My Journey Back to Church After a 15 Year Hiatus

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This is the story of my journey back to church after a 15 year hiatus.

We’ll start during the middle of my 7th grade year. The priest at my parish pulled me out into the hall during the middle of class.

“Are you sure that you don’t want to be a server anymore?”

“I’m sure,” I said.

At the time, this was a very big deal. A server is basically the equivalent of an alter boy/girl. Everyone else on my class served in the church in some capacity. However, without telling my parents, I decided that enough was enough.

Nothing bad ever happened in my 12 years of Catholic school. The school was great and I have a lot of memories from attending Catholic school. However, a combination of bad religion teachers, creepy priests, being scolded for not following silly rules, and the all-around boringness of Catholic masses had completely turned me off to the church aspect. My religion teacher would tell us we were going to hell anyway for petty sins, so by age 13 I figured why even bother with church or God?

High school at a private Catholic high school came and went. The teachers and curriculum were much better but by that point I was so far gone with organized religion that it really didn’t matter. Why would I want to believe in a God that makes me feel guilty and shameful for every little thing I do wrong? At least, that’s what I had learned in school.

Off to Community College

During my second year of community college, I took an ethics class. The teacher taught this ethics class with a strong emphasis on God. The teacher was young and kind of arrogant. I’ll never forget that he started the class by saying, “I know this is community college, but if you stick with this class it will be the most important class you ever take.”

Looking back he may have been right.

For some reason, he was allowed to teach this ethics class with a strong emphasis on the teachings in the Bible. I’m not exactly sure how he was allowed to since this was far from a religious community college, but he did.

Still to this day I say that I learned more in that class about God than in 12 years of Catholic school. He taught about how our God was forgiving and loving, yet just. He provided evidence about how the Bible could be true and not just a collection of stories. Most importantly, he opened my eyes to what a real Christian should be. Someone who loves God and loves other people above all.

The Journey Back to Church

While this class got me thinking about God again, it was still a while before stepping foot in a church. I’d say that community college class moved me from a full-fledged atheist to a lukewarm believer. However, my experiences in a Catholic church and school were rooted deep and I really wasn’t yet interested in getting involved in a church again.

Fifteen years went by before deciding to give church a try again. I felt that I could have a relationship with God without a church. To complicating things even more, I also had a bad taste in my mouth about Christians in general.

If you want to really know how I felt, I thought that many Christians used the Bible to make them feel like they were better than others. In more extreme cases, I believed that some Christians used the Bible to justify their closet racism and other beliefs that I didn’t agree with.

Since returning to the church, I’ve found that this mostly applies to a small minority, yet often times a small minority is enough to overshadow an entire group. What I’ve found personally since returning to the church is that Jesus’s message in the gospels is one of love, inclusiveness, and second chances.

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To demonstrate how anti-church my wife and I were only a few years ago, on Mother’s Day my mother-in-law asked us to go to church with her. She had recently started attending a new church and at the time it seemed to be their new flavor of the month. Her only ask on Mother’s Day was that we attend one church service with her.

We still said no.

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We All Have a Spiritual Side

I believe we all have a spiritual side to us. There is a need for us to connect with a higher power or other enlightenment. Christians would say that’s because God designed us that way. Believers in other religions would likely have a similar reasoning.

Almost four years ago my wife and I had a conversation about church. Things in our lives were great, but something seemed to be missing. After that discussion, I decided to run an experiment. For the next two months I would attend church every Sunday. My wife wasn’t quite on board yet so I went solo.

See also: Financial Advice for Young Families

First up was the church my in-laws had invited us to the previous year on Mother’s Day.

Immediately I could tell this church was different than anything I experienced growing up. It is a non-denominational church, which basically means they believe in the Bible and not all of the man-made rules that have been created over the years. For example, not eating meat on Fridays during Lent or not allowing pastors to marry.

The first message from the pastor was, “Why I Hate Religion”. The emphasis was having a relationship with Jesus, not worrying about the rules of a religion. Talk about the right place at the right time. This message put into words the issue that I had with Christianity for 20 plus years. Some religions worry more about not eating meat on Fridays during Lent than treating people with love and respect.

After attending for two months I found that the messages were relatable to every day life. The music was modern and energizing. And most intriguing was the diversity of the attendees. There was a genuine passion for God from kids and adults of all backgrounds.

This was so different than my Catholic upbringing, but it felt like what church should be. The preachers focused on the love of Jesus, while still acknowledging that we are all sinners. Key word being ALL of us are sinners. And while God is just, he is also forgiving.

How has Going Back to Church Changed My Life?

Going to church has made me a better husband, father, colleague, and friend. Let’s face it, we are all kind of messed up. Most of us battle with some level of depression or anxiety, or have things that we’ve done in the past that haunt us.

Helps Us to Forgive

I believe that finding a good church helps us to forgive ourselves, accept our imperfections, and love others better. I can honestly say that church has made me a better person. That doesn’t mean it’s made me a better person than you or anyone else, but it has definitely given me a sense of peace that I didn’t know was possible.

Teaches Personal Finance

Since this is a personal finance blog, I feel the need to talk about money as well. Money is one of the most talked about topics in the Bible. Many of the beliefs we carry in the personal finance community about debt and investing are covered often in the Bible. The more I read the Bible, the more I’m impressed with how relevant it is today. A few of the key themes related to personal finance include not worshipping money, not going into debt, giving generously, and investing excess.

Allows Us to Let Go

More than anything, what church has allowed me to do is let go and put control into the hands of a higher power. I can be a bit of a control freak. And if you aren’t one, let me tell you that being a control freak can create quite a bit of stress and anxiety. Letting go and trusting that God has me on the right path has changed my life in ways that are tough to explain.

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Living Life with More Purpose

After my two month experiment, my wife agreed to start attending with me. We were both still unsure but wanted to give this new church a try. Nearly four years later we are still at the same church and more involved than ever. We both serve on Sundays, have been part of small groups during the week, and tear up a bit when we hear our four-year-old singing “church” songs from the back seat.

I feel that being away from the church for so long allows me to better understand the issues that some people have with Christians. We all know the type. Those vile people on twitter who are so hateful yet have “I love Jesus” in their profiles. The media also likes to get people riled up by focusing on these individuals.

Right now, I’m taking things one step at a time in my faith. Both in my spiritual journey and in my interactions with others. Going to church has helped me with both. I’m thankful to have found a place that speaks to me.

This post is not meant to bash the Catholic church (just the church I grew up in). We should all try to find a place that speaks to us and makes us better people. While I would love for everyone to join team Jesus, I am just as happy when people find something else that fills their spiritual void. After all, my job isn’t to judge, it’s to love others no matter what they believe, who they love, or what they’ve done.

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15 Comments

  1. I’m so glad you decided to write this one after all! I finally feel after years of searching that I’ve found my church. I’ve been attending this one for about six months (and every Sunday I have available). Love God, love people. It should be that simple, but there’s so much crap that inundates so much of Christianity that it’s not so easy to find a church that actually means it. The one I attend is inclusive to ALL, and means it.

    1. I agree. We were looking for a church that was non judgmental and accepts all no matter what. Thankfully we didn’t have to look too hard after making the decision to go back.

      Glad to hear you’ve found a place that connects with you. Not sure about you, but it has made a huge impact in my life all around.

  2. Thank you for sharing your journey. I probably land in the same camp as you. I grew up in a very conservative evangelical household, and it really left a bad taste in my mouth. The book “Love Wins” by Rob Bell changed my life. It asks questions that challenge traditional Christian views, like “Can a loving God torture his children for all eternity?” He asks some really good questions and changed my perspective of who God is.

    At this stage we are going to a church that fits us well, even though we aren’t as regular as we would like to be. I still have mixed feelings about churches in general. My focus has become more on who Jesus is and how I can be a better person. I believe that when you dig into the bible it brings up more questions than answers, and I think that is the point.

  3. Great post. I am always bummed when I read that someone had a bad time in Catholic school and church because I had a great experience all the way through and am still in Catholic Ed. It is understandable but I just wish they could have seen it through our eyes or experienced as loving of a place.
    That all said, once I was on my own and not attending with my mom I too stopped going. Sleep seemed too valuable in college and it was more of a non-decision than any desire to not go. I was sporadic in my 20s but usually out of obligation.
    Fast forward to meeting my wife. She was consistent in going every week but she didn’t push me to attend with her. Some time before I proposed, I gave her a litany of reasons why I was not perfect and that if she could look past them, we’d be great together. She laughed and excused me for all of them but said that she really wanted me to go to Church with her. I was so happy for the acceptance that I happily agreed to do so. We have gone every Sunday since for 10 years.
    I am not the most excited to do so but I do it because I love her and it does make me a better person and father. I take the lessons to heart and try to reflect on them in my life before I tune out. Most of all I love to sing.
    I still need to be dragged but I agree it is important for everyone to find that connection for themselves. It helps fill the soul with the goodness. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story! I’m glad that you’ve found a place that fills your soul. Finding that spiritual connection is so important.

      This was not at all meant to be a hit piece on the Catholic Church. My experience wasn’t great but that was more due to my parish growing up. There are many great catholic parishes out there.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. I’m so glad you decided to write this post (and I like to think that I helped sway you ha ha!)

    Im not religious but some of my best friends are non denominational and they are the most open inclusive loving caring people in the world. I also know some “jesus freaks”, and I had to walk out of their church service because of all the hate that was spewed towards the gay community and women who get abortions. So it’s easy to see why some people associate Christians with that kind of hatred. Unfortunate though since I agree that’s probably the vocal minority

  5. How refreshing this post is! People often confuse church with religion. Catholics are an easy mark. Organized religion of all flavors have done more to drive people from God than to God IMO. I didn’t take your story as bashing the Catholic church at all. you simply shared your experience with the church where you grew up.

    The media also uses the term evangelical or born again as a blunt instrument to bash Christians. Here’s the thing. Anyone who believes in and accepts Jesus is born again. That’s biblical. 2 Corinthians 5: 17, Galatians, Romans, and many other Scriptures emphasize that. Jesus’ teaches Nicodemus what it means to be born again in John 3.

    Judgment by Christians is simply not Biblical. Yet as sinners, we all do it, myself included. Sanctification is a lifelong process of being set apart, not by our works, but by His work on our behalf.

    I wish those who call themselves Christians would spend more time in their Bibles and in prayer than worrying about and calling out the sins of others. Romans 3: 23: “No one is righteous. No not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” After all, isn’t that why Jesus died for us?

    Thank you for sharing your story. It blessed me. It will bless others as well.

    1. Fred, thanks so much for this comment. It has been a long road back to the church and I’m still unwinding years of strong (negative) beliefs about the church that I held tightly throughout my 20s and early 30s.

      Thankfully I’ve overcome my stubbornness and now find great joy in going to church. Like you said, it’s all about believing in Jesus and everything else comes secondary. Nobody is perfect and we all judge to a certain extent (even though I really try not to).

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this! I can completely relate. I didn’t go to Catholic school, but I grew up in a Baptist church, and the rules about what you can and can’t do and who’s going to be saved and who won’t definitely turned me off. I wasn’t a complete atheist but definitely felt I could have a meaningful relationship with Christ without attending a church.

    Not too long after we got married, my husband and I had the same feeling as you and your wife that something was missing. We started visiting churches and found a great one that sounds similar to yours. It feels like a perfect fit. Our pastor, like yours, regularly talks about how we’re all sinners and how the Lord is still working on him.

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