“Struggle Central” Excerpt #2: Alone at Church

Once again, it’s time for a special Struggle Central edition of Struggle Sunday! I’ve already posted one excerpt from my first book, and posted below is another! It’s the second sneak peak for Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian, with at least one or two more reveals in the Struggle Sundays to come.

Today’s excerpt takes me back those college years and the ensuing months beyond academia’s gates — such a fun time of striving for belonging wherever I could find it. You’d think the Church would be a good place to escape alone, right?

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"Struggle Central" by Thomas Mark Zuniga

During my three years at Georgia, I regularly attended a new church apart from my family. A special place with powerful worship songs and dynamic messages that made me actually enjoy church again. Made me look forward to Sunday morning, week after tedious school week. Sunday after spiritually uplifting Sunday, I grew closer to God and sensed the increasingly intimidating tug for deeper involvement.

If my 30,000-student university seemed an impossible place for community, why not the Church? I held out hope that integration at my new church would play vastly differently from numerous secluded years at the last – of publicly isolating round tables and privately isolating bathroom stalls all the same.

Upon attending the church’s college ministry for the first time, I felt welcomed. I stuttered and reddened at times, but I was an introvert – any group larger than three involuntarily induced awkwardness. Some pleasant chit-chat accompanied coffee and doughnuts, and the social challenge presented actually felt doable. After several minutes of optimistic gathering, we transitioned to the adjacent room for Bible study.

I didn’t even know there was an adjacent room. Started following everyone else inside.

Saw a dozen round tables scattered about the room, and my heart bottomed. Those circular discussion tables zapped me back to youth group all over again — visible confirmations of neither support nor friendship in the Church, of all the places for friendship and support.

Years removed from my last circular table, I learned I was the same inferior fool from high school. Sat down at tables with other college Christians too intimidated to contribute to spiritual discussions or even attempt normal conversation. For three consecutive Sundays, I sat down at circular table after circular table after circular table, sweating and stressing, unable to speak more than three and a half words each week.

I quit the college group; it just wasn’t for me. Or maybe I just wasn’t for it.

I continued attending the same amazing church, but week after week, I hardly ever talked to anyone. Always sat alone at the end of a row of chairs. Alone by an empty seat buffering me. Alone where it was safe.

For a couple years, I abandoned all notions of involvement. Gave up until just after college when I again felt burdened to attempt community. To step beyond the increasingly wearying company of myself. The only logical church group to try was a post-college “young professionals” group. At twenty-two, I remained “young,” but asserted nothing “professional” about myself whatsoever.

For several minutes I sat in my car outside the group’s coffee shop meeting place. Hands clammy and heart racing, I closed my eyes and gulped and leaned against the headrest. Hated this never fleeting feeling: forever an outsider, always striving for the inside, hoping this time might play differently from all the others. High school, college, church – everywhere beyond Eden.

I mustered the strength to step from my car and enter the coffee shop. Sat down among a sophisticated group of young professionals: young teachers, young nursing students, young somebodies.

And then there was me – a young nobody. A young person with a worthless English degree who didn’t want to teach and otherwise had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. I interacted even less with the young professionals than the college students of yesteryear. Nobody there really interacted with me, confirming my belief that I was, in fact, a young nobody. A young nobody with nothing to offer young somebodies.

After only three weeks, I embraced a familiar routine: slipped away unnoticed, never to return.

For more information on Struggle Central, check out my book page or my video trailer below:


  • You’re awesome!! I can’t wait to read more! #1 fan! =]

    • TMZ

      You’re the best, Kirin!

  • Rebecka

    This story is so sad. I’ve also been lonely at church, which is the one place you shouldn’t have to be, like you said.

    • TMZ

      The good news is not every church is the same. So grateful to have eventually found a truly fantastic one!