Announcements, a song, and a prayer later, I headed gratefully toward the back of the church. Not quickly enough of course… The forest of hand-shakers had already sprouted up between me and the door. I plastered a smile over the disappointment that I’m sure must have been plain as a measles rash on my face, stuck out my hand, and made nice words come out of my mouth. I followed my husband through the little crowd, trusting him to read my distress and lead me out to the car as quickly as politely possible. To my utter torment, mere feet from freedom, he turned right instead of left, up the stairs toward the dreaded coffee and donuts. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I begged off to find a restroom, composed myself in the porcelain solitude, and strode back to the vestibule with renewed resolve. I shooed my husband toward the door, making lame excuses to the assembled donut-pushers to the effect that we had to go out and search for a more Weight-Watchers-friendly meal. Finally, we were out on the sidewalk. Safely in the car with the big gray building receding behind us, I let my eyes fill with the tears that were overflowing from my heart.
Tears? Why wasn’t I laughing? It really was funny. This experiment had been a disaster from start to finish. I couldn’t have—wouldn’t have—scripted a more cliché small-town religious experience if I’d been paid to do it. Still, the tears welled. My disappointment pummeled my sense of humor into submission. I felt…gypped. In the back of my mind were all those exhortations, recalled from the Pentecostal years, that God honored an honest seeker. I definitely did not feel honored. So, maybe I had received the answer I had been looking for about God…that I had been right, after all. That the omnipotent Architect of the Universe had no need or desire for an intimate relationship with me. That perhaps the world’s religions really are merely elaborate codes created by mankind in an effort to provide answers to the answerless questions, and to protect and defend some of man’s most basic tendencies…not all of which are positive. It would be so easy for me to climb up on my high horse, slightly wounded but resolute, and ride off into the sunset, secure in the knowledge that "God the Father" is a fantasy, and faith is a joke.
But, of course, it’s not that easy. I could not really claim that God hadn’t honored my honest seeking. How honest was I, after all? How seriously had I considered this "search?" How much thought and effort had I put into finding a place, a group, a person that would be able to answer my grave spiritual questions? If there is a God, he knows my history. He knows that my answers will not be found in a brief, stand-offish visit to a stagnant small-town ritual.
Examining my real incentive for this renewed interest in "church," I have to say that spiritual renewal is only half the motivation. Or maybe less than half. What I really crave is community. Friendship. Connection. A life outside my own head. Someone, something that can pull the energy outside of myself before I implode. I had found all these things in a congregation in the past, some twenty-odd years ago, in the bosom of our tiny Pentecostal church. I suppose I reasoned that if I unearthed a church that provided me with the community I craved, any quenching of my spiritual hunger would be a fortunate side-benefit. Unfortunately, I learned something about myself. I was physically unable to "go through the motions" of the rituals in order to gain the prize of connection with the community. Presented with the words in black and white, and asked to recite them, I could not treat them as some kind of incantation through which I could qualify myself for fellowship with these people…no matter how badly I needed that fellowship. In short, no matter what they may tell you in the self-help books, a church is no place to go looking for friends. Not for me, anyway.
I realize, now, that I have two separate issues to grapple with: my spiritual confusion, and my social isolation. It is possible that the resolution of one might lead to the resolution of the other… I could find all my answers in the right church community. But I need to choose one issue to solve at a time. Which means two things: I need to decide which of these things I more desperately need resolved. And I must determine which of them I have the greatest chance of dealing with successfully. Given my natural tendency toward introspection and solitude, I'm thinking the spiritual quest will get the nod. I'm much more likely to find at least the trailhead to that path in the place where I spend the most time--inside myself. And it is to be hoped that The Creator, unlike human beings, will accept me with all my warts, quirks, personality disorders, and fears, once I make up my mind which path to The Almighty works for me.