I ditched another women’s conference. (Cue Brittney Spears’ pesky earworm. Click the link if you have no idea what I’m talking about… Oops, I did it again.)
I know, I know… (and there’s no point in telling me how incredible it was now that it’s over, unless you WANT to induce guilt and condemnation) …the conference was wonderful, the messages were life-altering, the fellowship notable, the ministry led by the Spirit. I’m happy for you. Really, I am! I’m glad you were blessed, glad you were ministered to, glad you enjoyed the weekend’s festivities.
So why didn’t I attend (again)? It’s not because I dislike the event itself, or those who organized it, or those attending. It’s not because I doubt the value or power of the Word that was shared. For the most part, it’s because I can no longer endure the friendly questioning, the concerned looks, or the pitying glances. It’s fairly easy to slip in and out of a regular church service without running the gauntlet of greeters. A women’s conference? No such luck.
One year I went so far as to attend wearing a wig. I was desperate for anonymity. Sitting in the back row was such a relief I nearly jumped for joy when I realized no one had spotted me. I didn’t want to be recognized as a PW, didn’t want to answer anyone’s questions about how things were going in our church plant, didn’t want to plaster the phony smile on my face I so often found myself compelled to wear in my PW role.
This year, no longer a PW, my reasons for avoiding the conference were slightly different. I didn’t want to attend because I’m tired of dealing with rumors that my husband and I are divorced (we’re not), that we’re “quitters” and “failures” at ministry (maybe we are… does that mean we deserve judgement and rebuke from those who have no idea what we experienced in our 14 years of pastoring a church plant in a tiny town that’s well-known for “eating its pastors for lunch”?), that we’re backslidden (again, if we are, is gossiping about us the correct “Christian” response?).
Nor do I want to explain (again) the fact we turned our church plant over to the couple who probably should have taken it YEARS ago, before we fell victim to ministerial burn-out. Nor do I want to explain that we were, after a year of staying on at the church we planted and trying to “make it work,” forced by financial circumstances into a foreclosure on our home, the loss of my husband’s business, and moving back in with my parents at the age of 42. (I thank God there are two houses on the property they’ve worked so hard to own, or the awkwardness and embarrassment would be overwhelming.)
My husband is “doing his own thing” now… finding new and creative ways to minister the Gospel of Christ to those who’ve been rejected and cast aside by the average churchgoer because of lifestyle, appearance, or background. I pray he will find the soul satisfaction that comes from fulfilling the call of God that’s on his life.
My children are, perhaps, more church-burned than I am, and that hurts worse than anything else. In spite of our efforts to guard them, they suffered the same wounds, rejections, and sorrows we did, without the benefit of age and experience to soften the blows. They’re bitter, angry, resentful, and wary. I’m sure we could have prevented this, if we’d known how, but we were ignorant. All I can do now is pray for them.
For myself, I haven’t come to a conclusion… Shall I continue to attend church alone, slipping in late and out early to avoid people? For now, I’m well aware that I’m too broken to be of use in the local church, that my attendance on Sunday morning is incredibly, horribly selfish in that I’m just seeking healing, seeking answers, seeking peace for myself.
Perhaps I just need time to mend.
Sheesh. How long does mending take?
Worse, will there be a place for me if and when the mending is complete, regardless of what changes have occurred in me during the process?
It’s quite the conundrum.
For now, I will continue to pray, continue to take comfort in the Scriptures, continue to listen for the voice of my Savior speaking to me.
And that will have to be enough.