I would not normally describe myself as an anxious person, but I am feeling anxious today. Right now. In this moment.
It’s hard to focus.
The pastor from the church I attended Sunday invited me to lunch tomorrow to talk about the Church and his congregation. Their denomination, while very similar to my Catholic heritage, is different.
And now I feel like vomiting. I want to make a good impression. And maybe I want to make too good of an impression.
When I was in high school, I regularly attended a church youth group. My youth group spent a lot of time with another in our community. While I cannot remember the details, one afternoon, the leadership of the other youth group pulled me aside and began asking rather probing questions: Was I ok? Was there anything I wanted to talk about? Did I feel safe at home?
I detected concern, though I’m not sure I could pinpoint why. But as an only child, and a girl neglected by her father, it gave me a sense of fatherly concern. It gave me attention, and while I don’t recall leveraging it at that time, I do recall somehow matching a need to be rescued with potential rescuing. And churches are all about rescuing.
As I aged in the youth group, I was given opportunities to give sermons to my peers. My public speaking skills were decent and I enjoyed the challenge. I also used it as a soapbox for sharing about a major surgery I was facing–which I didn’t get–and would never need to get, as it turned out.
On one youth group road trip, I verbalized the question, “How do we know God exists?” And my youth pastor shot back: “Are you just trying to get attention?” I was silent for the rest of the ride. The answer was: yes.
When I converted to Catholicism as an adult, I remember asking my sponsor and priest about the Bible verses that talk about love. I was vaguely familiar with it, but I remember feigning ignorance. Again, I’m not sure why. When my then fiance and I were arguing, I remember driving to the church and sitting in their parking lot bawling. I went to confession once, did my prayers, and was chosen to have my feet washed during one service in the Lenten season. I felt special. I felt honored. I also felt like I didn’t deserve it.
Years later, I would lead the effort to get my oldest daughter into religious education, and attend church semi-regularly with the kids–often alone. But when I got a divorce, the few people I associated with at the church decided not to continue contact with me. My ex-husband and his mother took over the kids’ religious education drive, and I was left to feel like a stranger when I returned to witness my oldest daughter’s First Communion, and was not invited to my second daughter’s ceremony.
In my current relationship, our affair fell into the church pews as I began attending his church and involving myself in their fellowship programs, until our affair was revealed and I was banned from attending. We found another church after that, but again, the church we attended became a middle party to the chaos of our breakup. Long, frequent, emotional texts and meetings with our rector was a regular thing until I felt like a burden and stopped contact.
As I wrote in a text to him just moments ago: I’ve not had very good luck with churches.
But is it that I haven’t had good luck with churches, or is it that I haven’t had control over myself to make those relationship healthy ones?
Because yes, that is a relationship. And the same things I’m practicing in my recovery within my intimate relationship extends to my relationship with the Church and congregation. Control. Feeling victimized. The Triangle. Self-care. Boundaries.
So yes, tomorrow’s meeting is making me nauseous. Because I’m so worried about making a good impression–about starting out on the right foot–that I’m worried I won’t be authentic. That I’ll fall into old habits.
Maybe the better question is, what do I want out of a relationship with a Church?
What the Hell am I going to talk to the pastor about tomorrow?