten to overflow. I don’t belong here, but it’s too late. My ego won’t let me turn around. Pride goes before a fall they say.
I step into the foyer.
People are talking in small groups, and there is no-one I know. I breathe a sigh of relief and quickly look to where the bulletins are—before someone sees me, before someone makes eye contact, before I am seen. I reach out to take one of the leaflets without breaking my stride and manage just two more steps before I hear “Good morning, happy Sabbath.”
I glance up, giving the most confident smile I can muster, and mumble “thank you” before scurrying inside the church. I feel sick.
I look for a place to sit. There is only one pew at the back with no-one on it. I know it is for parents with small children, so I try to casually walk down the aisle looking for a spare seat, but they all have a Bible or hymnal or something else to “save” it.
I see a couple of faces that I know, and they smile, but do not offer to squeeze up and let me sit with them. Why would they? They know me as a confident, friendly person who is able to find her own place in the world. How could they know the turmoil inside me? How could they know how alone I feel, and that I deserve to be alone? How could they know what a horrible, rotten, unworthy sinner I am? I cover it up with nice clothes, a big smile and the right educated, theological words. How could they know that I am so torn? I desperately want to come in from the cold.
I want to be near the hot coals. I don’t want to be on the outer anymore. I want to be a part of the community of believers again. I want to be genuine. I want to be loved and accepted. BUT, and it is a very big but, there is a bigger part of me that doesn’t want any of that. I don’t want them to know what my life has become, who I really am and how far I have fallen. I don’t want to face people I have hurt, mistakes I have made, people I have let down.* I already hate myself, I can’t cope with everyone else hating me too. I want to leave.
But I’m here. So I take my seat. In the corner, at the back, in the pew that is reserved for others.
Sitting quietly, I open my bulletin and pretend it is the most interesting thing I have ever read. Sunset times, pastor for today, elders, deacons etc, and then I feel my heart sink. It is ordinances. I hate ordinances—another opportunity for rejection. They all go out in lovely, safe little pairs. And for those of us who are alone—who are going solo today, who can’t find anyone to share a seat with—we stand around shuffling our feet and twitching in anticipation, to see if someone will pick us. It’s more painful than being at school waiting to be picked for the sports teams. It’s not a time to share love and communion, it’s a popularity contest. And I know who is going to lose.
I have a renewed, almost impossible to ignore, desire to leave. God only knows why I don’t.