Once upon a time, I belonged to a church where I was desperate to serve God. I frantically laid myself bare in my attempts to be a part of the ministries that were offered there.
The praise team (tiny group of people who led the music) accepted me when I stepped up to join. I love to sing, so I followed the dress code and showed up faithfully for every single practice and service. My friends were elated to see me singing joyfully every week. The pastor in charge of the program, not so much; he tolerated my presence, at best. The actual musician (who chose and played the songs) encouraged me. But when he requested that I be permitted to sing a solo like everybody else, the assistant pastor stood with his arms folded, head down. He clearly wanted to prevent it but couldn’t say it to my face, in front of the others. He finally gave a grudging assent, without looking at me.
I tried to volunteer my time in the nursery, despite kids being, shall we say, not my strong suit. Childcare help was a constant need at that church, always being requested. I did it for a few Sundays. Then I overheard ladies in the restroom making comments about not wanting their toddlers in there while “that weird girl with the long hair” was working.
During weekly announcements, they called for help to handle check-ins for the children’s summer camp. A simple “look at their ID, check the name on the list” job. No skill with kids or even adults needed, so I offered myself. I was ever-so-politely told that they had all the people they needed. But as soon as I walked around the corner, I clearly heard the pastor in charge of it pleading for anyone else to help, anyone at all.
They made plans for the Christmas musical presentation. The other two ladies on the (tiny!) praise team were invited to sing. I was not.
The annual Missions Conference approached, and the church begged for volunteers. They needed people to open their homes to visiting missionaries, and I put in my name. I wanted very much to be a part of it because a missionary had led me to the Lord. I had a large house, close to the church, and a spare bedroom, but I still wasn’t chosen. This time, I confronted the pastor in charge of coordinating things, face to face. He bluntly and snottily remarked, “I never guaranteed you anything.” I didn’t appreciate this dismissal so I pressed him for why I was excluded. He changed his tune to “I didn’t know how many missionaries we had, I didn’t know!” I wasn’t buying that either, so he changed his story again, finally getting rid of me with, “I’m sorry. I forgot.”
Nobody told me why this was happening.
No one, not one person in leadership at that church EVER sat down with me in private to speak with me about my service. Not one of them EVER had the testicular fortitude to say, “C, we think this might not be the right ministry for you and this is why. Let’s find another place for you to serve because we want you to.” They just excluded me at every turn and hoped I would take the hint and go away. Eventually, I did.
This was the church where I’d been saved. This was my original church, where I’d attended for a year and a half before finally accepting Christ as my Savior. These people were not strangers.
Maybe that was the problem.
These people saw me the same way everyone has always seen me. A weirdo. An outsider. Not part of the in crowd. Rough around the edges. “A little off.”
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (KJV)
According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, at the moment of my salvation, I wasn’t that person anymore. I was a new creation, born again, forgiven for all the poor choices I had ever made or would make.
But those people couldn’t see me that way.
It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a smoker, didn’t use drugs, and quit drinking. I had no boyfriend, hadn’t even dated since my husband had left years before. They didn’t care that I attended all the church services faithfully. It didn’t matter that I wanted to serve.
It didn’t matter how God saw me. Christ had accepted me, but those Christians would not.
It has taken years to dull the agony of their rejection. To know that these were my brothers and sisters in Christ, but they did not want me in their company. The pain has lost its sharpness but I obviously still feel it.
Only recently have I begun to fully internalize the truth:
God does not see me the way you do.
The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. (KJV)
One of my most favorite passages of the Bible is Zephaniah 3:17. It reminds me of the joyfulness and completeness of God’s love for me.
He doesn’t love me “in spite of” my mistakes. He doesn’t love me “anyway.” He doesn’t love me in the way that any human being could ever love me, “even though” this, “despite” that.
He simply loves me.
God does not shake his head and roll his eyes when my name comes up. He doesn’t cluck his tongue and say “Tsk tsk, that C is so messed up.” He REJOICES over me. He DELIGHTS in me. He SINGS over me with joy.
Whether you like it or not.