Monday, August 6, 2012

When going to church doesn't feel joyful

It actually feels more like I'm just barely hanging in there at the moment. Not sure why. Maybe it just seems like there are a lot of people in our church family who are struggling right now. Conversation feels difficult. Yesterday, a friend and I stepped outside after church was over to keep an eye on our two little girls playing together and to enjoy the sunshine. This friend is a shy and quiet person and I thought it might be good to join another couple of people having a conversation. As I half hovered to see if there was an opportunity where we might be able to join in, the snippet of conversation I heard seemed to involve a deliberate choice to walk away and continue their talk elsewhere. Obviously it was a private chat that wasn't my business, but it felt awkward nonetheless.

I've been trying to stay on track with reading my Bible and praying at home lately, so I don't feel as if it's a time where I'm personally going through a hard time in my Christian life. So I've been trying to work out why church feels so hard. I was discussing this with my husband and wondering whether I was finding it this way because we've been part of this church for a long time now. It's been almost seven years, which is the longest time we've ever spent within a single church. We've moved towns every few years since we were married nearly fourteen years ago, which has meant that we often end up leaving just as we're getting to know people well. This time around, we're more heavily involved, we know people much better so consequently we know their struggles a lot better too, we've been through a lot more ups and downs. This year has been hard. It's six months today since my friend's little baby boy was stillborn. Several people have left our church with little explanation and we're not sure why. New people are starting to come along but they're not necessarily fully committed to participating yet. Financially, the church is going through a difficult time.

It's hard to keep on persevering when these things happen. You wonder whether it's going to get better and you try to tell yourself that life on this side of heaven isn't meant to be easy and devoid of suffering. But it doesn't feel easy. Maybe this is what it's like to feel a bit burned out by all the stressful situations that we've not really had to go through before because we've never been around long enough.

What does the Bible tell us to do at times like this? Well, Ephesians 6:10-18 seems appropriate for the moment:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.  (ESV)

A helpful reminder that our strength does not come from ourselves but from the Lord alone.


Sarah said...

Sending you a virtual hug, Karen. Church life does seem to be like waves...sometimes you're on a high riding the waves, and sometimes you feel like you're constantly getting dumped...and it feels like it's easier to stay home. I guess it's like everything else that comes with following Jesus - we just need to keep pressing on in the race. Thanks for the reminder in Ephesians that we don't do this alone.

Petrina said...

Praying for you and your church, Karen. Hang in there :)

Jenny said...

I think you're not alone in this feeling Karen. I often find it hard going but it is worth persevering. Because it is through pushing on in the hard times that you actually get closer to people. Just turning up is a big thing and just turning up is so valued by others (but they never tell you). Will pray for you this Sunday.
Oh and btw it is hard yakka with a small bubs and the number of kids you have - don't be too hard on yourself.

Meredith said...

As Jenny said, your presence, even when it is tough with smalls, is a great if unarticulated encouragement. You feel sad that folk have left without saying why...which is why it is SO GOOD that you are getting yourself there week by week. Press on. Praying for you and your family.

Karen said...

Hi all, thanks so much for your encouraging words. I need to remember (and be reminded over and over again...) that I just can't do this on my own. Unfortunately my tendency when I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed is to withdraw into myself and put the protective wall up, when what I really need to do is the exact opposite. It's about God's strength, not mine...must keep repeating this to myself!!