by Joy Martin, Set Me Free Ministries Co-founder
Two years ago I Ieft my church of many years. While part of me didn't want to move on, I knew it was the right thing to do. A lot of things went into my decision, but the Sunday that ended up being my last confirmed what I knew had been coming for a long time. It was Father's Day, of all days. My children were being less than compliant that morning, and my stress level was through the roof. As I sat in the service that morning, I realized that even though I was surrounded by people I'd known for years, I felt entirely alone. It was a sad morning. I only went back one more time to that church–on my pastor's last Sunday.
On that Sunday, I hugged my pastor good-bye and thanked him for always being willing to speak the Truth, even when it wasn't easy. I hugged his wife and thanked her for her friendship. They were the last thread of connection I felt to my former church, and now they were leaving too.
For the next year and a half, I found myself feeling completely lost. I was without a church home. If you've never been in that position yourself, let me tell you, it can be a very trying experience. I really did feel spiritually homeless. My children and I visited countless churches. For a while, I took them with me everywhere I visited. But after being asked, "Are we going to a new church again?" I started leaving them at home with my husband while I ventured out on Sunday morning.
I knew I couldn't give up my search. It was important. Hebrews 10:25 says, "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near."
And yet, each new church brought a new level of frustration for me. I knew some churches weren't right for us the minute we walked through the doors. Others felt promising, but then a few Sundays later, I'd get that sinking feeling again. We attended one church for several months before deciding that it was time to move on yet again.
It sounds odd to me now, writing about my experience searching for a new church home. It feels impersonal as I read back my own words, as if I had been shopping for the perfect pair of jeans. I can assure you, though, that it was far from impersonal while I was living it. I began to feel lost, like I'd never find the right church. I began to question my faith and wondered if I'd just been gone too long to ever find what I used to have.
At the beginning of this journey, I really believed that God had a different church home out there for my family. But at some point along the route, I began to doubt that.
And then one weekend in November, my husband, Zach, and I were driving, and we passed a church I'd never heard of before. I really thought I had visited every church within a ten-mile radius of our house. When we arrived home, I checked out the church's website and liked what I saw. Everything I read was biblically solid, so I decided to visit the following Sunday.
That morning I piled Justice and Julie into the van, and off we went. The first person I saw was a familiar face, which eased my nerves a bit. I settled into my seat and took a deep breath. By this point in time, I had really begun to lose hope that a church existed where I would feel at home, at ease. And then the worship team began praise and worship. In that moment, for the first time in years, I felt the Holy Spirit move. As the Spirit moved through my body, tears began streaming down my cheeks. I knew at that moment I was home–finally.
I have continued to attend that same church nearly every Sunday. On Wednesday evenings, I attend Bible study while Justice goes to youth group. People are starting to recognize me, to introduce themselves and ask about me and my family. My faith has been restored.
Today's sermon was on religion vs. relationship. And as my new pastor spoke, it struck me that perhaps that's what I had been missing all those months. Maybe I had forgotten the relationship aspect of my faith. In my head, I'd never forgotten, but perhaps, just perhaps, in my heart I had.
I'm prayerful that today is another step on my new journey–the one to rediscover that relationship with Jesus. I'm excited. It's a journey I'm more than ready to take.