I know there’s someone out there feeling just how I feel
I know they’re waiting up, I know they’re waiting to heal
And I’ve been holding my breath,
Are you holding your breath, for too many years to count?
Every now and then I’ll run into a piece of writing – a book or blog post, an article – that I feel I could have written if I’d had the words at hand. You know what I mean, everything else blurs for a moment and you breathe deep, “I am not alone.”
All these thoughts and hurts and fears and cares and joys and feelings causing our chest to heave in the quiet moments are not our’s alone. There is at least one other person who sees and feels these things. God has made another, not only in his image but in whom we can see even a shadow of a reflection of our own soul.
Last monday I heard this over and over.
“There are others who are not always excited about church. I am not alone in a faithfulness to God – a real faithfulness – that could not be called one of excitement. It feels more like the comfort and hope of treatment than the announcement of healing.”
I heard from some who had been hurt by the church…or more specifically a particular church. I heard from some who were just going through difficult circumtances and could not find the energy to be excited about much of anything. Belief was still present and alive but all it’s strength was being spent in just hanging on.
And I heard from those exhausted by the roller-coaster rides. Their stomachs churned one too many times because of the highs and lows of a Christian experience replete with emotion and lacking in sobriety. The twists and turns and changing tracks were just too much.
Hopefully the lack once despised is now not missed. After all, we have not been called to excitement about church but to love Him, the Head of the Church and his people. All else may just be filigree, luxuries some of us cannot emotionally afford right now.
What now, though? How do we move on?
As I talked with people about this and looked back over my own life over the past couple of years, the corporate worship was a focal point. Makes sense. This is where the excitement is expected and is expected to be worked out in public. I’ve felt the pressure to be moved emotionally and even dispostionally in corporate worship that caused me to struggle to want to be there.
I don’t think anyone has ever meant ill in these situations, it’s just part of the new celebratory mindset with Coldplay worship. So a good place to start for me was to ask…
“How do I approach the corporate worship I have not really looked forward with any kind of excitement but recognize I need?”
I’ve had two conversations with people who I know well, both are decidedly not excited about church, particularly the worship service. One is struggling with just keeping their children still so they can glean something from the sermon. Another is frustrated with the sermons, period. Neither seems to be getting much. They want to receive a word of encouragement, something to move them along in this life under grace. But it ain’t happening.
I told them both the same thing. I didn’t have advice. So I unfolded to them where I am and have been for almost a year.
My own struggle started more than a year ago. I’d never struggled like this before. I didn’t understand it at all. I wasn’t depressed. I wasn’t losing my faith. But that excitement and enthusiasm for church was waning continuously. Even as we moved from the church where I served, to sitting in the “pew” of the church where my wife and I met and grew so much years ago, I found it hard to emotionally be glad I was there. I wanted to be in church on one level. I knew it was needed. But man, it was painful.
However, there was one thing that kept me going and keeps me going still. It keeps me moving forward even when my faith is not an excited one.
I sought just one thing. I went each time asking God to give me just one thing only. Whether it was a line in a song, a verse or even a word in a verse, or communion itself, I was after just one thing. Even if everything else fell flat, even if the sermon was off, the music offended, or something ridiculous was said, that one thing was enough.
This was a struggle with myself, I knew full well. So instead of looking for something dramatic, I hunted between all the parts for just a nugget of help.
Communion always guaranteed this. Each time I tasted the elements, my whole self engaged with my need, his provision. Those few minutes seemed to reach back over time and extend into the coming week. Often, I would only be encouraged by the knowledge that I am communing with all the Saints in the room and who have tasted this meal since it was given to us. And sometimes it was a little more mysterious and I would’t be able to explain it other than to say, Jesus knew what he was doing in giving us this gift.
Just sitting in a pew is hard when you’ve been to Seminary. Criticism is second nature. The difficulty is being critical about, well, pretty much everything. So now I fight to not really care like I did. I just need something. I used to want a service that would catapult me into the week with wild-eyed abandon for God and his glory. Now I look for a phrase giving me the will to take just another cautious step, maybe two.
Now I feast on details. Small parts. I don’t expect to walk away “wowed” by a worship experience. And God is gracious. In between the crevices of all the building blocks of a worship service are notes and words and moments of silence (even moments of laughter) quietly calling me to trust him. To trust him when every fiber of my being is stretched out into the great unknowns of life is the goal now anyway.
So I told them I was just looking for one thing to help me every time I was in corporate worship.
Of course, this assumes that even in the worst of churches, there is something to be had of God and his goodness to sinners. This is no call to stay in bad churches. This is no call to leave them. I’m only saying – for those who are struggling in corporate worship, there is probably one nugget of grace like gold you can hoard. You may even be able to mine that one nugget and come across the mother-lode of all finds – a truth you would never have found otherwise. And then not trade for all the excitement you once had.
Matt, I just discovered your blog a few months ago and have enjoyed reading your posts. I can relate to much of what you write.
Let me ask you, or rather share with you, the question that I keep asking myself about “going to church” – Why is it relevant? To have so much pain caused for 1 hour each week, well its a hard sell for me. My walk with the Lord has become one of solitude with the occasional times of fellowship with other saints who have found themselves in the same place. I spend many hours in coffee shops, reading the bible and other Christian writings, as well as conversing with other believers who are drawn to the same spiritual lifestyle (i.e. Coffee Shop Christianity). Yet, while I suffer with loneliness, it doesn’t compare with the intensity of the loneliness I feel sitting in a church service. God just doesn’t seem to be present to me in corporate settings, no matter how much I try to find Him.
Given this, I still feel a draw to corporate worship, whatever that looks like. I miss taking communion with the saints. Yet, if communion is the most relevant part of worship, why does it have take place with all of the trappings and distractions of what we call worship today? To me, It seems a bit contradictory.
Sorry, not looking for answers, just venting a few thoughts also, I’m not trying to be negative (I’m way past that point), just trying to figure out how to be a part of the church while not having my relationship with the Lord suffer.
“Just sitting in a pew is hard when you’ve been to Seminary. Criticism is second nature.”
My experience exactly. I find I have to intentionally turn off the critical part of my brain if I want to enjoy a service. I do find that I can look for the positive within a service be thankful for those things.