It had been years since I’d stepped into a church. If not literally, then certainly in my heart. I’d been apart from God for a long time, rejecting Him and His word at every turn. Living life on my terms was way more fun.
Until it wasn’t.
When my lies finally caught up with me, I could see my surroundings more clearly. I hadn’t been living large, I wasn’t in control and all my feelings of grandiosity and self-assurance were just a facade for the absolute fear I felt. Fear of being found out, fear of my own depravity, fear of who I’d become and fear of the dark and lonely pit I found myself in.
But there I was. At the threshold of a new start. Beyond those double doors was a world that I’d known and grown up in but somehow seemed foreign and frightening.
It was a new church. A big church. One where I could get lost in the crowd. I didn’t want to be seen, even by strangers. I was certain that my sin was palpable; that by merely looking at me, people would know immediately that I was among the worst of the worst. In Old Testament times, I’d be stoned to death for my sin. And though it was 2010 AD, I was pretty sure, the response I’d get from others wouldn’t be far from that Old Testament notion.
Beyond that, what would God do to me, a sinner, a harlot stepping foot onto holy ground? His holy ground. I’d never heard of anyone getting struck down by lightning for walking into a church, but it seemed possible.
With a deep breath and holding the hand of my daughter, I walked in, my husband and son by my side. No lightning. Not even the rumble of thunder in the distance. So far, so good.
My daughter, upset by the fact that we weren’t going to be returning to our old church, the only one she’d known, had been given the important job of choosing our seats. Somewhere in the back seemed good. That way, I wouldn’t have to make eye contact with anyone and we could leave the second the service was done.
Nope. My sweet baby angel decided that we needed to be front and center. And I do mean front. And center.
With a little coaxing, we managed to get her to move one row back. So now we were second front and center. Right in everybody’s line of sight. And I mean everybody.
Thousands of people come to this church every week. They had no less than 5 pastors on staff at the time, in addition to the worship pastor and the youth pastor. And there I was, with my sin oozing out of me, right where everyone could see and point and judge and either feel pity for or be repulsed by me. But my daughter wouldn’t budge. We were not moving seats when I’d already made her move to a new church.
Okay. If sitting there would make my daughter feel better about life, I’d do it. I’d just keep my head down and try not to draw attention our way.
Then the music started. Piano, guitar, the rhythm of the drums. It all came together into a beautiful melody of praise, making much of Christ and His great love for us, sinners through and through.
I don’t remember what songs we sang. I didn’t know most of them. What I do remember is the worship pastor, sitting at the piano and looking at me as he sang about a God who loves his people, who calls us His sons and daughters. He sang about God’s goodness and glory, his redemption, and grace. And it seemed to me, his eyes never left my face as the tears streamed down my cheeks.
The house lights were low, the stage lights bright. It’s entirely possible that he didn’t see me at all, but everything about that moment pierced my heart and dropped me to my knees.
I was a wretch. I was broken. I’d hurt the people I loved the most and lied to them for years. I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. But here was this man I didn’t know, singing God’s word over me, assuring me of His love and forgiveness.
And I began to heal.
Every week we returned to those same seats. Every week we sang and praised God. Every week my husband and I cried out to God asking for His grace to wash over us and to heal our brokenness and save our marriage. Every. Single. Week.
And He did.
God met us right there. He met us in song and in the teaching. He met us in the people we started to meet. He met me at the Bible studies and recovery groups I attended. He met me in the kindness of a stranger offering words of encouragement. He healed us. He restored us. He turned our ashes into garlands of praise and redeemed our days.
And it all started with a small step. It didn’t take much to get my foot over the threshold of that church, and yet, it took everything. It required that I admit that without God, I am a mess. I can’t do life apart from the Creator of life. I need Him desperately, especially when I think I don’t need Him at all. Left to my own devices I will wreck havoc on myself and everyone in my path. But with God, anything is possible.
He can even take a broken, messed up, guilt-ridden sinner like me and create something new.
Go to church, Beloved. You need it. Trust me.