Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When living in Christian community is hard

Most of the time, being part of a church family is fantastic. Feeling loved and cared for by those who sit around us each Sunday and who are as committed to living as Christians as we are is a really encouraging thing.

But there are also times when it can feel like very hard work, or annoying, or even distressing. Here are some examples.

When you say the wrong thing to someone and it's hard to recover the same friendly footing that you had with them before. When you discover that you've been excluded from some social activity and you don't know why (or conversely, when you feel like you've gatecrashed someone else's conversation or group activity). When you see some people come along to church and get welcomed into existing groups while others (or even you) appear to be left on the fringes. When you don't know what to say to someone who's had bad news or is grieving, or you just find it plain difficult to start a conversation with someone that you don't have a lot in common with. When you put out a suggestion to somebody that it would be good to do something with them and you get rebuffed. You might just realise you have different philosophies or opinions to others in your church family on any number of topics, such as how to bring up your children, where to send them to school, how much time you should be committing to serving at church/doing paid work/meeting up with other people to read the Bible. You're not sure if you fit in with the rest of the crowd.

Or even silly little niggly things like cooking a meal for someone in need and never getting the dish you gave it to them in back again (sorry, that one is probably a little bit's just a dish, after all. You can always buy another one).

Seriously, though, I think that this kind of stuff can be the start of people being put off from attending church, particularly if it goes on for a while. To outsiders coming in, the church appears to be full of existing friendship groups and those who don't fit in or look the same as the existing ones struggle to find a place to belong. And for those who've been around for a while but haven't quite found people that they connect with, or who are naturally introverted and don't thrive on socialising, it can become a catalyst for feelings of discouragement as time goes on.

So what can we do? Sometimes it is really hard to keep hanging in there when these kinds of things happen.

But we have to. The easy option is to turn inwards and focus on ourselves, feel hurt, opt out and start not turning up, or even to leave and find another church (sometimes only to find the same cycle starts again). It becomes all about us and getting our own needs met. The difficult choice is to keep on loving others, keep on serving others and remember that this Christian life isn't about us, but about loving God and our neighbours.

Our sermon series at church at the moment is on the letter of 1 John. On Sunday, we heard a great talk that challenged me with some questions on how we can know if we are living in a Christ-like way. One of the questions that stuck in my head was about whether you are hanging around with people that you might not necessarily choose to be around if you weren't a Christian.

This is the hard road that living as a Christian requires. Talking to people when it's hard or when you don't have much in common with them. Not feeling hurt if you haven't been included in a get together. Persisting when not many people turn up to something you've organised. Being comfortable with those whose opinions and practices might differ from yours in the way they live their lives. Taking the focus off ourselves and putting it back where it belongs. On Jesus and on serving others.


Jamie Jo said...

I like you! Thanks to Wendy for connecting us via her recent blog awards. The fact that you like playing Chopin Nocturnes had me interested from the get-go, but I love the way you think and write, too. Yeah, it's the petty little things that all add up sometimes.

Karen said...

Thanks for stopping in, Jamie Jo. Much appreciated. Although I probably should tell you that I haven't had a go at playing a Chopin nocturne for a while now!?

Sarah said...

I found myself nodding to most of the things on your list. Oh and the not getting the dish back thing, I just cook meals for people in throw away freezable containers - all good :)

The reason why I persevere with church is because God wants me to. He said in His word that meeting together is important and I find it's a constant decision to choose to believe Him when I get frustrated with myself and frustrated with others in the church.

I think it's ok to want genuine friendships at church, especially when you're the new person. I've been advised to 'just go out and serve', but service and friendship are different. I want to go out and do good deeds with no strings attached. But I also want real, genuine, give-take relationships and a feeling of connectedness. I remember some anon comments on Jenny's post on adult friendships and it really hit home how tough loneliness is and how 'used' some Christians feel.

Wendy said...

This is very cool. I love it when networking works, having Jamie Jo visit here because I mentioned you just makes me happy!

Karen said...

Yeah, I was excited to see that too, Wendy. Thanks for the recommendation!! Have checked out Jamie Jo's blog too.