When I was 12, my family attended a Mennonite church. It was a nice church, full of nice Christian families…and then there was us.
One Sunday, the sermon turned sexy and the pastor excused the children and teenagers. I hadn’t seen my friend with the group of kids exiting, and I didn’t exactly want to go hang out with the snobby kids who I swear had some kind of radar which allowed them to detect dresses that came from Goodwill. So, I stayed seated as all the other kids left.
Of course, my parents told me I had to leave. I grudgingly scooted out of the pew, walked down the aisle, out the double doors, down the stairs, through the foyer, and into the basement Sunday School rooms. But, the lights were off and nobody was down there.
I walked back up to the foyer and hesitated outside the glass doors that lead into the sanctuary. I watched the pastor speak words I couldn’t hear. A woman quickly strode out of the main hallway and made her way up the stairs beside me. “I’m sorry, but do you know where the youth went?” I asked.
“They’re in the parsonage,” she replied.
She went back into the sanctuary and left me standing on the steps, ready to head off to the parsonage.
Except I didn’t know what the hell a parsonage was. But, I couldn’t admit something like that. I was already the kid who couldn’t sing all the books of the Bible in order. I was tired of the incredulous looks I received when I didn’t know what a tabernacle was. Or I didn’t know Samson from Judah… or was it Jude? Joshua? No, that’s a regular name, not a Bible name…
I stared at the coats lining the walls. Don’t panic. The parsonage. It has to be some room attached to the building.
I walked back down the stairs and looked down a hallway. OK. The Fellowship Hall is that way… and right now I’m in the sanctuary. (I wasn’t. I was in the foyer. I didn’t know what a sanctuary was either.)
I turned in a circle and saw the doors to the pastor and assistant pastor’s offices. Maybe a parsonage was a pastor’s office? It sounded similar, right? I cracked open both doors and peaked in, but both rooms were dark.
I wandered into the Fellowship Hall, just in case there was a secret passage that led to the mysterious parsonage, but all I found was the nursery.
The longer I looked, the riskier it was getting. Someone was going to spot me lurking around and discover my shameful secret. That I was just an imposter. I wasn’t one of them. You can dress a heathen up in a second-hand dress, but you can’t make a Christian out of her. My parents hadn’t even dedicated me for crying out loud!
My eyes teared up as I trudged out of the Fellowship Hall. That’s when I passed the ladies’ bathroom. Brilliant!
I ducked inside and entered a stall. I could hide out in here until church was over. When I heard everyone leave, I’d just sneak out and find my parents. I’ve always been an excellent problem solver.
…and I kept waiting.
…and oh my gosh this sermon was taking forever.
Women kept coming into the bathroom and leaving. Someone was going to realize I had been in the bathroom for way too long and they’d (loudly) tell my parents I was having some kind of bathroom related issues. That would sure be less embarrassing than the real problem.
We only lived a few blocks away from the church. I could just go home. I’d be in trouble, but at least I’d be in trouble in the privacy of our house.
I made up my mind. I snuck back out of the bathroom, grabbed my coat, and walked back to our house.
Because I’m a genius, I immediately vacuumed the living room. I figured I could still spin this whole thing in my favor. “Look, Mom and Dad! I left church early so I could surprise you with a clean living room!”
I successfully kept my secret that day, though I’m pretty sure I wound up grounded off TV for a while. I even got really serious about learning all that Bible stuff in case I got into a jam like that again. (I found out the word “parsonage” isn’t actually in the Bible.)
These days, I can pelt someone with out-of-context Bible verses just like a proper Christian. I even know what a font is for, what devotions are, and what an Agape Feast is.
But, I’ve never quite been able to shake the feeling that I’m a little too frayed and torn at the edges. That I’m not groomed enough. That I don’t know all the right words. That I don’t go through all the right motions. That I’m still pretending I belong when everyone knows I don’t.
Except that’s not the gospel, is it?
I don’t have to perfect my knowledge of God or the church before coming into the presence of God. Didn’t God himself travel down dusty roads with followers who didn’t fully understand who he was and what he was going to do?
I don’t think I would have hidden from Jesus.
So, I won’t hide out in the bathroom, pretending I’ve unraveled all the mysteries of our faith when I’ve only just begun picking at those threads. When all of us have only just begun picking at those infinite threads. After all, I’m pretty sure the rest of you hide out in the bathroom sometimes too.
I’m going to figure out what I’m doing that’s chasing people into bathrooms. That’s turning Christianity into an opportunity for embarrassment instead of the good news it’s supposed to be. I’m going to knock that crap off, even if it makes me look more out of place than I already do.
Because those bathrooms are small… and they’re crowded… and not very well ventilated. If earnest people would rather hang out in there than worship with me, I’m probably doing something wrong.