I was 30 years old.
A new mom and a brand new Christian.
Having a baby really does change everything, doesn’t it?
For me, it certainly did. Jesus rocked my entire world, four months after I became a mom.
Being 30, and new to this whole church thing was honestly, just plain weird.
There were so many things I didn’t understand about the new church culture I found myself now a part of.
There were so many ways I felt like I didn’t fit in.
There were so many questions I had – some of them theological, but most of them practical.
I chose the first church that I attended based on a mailer. It came with my bills and my magazines, and I knew absolutely nothing about it. But hey, it was a church. If I was going to be a Jesus girl, I figured I needed to get into one quick.
That first Sunday, I was overwhelmed by all the people in the lobby. Pretty, dressed up, and super, over the top friendly. I walked up to the door, already feeling like a fish out of water, but I took a deep breath and jumped in.
Less than a week later, determined to figure this Christian thing out, I joined a Bible study for moms.
And it was even more weird.
The first morning of the Bible study, we were all sitting in a circle. There were about ten moms in my group, and the leader prompted us to please go around the circle and introduce ourselves. Tell a little bit about our families, our husbands, our kids. Why we joined the Bible study. You know, the usual.
Except it didn’t sound usual to me.
All of the women who spoke before me had really, really pretty stories. They spoke of their beautiful children, their super loving husbands – every single one of them sounded perfect to me.
My marriage was falling apart. My baby never, ever slept and seemed miserable all the time. And I couldn’t imagine any of them ever being able to understand my past, all the mistakes I’d made, the hurt I’d caused, the crazy Iife I had led.
When it was my turn to share, I panicked and did the only thing I could think of.
I totally lied.
I made up a story about my marriage and my child. I made it sound cleaner, brighter and shinier than it actually was.
How’s that for being a good, church-going Christian?
As the months progressed, there were so many things I didn’t “get”. So many things that made me feel like I was in a different country, struggling to learn new customs, and a language that only the really “churchy” people could speak.
It was dizzying. It was terrifying. It was strange.
So, if you are new to all of this – please know you are not alone.
If you are woman trying to meet this Jesus guy, but not sure how to do it and keep up with all the church culture, please let me say – I feel you.
Here are the top three, very real, never really had the courage to ask questions I had in the beginning. And, several churches, five more women’s Bible studies, eleven years and a whole lotta God’s grace later – here is how I would answer them today.
1. What is up with the different versions of the Bible and why do I feel like I have the wrong one?
In an effort to answer this appropriately, I did a little research. (You know, I Googled ‘Why are there so many different versions of the Bible?’). Turns out, there is quite the history behind this question, at least since 1881. Before that, it was all old school King’s James and nothing else. If you really want a solid answer to the first part of this question, you can read all about here. Suffice to say, the different versions reflect either different textual interpretations, or attempts to make the text easier for the “average” person to understand. But I don’t think that was why I asked this question.
The bigger question for me, was why is there an overall church bias for one version vs. another. My first day in church, I brought a Bible that had been given to me as a gift, thinking I would totally fit in and be prepared. But when the pastor referenced a Bible verse (and I actually finally found it), the words were totally different. I was honestly a little bit shocked.
The Bible study was the same way. I learned there was an “in” version of the Bible. But when I eventually attended a different church, they used a completely different version and deemed it “the right one”. Even when my husband and I started dating, we had a big conversation about which version we would study together.
Today, I want to encourage you that the Bible is the Bible. You will eventually find a version that works for you. One that is easy to understand. One that you feel is interpreted appropriately. One that allows you to follow along well in church and in Bible studies. For now – just get a Bible. No matter what the version, I am confident that God will use it to lead to learn more and more about Him.
2. Why do I feel judged when I mention what are normal parts of popular culture everywhere else?
Depending on the Christian community you are trying to understand, this may or may not be a big deal for you. But oh my goodness, it was for me.
It began with a very distinct conversation with another mom (who had been at this church thing for a long time) about Spongebob. I soon learned that Spongebob was not what Jesus wanted for my child. Y’all I was so confused. Everywhere I went, other than church, Spongebob was a fun, accepted, easy-going, popular kids show. At church, the poor guy was a dirty word.
Years later, I made the mistake of mentioning something I had seen on Oprah. The disapproval and judgement were real. So was my feeling of living in two different dimensions.
Today, I want to answer this question with grace for every single person involved. The reality is that there are now some television shows, that I choose not to watch – not because I think it is what every Christian should do, but because it is because what is right for me and my heart. By praying and asking God to bring peace to our home, I have found that some shows and aspects of popular culture just don’t fit me anymore.
I am 100% certain that the ladies, who were so disapproving of Spongebob and Oprah, felt the same way. But like anything else in life, we tend to want to believe our way is the right way – and this can be especially true as we work to build lives as Christians.
3. I am divorced and I know over 50% of the adult population is a well. Why does it seem like I am the only one?
I am still wrestling with this question. Being divorced in church is just plain bizarre. Church had all the married couples out in front, and on display. The ones in leadership, the ones counseling, the ones speaking into my life – no one had any experience at all with divorce. More than that, no one had any idea what to do with me, when I went through my divorce as a new Christian.
My divorce was the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to me. The Bible says, “God hates divorce,” and I do too. And I think we all should. It is not God’s best. It is not God’s perfect plan.
And, the reality is that there are a ton of divorced people who love Jesus. There are a ton more who need some Jesus, stat.
If you are struggling with divorce and church, let me start by saying, I am so sorry. You are not alone, and Jesus doesn’t love you any less because your marriage failed.
Here is the good news. It is my experience that you can find some of the strongest, most encouraging, joy-filled marriages in Christian homes. Not because they have it all figured out, but because they trust God first with their marriage. As much as it may hurt, I want to encourage you to get to know these people. The husbands who genuinely seem to cherish their wives and children. The wives who actually smile when they talk about their men. The couples who honestly share their struggles and fights, but never the less seem determined to love each other more. This is God’s best plan for marriage. And you can study it, in person. Whether or not you ever remarry, this can and does help heal the searing wounds that divorce leaves with us.
No matter what questions you may have as a new Christian, there is one element of the last eleven years that I want to leave you with. When I started to going to church, I went thinking everyone there had it all together. That they knew better than I did. That they made better choices than I did. That they somehow knew how to avoid the ugliness and pain that is sometimes life. Nothing can be further from the truth.
What I know now, is that church us just a bunch of people who are trying to figure this thing out, and love Jesus. That’s it.
It is OK to be new at this. It is OK to not have a clue. It is OK to take as much time as you need to figure this out. This is not a race.
It is OK to just be you.
In fact, it would be a shame for you not to be. God made you, and gave you the story of your life for a purpose. He has brought you into the church for a reason.
And He loves you, just as you are.
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.