I stopped speaking at one and a half years old.
I stopped speaking when I moved with my missionary parents from Canada to Nigeria. I just stood by a fence staring across the wire at my beautiful neighbors, at the way their laughter sprung from their faces like exclamation marks.
I learned how to listen. I listened to the stories which swung from the hips of the African women as they danced, and poured from their lips in rich spirituals.
But I also heard Mum crying. Because she didn’t want to be there. She didn’t want to be a missionary’s wife.
Because she knew what I didn’t.
She knew that being in ministry meant living in a glass house.
And when that glass breaks for all the pressure, it cuts everyone who lives inside.
We moved back to Canada and Dad went to seminary by day and worked at skim milk factory by night and soon I had three brothers and sisters. We moved 10 times before I turned seven and I didn’t know my cousins or grandparents or have any friends.
Dad was gone all the time visiting this person or that and we were home-schooled and taught to say Please and Thank You and we weren’t allowed to miss a Sunday at church. Once I said “friggen” because I saw it spray-painted on a wall and Mum washed my mouth out with Ivory soap.
The glass house cracks for all the pressure and the kids, they take pieces of that glass and they start to cut, or they get eating disorders, or they just inwardly turn numb and refuse the faith because it’s not a story they’re a part of; it’s not a relationship. It’s a bunch of rules to keep the family looking perfect.
And the pastor’s wives have to keep silent and smiling. When my Mum’s mum committed suicide (and Mum found her), Mum wasn’t offered therapy or anything. Just told to keep packing up the house because they were moving to the next parsonage. A little while later they discovered a tumor on Mum’s brain.
And the pastors feel they can’t depend on anyone because that would be letting everyone down. When my Mum got brain cancer, Dad spent months trying to juggle everything—bathing her, clothing her, cooking for her, while still preaching and visiting–and when ladies in the church asked if everything was okay (because they could see it was not) he said it was. Because as a pastor, it was more acceptable to lie than to need someone.
And so Jesus can’t reach anyone because we won’t let him. We won’t admit we need Someone to save us.
Church becomes this place of pretend saints, while the sinners party with Jesus in the streets.
And this, why pastor’s kids are leaving the church in hordes:
- PKs’ fathers put ministry before family. They forget, or ignore, 1 Timothy 3:5, “(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” Meetings every night, phone calls during supper, long hours planning sermon and helping outside of the home create an inner resentment within children and wives who feel overlooked and neglected.
- PKs’ houses are made of glass. There’s no place to get naked, there’s nowhere to be needy and vulnerable and transparent and broken enough to need Jesus. It’s a break-free zone and that puts a lot of pressure on sinful people.
- The Bible is not explained through the lens of Jesus’ sacrifice, but rather, through the lens of right and wrong behavior. PKs aren’t given a chance to experience God’s grace and mercy; they’re just forced to memorize the concepts.
- Work and home life are not separate, so when a PK’s father is at home, he’s often working in his office. In spite of preaching the Sabbath, there is no space for rest, and this creates a deep weariness within the bones of every family member.
- PKs are witnesses to the underbelly of the church, so they see, firsthand, the hypocrisy of the people who claim to be God’s hands and feet. They hear the cries of their mom at night because women don’t want to befriend the pastor’s wife; they see their father asleep on the couch because he got in late from another pastoral visit and they hear the parishioners talking about their family in the parking lot.
But there’s hope.
There’s always hope with Jesus.
After years of running from the church; after years of traveling the globe in search of faith, I found it back at the bedside of my Mum as she lay dying from cancer; I found it in a father who finally broke in front of his church, I found it in a congregation that came alongside us and held us up even as we fell.
There’s no secret sermon.
There’s no fancy worship show that will attract our kids back to any kind of building with a cross on it.
No, there’s only the age-old story I heard on the lips of the African women, in the sway of their hips.
The story of an Abba Father desperately in love with his people who wants to meet us in the very brokenness of our lives, who wants to pour his light and love through the cracked glass of our hearts.
I attend church regularly, now. I love the church, I ache for her, and I ache for her pastors. Because I know. I know our potential, and our pain, and I long for us to join the party with Jesus and the sinners in the streets.
Church? Let’s make way for the broken. Let’s make way for our children. Let’s make way for God.
My memoir, ATLAS GIRL, is releasing this month, and I am excited to partner with Barnabas to give away THREE copies today. Just leave a comment below for a chance to win! Winners will be selected on 7/10 and contacted via email.