Prodigal Magazine

Quitting The Christianity Club

I’m really good at being a Christian.   

I work for a Missions organization, I spent the last year traveling around the world with a backpack for Jesus, I give away money, don’t have sex, and only curse occasionally – when it’s either funny or I’m really, really surprised.

From the outside, others would say I do it right. I fit in. I belong to the club.

But for the past six months, I’ve felt like an impostor.

I thought I would come back having been polished through my journey into a beautifully, admirably godly woman. I thought I would come back changed, and I did, but I was afraid the change wasn’t permanent enough to withstand the pressures of my old life. Back in the US, I clung to the disciplines I’d learned on the field – white knuckling my faith more with fear than with actual devotion.

Every morning I’d wake up and spend time with the Lord. I’d read a little bit of my bible, and then maybe worship like I was throwing holy sprinkles on top just for good measure. I’d pray and say Christian things, and secretly drown in shame every time I did something wrong.

I wasn’t in a relationship anymore. I was serving a task–master; and I felt as though we were both always disappointed in me.

The harder I tried, the more distant I felt and the more frustrated I became. Why wasn’t this working? I had perfected the art of Christianity – I made it look good. I was a guest of honor, an A+ student, so why weren’t my tricks working anymore?

It got worse as life got more serious and as the stakes got higher and higher.

I met a guy. I really liked him. We started talking about the future. I started to panic. Thinking about the future felt like teetering on the edge of a cliff and I was pretty sure God had given away my parachute to someone more deserving.

It was a Friday morning when everything broke. I laid on my bed in a bathrobe feeling like my whole future was pressing in on me. I was filled with a totally shapeless panic – I couldn’t explain what I was afraid of, but it was getting hard to breathe.

I began to sob – deep, aching sobs.

The kind of sobs that can only come from a girl who had spent the last six months performing for a distant god. “Are you really there?” I choked out, tears streaming down my face. “If you are, I need you to show up right now! I can’t DO this! I can’t do this without you! It’s too big, too scary. I need you… please be there.”

And in that moment I didn’t need discipline. I didn’t need to be a good Christian or receive an invitation and a VIP pass.  Those things weren’t strong enough to hold me.

But what did help me in that moment was Jesus.

Lying there, sopping wet on my bed, I knew for the first time in a long time that I was a sick person.

Jesus told the Pharisees that he came not for the healthy but for the sick, and I knew that I was the kind of person he was talking about.

I was dirty in that moment – impossibly messy. I was tangled and frantic and the last person you want sitting next to you at a dinner party. I needed help in the worst possible way and was far too exhausted to notice that my shiny facade was now smeared with runny mascara.

The only thing holding me up in that moment was Jesus – and I understood him for the first time, all over again.

He he sat down in the thick of the mess with me and took my hand. He didn’t try to clean me up or make me presentable – he didn’t even try to fix me. He just sat there with me. It was that moment on my bed when something cracked.

The ceiling was smashed open and light began streaming in.

In the presence of the light, the fears and the doubts and the anxiety slipped right out the door having been caught red-handed in their lies. Truth began to fill me, and so did peace – peace that was completely outside of my ability to understand.  And finally… oh, finally… joy returned, too.

On that day, I gave up my membership to the Christianity club. I’m not interested in proving myself and I don’t care whether or not I look the part. I’m not shined up – not all the time. And when I am, I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

But I like it so much better out here on the outskirts, hanging out with Jesus – messy and honest.

From the outside, it may not be obvious that anything ever changed.

It’s possible that no one even saw that I had been struggling. My outsides have perceptively remained the same; I still work at the same place, go to the same churches, and have the same friends. I still even hang out with God each morning (although it’s so much better now).

But something remarkable has changed – I’m sitting beside Jesus now – not performing for him.

I don’t want to be the perfect Christian because I realized that for me, there’s no lonelier place in the world. I’d rather be a messy Christian, full of honesty and desperately in need of some grace.

I want to be the kind of person that believes she’s loved by Jesus – not because of me, not because of anything I do,

— but because that’s who he is, and he just does.

Have you found yourself empty and inauthentic? How have you dealt with feelings of lost faith and anger?

[Photo: Daniele Zedda, Creative Commons]

About The Author

Stephanie May is a world-traveling journalist who is in love with Jesus, with life and with all things beautiful. In July 2012, she returned from the World Race, an 11-month mission trip to 11 countries around the world (she blogged about it, too!). Currently, she is working for Adventures in Missions as a Storyteller. When she’s not traveling (and especially when she is), she’s writing for The Lipstick Gospel. You can follow her on Twitter at @LipstickGospel.

  • Lauren

    This resonates so much with me! Great article.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Thank you Lauren! I’m so glad!

  • Ruthie Dean

    Lovely, just lovely.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Thank you Ruthie! :-)

  • Melanie Pennington

    I have realized it over in the course of raising my children. I’d been playing a part — a good Christian girl — my whole life. When I started really participating in life — being a wife and mother — I wasn’t prepared for all that imperfection. I remember recently sitting in a dark hotel room with my husband, and once more turning everything over to God, because there was simply NO WAY I could do anything but that. Thank you for this. Another messy Christian in progress (or a hot mess, as my daughter would say!)

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Oh that’s the most beautiful sentence: “When I started really participating in this life, I wasn’t prepared for all that imperfection.” That’s the kind of sentence that’s going to stick with me. Thank you Melanie!!

      • Melanie Pennington

        Thank you so much for such kind words!

    • Meredith

      I wish I could “like” this because it says it all!

  • http://www.sundijo.com Sundi Jo Graham

    Great post. So honest.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Thank you Sundi Jo! :-)

  • kacie lynn

    beautiful, steph. “and he just does.” :) yes, and yes, and yes.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      I love you Kace. Thank you for reminding me of truth every time I forget it. :-)

  • Hannah

    This is amazing. I’ve been going through the exact same thing and recently decided too I’m done with the Christianity club. I’m done with all the cliches and cookie cutter answers.
    God is so good to me. God is so good to you.
    Thank you for being so brave to write this and share this!

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      I’m so glad Hannah! The freedom of Christ is so much more incredible without all of those cookie cutters and cliches. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.c.brown.18 Susan Crowe Brown

    …..His love is even more real in our lives when we “feel” like a complete mess……I had a “wandering in the wilderness” period of life for almost 10 years….95-05…..short story of a long story….so disheartened with the “church”, not Him…..”church” reaction or lack of to our oldest son who is severely developmentally disabled…..had to learn/grow & realize it is all about “my” relationship with Him, not about others’ to me or my son…..as my relationship deepened with Him, my heart softened towards others’ & life hasn’t been the same since…..this from a girl “raised” in the church, met my incredible spouse in the church…..love how He uses true heart-breaking experiences to grow us to Him…..<3

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      “His love is even more real in our lives when we feel like a complete mess…” I absolutely love that Susan. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

    Amen.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      You’re the best, Katie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathryn.schafer Kathryn Schafer

    Excellent!! Christ came of the sick, lame and less than perfect. His love woos us to obedience, not deeds! This is exactly the same type of transformation I felt after leaving an old church that preached deeds. Thanks for sharing! Jesus’s love is transformative indeed!

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      “Christ came for the less than perfect,” that hits home so much because it speaks directly to our desire to be perfect – and reminds us that he came for us specifically, too. Thank you Kathryn!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565517074 Jennifer Harman

    Thank you for your honesty and authenticity. I found myself in a similar place a few months ago and it is nice to know I am not the only one who has struggled (and continues to struggle). I appreciate you sharing your journey.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      I’m so glad I’M not the only one that struggles! Thank you for sharing as well, Jennifer!

  • http://scribingthejourney.com/ Duane Scott

    This is absolutely beautiful, Stephanie. Oh, so filled with redemption!

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Thank you Duane. :-)

  • http://thomasemason.net/ Thomas Mason

    “…but because that’s who he is, and he just does.” That, for me, said it all!

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      I love that. Thank you Thomas.

  • http://twitter.com/pootlesuzie Suzie Gallagher

    Says it all, Amen

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Thank you Suzie!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joann.g.rausch Joann Griggs Rausch

    Amazing!!

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Thank you Joann!

  • kellyasummers

    This is perfect. I’m actually struggling with this right now in a way. On a daily basis, I don’t GET that Jesus loves me and walks with me. And that changes the attitude of everything I do. Until we realize how much Jesus loves and and how much freedom and peace He wants for us, we’ll never live how we could.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      “On a daily basis, I don’t GET that Jesus loves me and walks with me…” me either Kelly. It’s one of those things that I literally have to remind myself every few minutes. “He loves me.” “He loves me.” “He loves me…” “yep… still loves me.” I really think you’re right. Understanding his love for us is they key to it all.

  • http://twitter.com/Douglas_AmongUs Douglas Humphries

    Thank you. A lot of this mirrors by own feelings.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Douglas, I’m so glad! Thank you for reading!

  • Debbie Rule

    If only the secular world would come to realize that THIS is what happens on the inside of all real Christians! It’s about a place where there is love without limits and an absolute lack of condemnation for the person who already is painfully aware of what he/she lacks. God wants to fill that lack, any works we do AFTER and BECAUSE of that are simply the “vital signs proving that He lives within us, filling every nook and cranny of our lack as much as we will let Him!

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Right?! It happens!! You’re exactly right. We are painfully aware of what we lack, and God is the one to fill that lack. “Filling every nook and cranny of our lack.” That’s the best.

    • Kristin

      I love that! Whose is the vital signs quote?
      Has anyone noticed the correlation between our two definitions of the word please? ( as a child would ask BEFORE receiving, and the other definition http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/please “to afford or give pleasure or satisfaction” as in pleasing someone ) God’s Grace has been showing me that, as I this article, our works for Him and loving and serving Him are not a “PLEASE” to only please Him, but a “THANK-YOU” after His gift or His work of grace on the cross. You see, God is already pleased with us who believe that we are saved through His blod only. love you, Lord. yay! he ‘s so good and loving isn’t He?
      1 John 4 We love because He first loved us. :)

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      Actually, the secular world is well aware of this kind of love, unconditional, non-judging, the love of the human and imperfect. We just call it love. All humans need to give and receive love like this, all are capable of it, without any supernatural aid. Glad this article beautifully describes love. Sad some Christians mistakenly think the secular don’t have it, or are missing out on it.

  • http://twitter.com/KellyW2010 KellyW2010

    Grace. We all need grace. Blessings as you learn to turn back to grace every day

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Thank you Kelly. It’s definitely a learning process.

  • http://www.caitlinmuir.com Caitlin Muir

    Love. Love. Love.

    Thanks for being real and sharing your heart.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Thank you for reading Caitlin! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/RobLincolne Rob Lincolne

    They Steph, thanks for bein’ real. I related. Real, relational, raw, it’s somehow what we all thirst for and I think just often are too scared to be – to our own and the world’s loss.

    I think my moment like this came not that long ago too, realising I didn’t want to as much live FOR God as to live WITH him. http://roblincolne.com/544/short-thoughts/i-dont-want-to-live-for-god-any-more/

    thanks heaps hey, fellow traveller on the journey!

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Thank you so much for your encouragement Rob! :-)

  • Brooke

    I love this. I can relate to it all. Even though I was born, soaked, raised inside out in the ministry for over 26 years (i’m 29 now). I tell people I met Jesus when I got married in 2009. When everything in me showed up for someone else to witness outside of a “Christian” setting, its was embarrassing and hard to admit that my behaviour was anything but a Christ follower (but nobody else witnessed this except my husband which was really really terrible.. the one person that i’m to love I “hated” without even knowing that that was what he was experiencing).That was a great indication for me to realise something about my “relationship” with Jesus was not “right”, it was hardcore religion. That was really hard to face and own as my responsibility to ask Jesus to help me change. I think it was because I was used to having “it” so right on my whole life. I shined, people loved me, I was using my “gifts and talents”, I was a prayer warrior, I was a worship leader, I’m cool… blah blah blah blah. I was nothing more than a clinging gong and a noisy symbol… my love tank was seriously burning rubber it was so empty. My husband loved me & supported me out of something very controlling, manipulative, scared, anxious… it was not nice. However, by the love and grace of Jesus and the unconditional, undeserved loved of my husband, I have been reintroduced to the holy spirit, my heavenly father and my Jesus.I’m carrying his presence… and am so excited for the rest of my life intoxicated with truth and the experience of what love is, than living in a religious hell. No more Christianity Club – it made my heart sick

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      “No more Christianity Club- it made my heart sick.” this is an absolutely beautiful testimony Brooke. I hope that you share this over and over again. And I am so glad that you have such a wonderful husband. :-)

  • http://www.lilyamongthornsblog.blogspot.com/ Rubi Ruiz

    THANK YOU. This is exactly what I’ve been wrestling with inside for months now. This post came as a shower refreshing a burdened soul. Jesus. All.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      I’m so, so glad Rubi! Thank you so much for reading!

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.koornstra Andrew Koornstra

    Thanks so much Skephanie for your transparency and authenticity it truly is refreshing and encouraging because many are facing the very things you described. I have known the Lord close to 35 years now and pastored for many of those years but through those times felt more like a hypocrite and truly undeserving of God’s love. As a result not only did I suffer needlessly but so did my family where we lived in an environment of performance and religiousity. It wasn’t until I grasped the truth of the Father’s love and His grace that my life began a turn-about. It wasn’t easy because my belief system had been so corrupted by legalism, play-acting, wear many desguises and masks…I finally burned-out. It was then I began to search the Lord as if I did not know him and realised that the transformation process was His department and that grace was the fuel that progressively began to change me. There is so much I could say but I have truly begun to know Abba Papa and in the ongoing revelation of His heart despite my failures that He loves me unconditionally. Once again thank you for being so real and honest truly an inspiration to many!

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Andrew – thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It’s so beautiful to know that we are all in such desperate need of our Abba Papa. And that he loves us unconditionally.

  • leddy

    Thank you so much for this. This is exactly what I have been churning in my head.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Leddy – I’m so glad!!

  • Gabriella

    I love the idea of being a messy Christian, trying to be perfect all the time is exhausting! This is so great for me to hear. I truly needed this, thank you.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      I’m so glad Gabriella! Thank you so much for reading!

  • http://profiles.google.com/ataylor.colo Anne Taylor

    Such a great post, Steph. Really, really wonderful. I’ve been feeling this way for a long time. As always in our friendship, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. xoxo

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Thank you so much Anne. You’re wonderful. :-) I’m so glad to be walking through this life with you as my friend.

  • http://twitter.com/AndrewSawatsky1 Andrew Sawatsky

    The ceiling was smashed open and light began streaming in.
    What a great image. Kind of like when a crippled man’s friends chiselled an opening into a house that Jesus was teaching in, We are all messy Christians. Some of us are like the younger son (prodigal) who clearly broke many rules. Some of us are like the older son, who broke the rule of not listening to his father. Although, we are all called to be like the compoassionate father who broke the rules of who to give grace to (for both of his sons). An excellent post.

    • http://twitter.com/LipstickGospel Stephanie May

      Thank you Andrew!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/susieklein Susie Klein

    Love, love, love this!

    • Stephanie May

      Thank you Susie!

  • pixiedust

    I love that this was written!
    I was going through this situation to myself today, the feeling of comparisson to others christianity in a way. Because I didnt feel my high anymore for god! I had been used to that jesus is right here with my feeling and I hadnt realized till I read this that i had tried to join the christianity club, I wasn’t presuing god i was just treating him like that great thing that I’m not in touch with. You know the thing u worship because everyone else is an you dont want to be left out.
    But this explains how i was in my highest of points with god i was broken an he went an saved me. The times im broken I see him the most! An its in thoose times i find myself in the lord. I love this so much

    • Stephanie May

      I’m so glad! I’m praying refreshment over you today!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=47900239 Joshua Adkisson

    ugh…

  • Sadie

    I think by reading this, it is breaking me from this same captivity. You couldn’t have touched me any deeper with your written words of honesty. Please pray for this same thing to happen to me. I want deep aching sobs, I want to be changed. i want to sit right beside Jesus, not perform for him any more. Thank you Stephanie for posting this beautiful blog. All my prayers – Sadie

    • Stephanie May

      Sadie, I’m about to cry! I’m so, so, so glad. I am praying for you right now! I’d love to talk to you about this more – please feel free to email me! Stephanielouisemay@gmail.com

  • Lori Ammerman

    I’m really glad you took the time to write this done and let others read what you felt…… God is in this place… if we let go and let God….. So glad you are a king’s kid and he came down and warmed you up!!!! Always put Him first and the rest will make sense.

    • Stephanie May

      Thank you for this Lori!

  • Anne Marie Garrett

    My heart needed to hear this. I’ve been a Christian for all of my life, but recently it has felt more like a task than a relationship. It was so refreshing to remember that I don’t have to be the “perfect Christian” to please God. Thank you so much <3

    • Stephanie May

      I hear you Anne. I pray for newness and refreshing over you today. And that you can feel gods total acceptance of you.

  • Wendy

    “But I like it so much better out here on the outskirts, hanging out with Jesus – messy and honest.” Amen!! It took me 25 years to understand grace and reject the religious guilt I’d been living with all that time. There is such freedom in being honest enough to be who I am, and realize that this side of eternity we are all wearing filthy robes stained with sin…but he loves us anyway! I think Jesus is more pleased with an honest sinner filled with humility over a pious, religious person who follows all the “rules”. Great story!

    “On the outside you’re free to roam, on the outside we’ve found a home. On the outside there’s more to see, on the outside we choose to be” Needtobreathe, “The Outside”

    • Eric the Red

      Should really see the outside. Outside of all the dogma that people cling onto. Denouncing the religion of others and deciding your own path towards truth. Ever since I gave up on Christianity it has opened my mind so much more. It still amazes me how many christians deny truth only because of the christian box “culture” that most are so afraid of stepping out of. Follow your Truth…Question your Truth

    • Stephanie May

      Thank you Wendy!

  • Paul

    Dude, Stephanie, wonderful piece! I have been in this spot lately. My devotional time has been flat. I’m trying, but maybe that’s just it…I’M trying. Maybe I need to stop “trying” and start “letting” Jesus do the work. I’m trying to learn how to think outside the box. To be ok with my “stuff”. To receive His grace, love and acceptance. Keep on doing what you’re doing. – Paul

    • Stephanie May

      Thank you so much Paul! Keep it up… Love, grace and acceptance.

  • Eric the Red

    We are all one, thanks Monica Jankun-Kelly for saying that. Don’t be construed towards one path. Truth is Truth wherever you find it. Stop Labeling shit and putting/ people in a box, be your true self not what someone else decides you should follow. Question Everything, Every Way…if its true it should hold up and make sense. Don’t assume what is right…know it. p.s. you should have a hard time with that last one.

  • Tom Jensen

    like your writing. keep up the good work an God bless.

    Tom jensen

    http://www.christianonnet.com

    • Stephanie May

      Thank you Tom!

  • Christian Paul Angeles

    Although this is written by a woman, somehow, I can truly and completely identify with you as a man on a personal and spiritual level, Stephanie. I’ve got lots of issues and hidden “crimes” unmentionables, and the guilt for being a chief sinner and being a messy christian, always makes me feel undeserving of God’s grace. It’s like I’ve auditioned to Christianity Club, but only to find out that “Simon Cowell” just said I’m an utterly horrendous wanna-be perfect christian!

    I’m always trying to do what is right and attempting to live a sin-free life, but it’s humanly impossible. I end up feeling like a filth! I feel like I’m disappointing the “BIG GUY” every time, and I could only imagine what his reaction will be and what he has to say on the Judgment Day, though I’m sure I’m gonna be in heaven because I have Christ’s righteousness in me when I accepted Him as my saviour.

    But after reading this, it’s like I found another messy christian on this lonely journey I’m on! I realised I’m NOT really alone! Thank you for being messy, too!

    • Stephanie May

      Christian, I am so blessed by this comment. I’m so glad that you could identify. You really truly aren’t alone. I pray for the pressure of perfection to be lifted and grace to take its place.

  • tears of the harvester

    this article just resurrected my soul. thank you.

  • Barbara Ann Harris

    I come to this same conclusion over and over again. I am glad you were able to put it into words.

  • mommalisaof7

    It is unbelievable… its just how I feel.
    Thank you for writing this… now I understand.
    God bless you!

  • Alec

    Cool, I like this. :)

  • HIz daughter

    Stephanie ! I love the way you share about your awakening ! Jesus is SO about the RAW and REAL YOU . He is quite passionate about everything about you. YOu are blessed to be FREE of the job, the title, the striving. You are Blessed to be relesed into Your position as HIS BELOVED.
    Thank you for exposing your heart !

  • Patrick Watters

    recently posted on Facebook and at da Moose’s blog sites:

    I confess there are many things that trouble me about Christianity, but Jesus is not one of them.

    Charging someone money to help them “hear” the Father, and doing so in the Name of the Son? Yep, that may be one.

    The thing that both refugees in war torn areas and the lonely person in
    your neighborhood need most? HOPE, freely given and freely received in
    love. Food, clothing, shelter and attentive listening are all messengers of that HOPE.

    “All you need is love,” sang the Beatles, but it wasn’t and isn’t true
    in the way most people think. The sacrificial, unconditional love of the
    Father through the Son imparts HOPE that every heart & soul needs
    and must have to truly live.

    Christianity without the living
    Christ ceases to be a relationship and becomes just another religion.
    That’s why I lullaby my grandchildren, “Jesus loves you this I know.”

    The knowledge of God is greater than rocket science, but understood best by little children.

    3, 6, 9, 12 . . . Lauds at the Lodge }:-

    Yes, I get it too Stephanie!!! Thanks for being on the journey with the rest of us.