When You Can’t Answer Honestly

I stopped going to church when I couldn’t answer the question “How are you doing?” honestly.

When a nice outfit couldn’t distract people enough from the anguish I was experiencing inside, honesty became involuntary. Sure, I let a few trusted individuals know that life at the time was quite stressful – heck, everyone these days understands stress! Unable to find the words that could accurately explain the toll that stress was taking on my body, I finally broke down. No cute outfit or casual talk could cover up the wretched results of unaddressed stress. I was a mess. Even weeks after regaining some strength, I just couldn’t put on a face for the church folk. The act was over. 

Weeks and months went by and I still couldn’t bring myself to attend church. My husband continued to volunteer, and a few people asked about me. He would just tell them, “She’s not feeling well.” An old friend sent me a message asking how I was doing. Without the pressure to be church perfect, from the comfort of my own home, I briefly explained what I was experiencing. 

It’s been over a year since I’ve set foot in our church. At this point, I’m confident that I could answer the question “How are you doing?” with a socially-appropriate, “Good!” Unfortunately, the repercussions of stress stripped me of all ability to pretend, and brought along with it a series of difficult questions: “Isn’t church supposed to be a safe place where people have the opportunity to be completely honest with their struggles without judgement? Isn’t church supposed to be a place where leadership cares for people when they go through difficulties? Maybe? Maybe not?”

I’m well aware that Sunday church is not a doctor for the sick, a therapist for the troubled or a bank for the poor. It is an organized agenda with free coffee, singing, teaching, communion and the occasional small talk. The sick and down-and-out must tuck away their struggles and follow the order of service alongside everyone else, including the nicely dressed, well-behaved folk. Such a rigid agenda keeps volunteers busy and church folk following along. There’s not much room for honest conversation once the ‘church attendance’ box has been checked off.

These days I peer through stain-glass windows from the outside looking in. I wonder to myself, “Is there room for honesty on Sunday morning? Honesty without a quick Bible verse fix or a short prayer? Honesty that forgoes the agenda in order to listen to individual stories as they are (with no fabrication)?”

This is my journey, not forever but as it is today.

“Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness too.” Sarah Bessey



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