Why I Struggled To be Real in Church
Written By Ana Chavarria, USA
Church is supposed to be the place we feel secure and accepted. But the reality is often different. Many of us struggle to be ourselves in the church because we fear being judged.
As a pastor’s kid, I went through really tough times because people expected perfection from me. And sometimes, this led to unhelpful and unkind comments being made.
“That’s not very ‘Christian’.”
“He/she doesn’t behave like a pastor’s kid.”
“He/she doesn’t serve in the church.”
“He/she is always playing video games.”
“She is always hanging out with that boy!”
On my own part, I thought that if I was not perfect enough, people would think that my dad was not a good pastor.
Being the eldest of three girls, I constantly felt the pressure to do things right or the godly way. I was taught that as the firstborn, I should set an example for my siblings—even my sisters expected me to only do “the right things”. But as they grew up, I could see them struggling with the same pressures I faced.
Many eyes were watching and closely following everything I did or said. I had to be extremely careful to not say anything that could be misunderstood or taken the wrong way. There were times that I would express my opinion on something and then someone would jump in and say something like, “Oh, I can’t believe the pastor’s daughter just said that!” It bothered me because I knew that if one of my friends had said the same thing, nobody would have thought it was weird.
So for many years, I hid my true self when I was in church. Instead of being the loud and spontaneous self I was, I was really quiet and never expressed my opinion in public. Everything I did was to please the people. There were times where I didn’t agree with some people on what they were doing or how they were managing things, but I stayed silent because I didn’t want them to think I was being disrespectful.
It was painful and exhausting to live that way, and I was constantly wrestling with these thoughts: “What would they think if I say this or that?” “What would people say if they find out that I listen to secular music?” “Would they stumble in their faith if I’m not in church this Sunday?”
One night, I was reading my Bible and came across this verse: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
It immediately struck me that the way I was behaving was simply to please people and not God, even though He should be the only One I ought to focus on serving and pleasing. Although I knew that all along, that night, that verse reminded me that I was not doing that. When I came to this realization, I felt a huge burden lifted off my shoulders.
From then on, I started to live my life with liberty, knowing that God and His Word makes me free. I started to live and enjoy life to the fullest and for God’s glory. I started reading my Bible more—not to impress the people, but because I knew it pleased God and because I needed it. I also “let go” of myself, and became more joyful and unafraid to joke with people. I began to open my heart and speak my mind to others.
Of course, this evoked different reactions. While some felt I was being too unrestrained, others started opening up to me because they saw the real me—someone who fails but is always ready to get up again, someone who is not perfect but is constantly pursuing the perfect One. I stopped caring about what people said about me or not.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that I started to do whatever I wanted with no fear of anything. I just started to be myself with others in the church.
If you’re going through the same thing today, may I encourage you go back to seeking God wholeheartedly? After all, if you keep living for the people, you will never feel satisfied. You will never totally please them. Instead of living in bondage to that, live for Him.
Hi Ana, after all now you found out something great. I have to say you looked a careful person driving yourself at school, where I heard you for the first time. However, I knew that your father’s job was not in vain. Now I confirm that it is so. Your parents are very nice persons and they enjoy life with joy. Ana welcome to this good, pleasant and abundant life that only Christ gives!