Perhaps you have seen them at your church. You know, those people. They come, but don’t really give the impression they want to be there. They don’t talk or interact much. They certainly don’t seem to enjoy themselves.
Do you pity them or get annoyed by them? Do you try to connect with them when they appear icy and aloof? Why do they stay? When will they leave the shadows of the back door, never to come back?
I had invested more than a decade of my life into something that evaporated into the desert.
I’ve seen these people at churches. I’ve wondered about them. And now I’ve become one myself . . .
I was about four when my mother brought me to an Adventist church for the first time. I still have vague memories of Cradle Roll Sabbath School. It was a good move by my mum. Since that day I never really looked back. Well, until just recently that is.
I was enrolled in Bible studies through the mail as a child, again my mother’s doing. I made a distinct commitment to God when I was about eight. This stayed with me through the changing years of adolescence. My child-like faith waned but I never questioned His relevance or the importance of church attendance. That has all changed now though.
I can point to my conversion as a distinct experience late in my teenage years. God’s imprint on me as a child provided the leash that both kept me from straying too far afield and left me with a way back to Him. I reached out to Him during times of disillusionment and disappointment with myself. I knew that God, if He were real, provided answers. In endeavouring to find them, I found Him. Or so I thought.
My twenties were a flurry of spiritual activity, a mixture of ups and downs. I was earnest in my desire to please God and follow His will. At times it seemed like I was having mostly downs, though there were vivid experiences that kept me going. Looking back I can see now some character weaknesses or personality traits that have proved to be a wayward rudder. But through it all I was driven by a genuine desire to please God and do what I thought best.
I had hopes and dreams. I felt that God knew me personally and had a plan of service for me. I had some very ineffective methods of discovering this plan and was slow to learn. I trusted honestly and patiently. But it seemed He hadn’t kept His side of the bargain.
So in due course it happened. A mixture of time and circumstances tipped me over the edge. I had invested more than a decade of my life into something that evaporated into the desert. I had trusted in a God who turned out to be mute and distant.
It wasn’t quite a crash. I struggled on, trying to pretend that I didn’t believe what was happening. Changing churches in the midst of this probably didn’t help. But eventually it became too much to pretend. I used to be always active and involved at church. Now I am one of “them”. Standing in the shadow of the back door.
I think I have only purposely stayed away from Sabbath services a mere handful of times. I think I otherwise keep attending because of my family. Perhaps I fear what people will think of me if I leave altogether. I also wonder what effect it might have on the many people I’ve tried to influence over the years. I still honestly don’t want my experience to be theirs.
I’ve became adept at avoiding people at church. I keep out of conversations. I hate the age old question, “How are you?”, even though it is more of a greeting than anything.
I’ve learned that in general people don’t know how to connect with those who practice avoidance techniques. Some still maintain a general politeness but are obviously at a loss to do any more. Some, and I don’t blame them, apparently find it too hard to try.
So, out of respect to them, I want to offer a few suggestions. Maybe this will help them reclaim someone back from the shadows. Before they leave for good.
* If she looks disinterested, don’t hold it against her. You probably don’t know what is going on in her life. It may just be that beneath that bland facade there is a quiet desperation frantically fanning a dimming candle of hope.
* If he doesn’t seem to want to talk, maybe it is because he actually does. But he doesn’t quite know where to start. Or who to talk to. Are you interested in him? Really? He is probably deeply hoping for someone to intentionally pursue him. He wants to know there is someone he can trust. If he can’t trust God anymore, is it possible to trust anyone?
* If she keeps coming back, don’t just wish her well and assume she is safe. There are many reasons why she may keep her church attendance up. She has a vacuum inside. One day she will implode and you’ll never see her again. You will pave her road to destruction with your good intentions.
* If you make an effort and he pushes you away, don’t believe him. Try again. Harder this time. Persist. You will crack through his shell eventually and find it is what he wanted all along.
And me? I don’t know where I will end up. Life at the moment is pretty empty. I try my best to find some cheap thrills to spark things up but it helps little. At times I’ve tried to get back to God but going through the motions ends up leaving me cold. I can’t do it. I can’t trust God anymore. It just doesn’t work.
I find myself hoping for someone to talk to. I have friends from the past. They are polite and “make the right noises” on occasions. I don’t offer them much encouragement to continue though. They are busy with their own lives. Do they really want to get down and dirty in mine?
I don’t blame them for letting me push them away. I understand them as I’ve been there. I don’t think they understand me though. But then again, maybe I don’t understand myself right now.
I know that some of these people are probably praying for me. It’s no great comfort to be honest. If God was not listening to me for the decade or more I was praying, then I’d not advise anyone else to waste their time petitioning on my behalf.
So I don’t really know where I’m going next. For the moment I’ll be stopping where I am. In the shadow of the back door.
The author of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous.