The Worst Church Goers

by Amanda

The Worst Church Goers

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Matthew 18:20, ESV

When Jesus spoke to his disciples in Matthew 18 about holding each other up, about praying together and meeting together, when he told them he’d be there anytime there were two or three, I wonder if he pictured us. I wonder if he saw in his infinite mind our family of five, gathered on a sofa instead of a church pew, another Sabbath in pajamas.

It was easier before the children came, like most everything else. We adored our church in the city; it met at night just a few blocks from our house. We worshipped with our neighbors and it was a version of community that made sense to us, made a difference to us.

We missed nights here and there after the baby came, but we hung in there with our weekly home group and they hung in there with us. Then came toddlerhood. Then came the twins. Then came meals from those Brothers and Sisters we’d grown to love, arms reaching out to hold our babies and hug their tired mama. Then came the tension, ever-growing, each time we tried to get out the door at dinnertime on a Sunday night, a last effort in an always needed, too-short weekend.

At first I thought it was just us. So many families were better at this; so many showed up on time, every time, no matter what. That’s how it seemed, at least. And then there was us, stressed and distracted and worried, not really present even when we were. There was me, frantically packing dinner in a lunchbox for the girl and pacifiers and snacks for the boys, knowing soon we’d be rushing back home, carrying too-tired little ones into the house and straight to bed.

It was exhausting, and so we just stopped going.

It wasn’t an intentional decision, but a week missed here and there turned into a month missed here and there, and before long we were absent far more often than not.

It took over a year, maybe even two, for me to admit it was time. My husband knew long before I did, but he was patient. He knew it was hard for me to admit defeat, to admit we couldn’t go to our beloved church any more because we just weren’t. We  weren’t going.

It turns out, a theoretical church family is no good, only flesh and blood practice works out its design.

We were members on paper and, yes, in our hearts, but we were no longer there. We were no longer a part. We were going it alone when there was no reason to.

And so we left.

It took a long while for me to forgive myself for giving in, for not being one of the families that could make it work. I’m still not sure why we couldn’t force our square peg into that round hole, but I do know it matters less than I thought. I do know, when it comes down to it, it is better to attend a church you actually attend than to beat yourself up about the one that you don’t.

The family of Christ is so large and beautiful and dysfunctional and diverse. In which building we choose to meet together matters so much less than that we actually meet. This is a truth that gives balm to my bruised, people-pleasing heart.

We’re still pretty terrible church goers. We miss more weeks than I care to admit. We often spend Sundays traveling the half hour to where my mom lives by the lake, and we gather together and sing a prayer with the babies and eat the  food only grandmothers can make. And it is Sabbath and it is rest and it is worship, too.

But those mornings we gather the children like ducks into our blue minivan and head across town to the old convent that is now our church, those mornings are wonderful. We feel welcome and at home, we feel challenged and charged, we feel relieved to be among God’s people, singing the songs and speaking the Word and remembering what is true. We feel thankful just to be there.

We miss our extended church family, the ones from up the street. Some of them we see, some of them we don’t, and I’m still sad we didn’t make it through.

But He is still here. Whether on the sofa or ‘round the table or in the sanctuary, He gathers with us, the worst and the best and all the in-between.

He gathers even with us.

 

20 Responses to “The Worst Church Goers”

  1. John Buaas January 20, 2014 at 6:22 am #

    “[I]t is better to attend a church you actually attend than to beat yourself up about the one that you don’t.”

    Truer words . . . (and I don’t mean that at all facetiously).

    Thanks for this–I needed to read this.

    • Amanda Williams January 21, 2014 at 7:23 am #

      Funny how long it took/is taking me to figure that out. Thanks for seconding.

  2. Rebekah Richardson January 20, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    so loved this, Amanda

  3. Shellie January 20, 2014 at 7:19 am #

    Dearest Amanda, I <3 you. No words of wisdom, just THANK YOU and you are loved. {hugs}

  4. Traci January 20, 2014 at 7:50 am #

    Amen, sister.

  5. Diana Trautwein January 20, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    You know, as sad as this makes me (and it does make me sad, I cannot lie about that), I get this. I’m glad you’ve found a smaller (I assume?) place where you can slide in and out easily and I’m glad that your family feels like ‘church’ to you, too. But I find myself wondering what the church can do to make this an easier reality for families of young children. Keep it casual? Welcome children and their nice noisiness? Provide some small space where exhausted kids can rest and/or play while mom or dad can watch and listen? Offer home church options? We do all of those things and have a fair amount of young families for a church of our size (about 300) but I know there are others who just can’t hack it and are embarrassed to say so. And THAT’s the part that I’d like to kick to the curb – the embarrassment. Anyone who has raised kids should be able to relate to your dilemma and embarrassment should not be a part of this. Just real talk and real effort to see what we all can do to make it easier. Thanks, Amanda, for triggering the conversation here. It’s bound to be an interesting one.

    • Bonnie-Jean Newman January 20, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

      I too can relate to Amanda’s situation and have gone through a similar experience. Diana, I felt the church we were in did cater well to families on a Sunday and there were a few of us in the same situation – all exhausted every week. For me though it was more that the community seemed to only exist if you turned up and you put the effort in and for many sleep deprived years, I just didn’t have it in me. When I had my babies the church was there with meals for us but after that I felt that we were left to get on with it ourselves. When we didn’t make it on a Sunday, there were no phone calls to see how we were doing or no one just popping in. I know that people thought of us but the reality is that everyone was/is too busy with their own lives to turn that thought into action. I’m not saying this in a condemning way – I totally understand their actions as that has been me in the past as well. Although perhaps I’m now realising how lazy and selfish I was/am and that I let the priorities of my day take over when I could have been the one to make that phone call or pop in and see how someone was doing. Are we all really ‘too busy’ all the time or has that just become an excuse to let us off the hook of loving our brothers and sisters?

      • Amanda Williams January 21, 2014 at 7:38 am #

        Bonnie-Jean, I can relate to much of what you’ve said here. I should reiterate that our former church family was wonderful and loving and it was a painful thing to feel separated from them due to circumstance, or our lack of discipline in getting to church, or whatever you want to call it. And I have no beef with anything they did or did not do as far as programs, setup, or any of that is concerned. When it came down to it, it just didn’t work for us. And that feels terribly selfish to say out loud – Should a church “work” for us when we ARE the Church? But you’re right – at the stage of life with small children, one is too exhausted to do much about it – to begin a conversation or suggest change or be a part of the solution.

        When our first child was a baby and the struggle first began, a family friend said to us, “This is only a season and you can’t get it back. You have your whole lives to invest time in your church, but you only have these few years to raise your children.” It’s a hard thing to admit, but that’s how we felt, and I am indeed grateful that the season will come when we have more to give.

    • Amanda Williams January 21, 2014 at 7:31 am #

      You know, I wrote this one month ago, before I knew we would decide to move our family to my mom’s and sell our home. We’ve been attending church with her as a result of this beautiful upheaval. We feel so welcome there, all of us, even though it is not they “type” church we would naturally find ourselves drawn to. And though I’ve certainly not figured out some magic formula for these tensions we’re discussing, I have made a few observations. The places where we’ve felt safe (and that’s a good word for it, “safe”) bringing our children are those where congregants invest in families. Not financially, but with their time and with themselves. I cannot tell you what a blessing it is to see the same teachers greet my children each week, or send them a note saying they’ve been missed when we go on a church hiatus. Also, for us, the time of day was a huge factor. Doing anything at night as a family is 10x harder than a morning or daytime outing. There came a point where we decided that being a part of any church family was better than wishing we hadn’t missed yet another gathering.

      Well, this is a longer conversation than comments will allow. To be continued someday over coffee. xo

  6. Gary Manning January 20, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    Thank you, Amanda, for this post. I know what I’m about to say will sound like little more than “churchy rhetoric” (occupational hazard since I’m an Episcopal priest), but I think we’ve got a participle problem in our culture when it comes to “church”. We speak of “going to church” far more often than we speak of “being the church.” I wonder if we haven’t mistaken the assembling of persons on a Sunday morning for the purpose of worship with the sum total of being connected to a community of faith. Somehow, I think we’ve missed the point as church folks when it all comes down to attendance at particular times/places instead of being attentive to each other in the ebb and flow of life in the real world.

    As difficult as it is for young families to make their way to worship on a time-crunched weekend with exhausted children, it’s also challenging for folks in those later decades of life as well. In 2012 when my dad was dying with stage IV liver cancer, my mom was his primary caregiver. Because of his illness and his dependence upon her, they did not attend Sunday worship at their local Baptist congregation for the final five months of his life. The result? Several calls from members of the congregation who offered to sit with dad so mom could go to church, along with quoting the verse from Hebrews about “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together.” Really? Talk about a complete disconnect from any sort of sensitivity, or any sort of understanding that “church” is an identity of being not a destination.

    I don’t have a magic answer to the conundrum, but I do know that the questions raised by your post and my mom’s experience give me much to consider.

    • Amanda Williams January 21, 2014 at 7:43 am #

      Thanks for lending your insight, Gary. I completely agree with your premise that there is a general misunderstanding when it comes to the definition of “church.” Our former congregation loved us well when we went through extremely difficult seasons like the birth of our twins and my father’s severe illness and death. I feel like they helped us to understand how the Church, capital “C”, was meant to operate. Beyond that, it was hard for us to feel connected because so much of the opportunities to connect revolved around being present at the Sunday gatherings.

      I’m with you; I don’t have many answers, but I do find hope in the Church’s willingness to have the conversation and determine to find meaningful ways to reach and fellowship with its members who are prevented from or having difficultly attending church, little “c”, at the appointed place and time.

  7. Amy Hoag January 20, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

    I go to a church that I love but I wish it had home groups and other things that would help me be a part of church life that aren’t just at the church building. I have had depression for more than 10 years and I have never had a church reach out to me during those darkest times. I tend to be someone that when I am getting further down in my depression I isolate. It would be nice to have a church family reach out to me during this time but sadly that hasn’t happened and I have even voiced this to my pastors. I want a church to be involved with my active life with 3 kids not just be a place I get to on Sunday mornings. I live in a small town so it’s hard because I am more liberal and here there’s a million churches that are more conservative that don’t fit me or my family’s beliefs. I am active in my church and have voiced my concerns but I often feel like the squeaky wheel. It’s hard not to be discouraged with the church but I continue to hold out hope that a different version of church is around the corner for us in the Christian community.

    • Amanda Williams January 21, 2014 at 7:48 am #

      Amy, I wish I could transport you to my city! I do feel like there are many church families here who do this well – but even then, it is still such a challenge. It is far too easy for us to feel isolated in our personal lives and struggles. I feel like this is only compounded by our discomfort in the Church with discussing these hard topics like depression, illness, isolation… Not only do our Brothers and Sisters feel geographically isolated for various reasons, but we can feel emotionally and spiritually isolated as well, believing that even when we do show up we are not understood or accepted. I don’t mean to put words in your mouth – Just thinking out loud about the further implications of our conversation here today. Thanks so much for being open and contributing to it. Saying a prayer that God provides a loving and honest community of believers to walk alongside you.

  8. Laurel Krause January 21, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    I can so relate, but I also not its not just busy mommy and daddy’s that are experiencing this…so too are the empty nesters.
    Back in ’95 I took a life changing trip to Israel. The number one life lesson that I came away with is that the Jewish people live a life where their lives are built around their faith. In North America it is the complete opposite. We are forced to build our faith around our lives.
    In Israel when the first 3 stars come out in the Friday night sky, that is the beginning of their Sabbath and is a deeply rooted point of reverence where life comes to a full stop. Nothing is cooked that evening and this goes into Saturday until they come together for a celebration dinner that night. No travel is allowed unless you are walking a short distance, most everything is closed, and people are called to worship and practice their religious beliefs.
    Now look at how we live in North America. Nothing comes to a full stop.. ever, and if you are a believer and need or want Sunday’s off, that may opt you out of the job you are wanting; maybe because you choose differently so that you can be there for Sunday’s or because the employer chooses that they are not hiring you because of this request.
    Life is big and busy and now matter how you try and put the breaks on there is something coming behind you to push you forward. So this is also how our culture has made some swinging shifts in the balances of things, and it has been moving rapidly in the last decade.
    My heart is to be in church on Sunday but my body sometimes needs to just stay home and rest so that I can get up Monday and do it all over again…that is if I’m not already working that particular Sunday.
    There is no condemnation in Christ, and I am learning that for as much as I want to belong to a church body or a week night growth group, I may have to cut myself some slack in my expectations. I only hope that those around me can do the same when looking at my life.

  9. Kristin @ In Between the Piles January 22, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    Amanda,
    I learned about your blog through She Reads Truth. When I read the posts on She Reads Truth about faith and biblical reflection, I assume that all of you must be better in your faith than me (in my mind “better in your faith” translates into active weekly participants in a church community…something I’m not right now). Thank you for helping me to remember that assumptions often aren’t right. My husband works on Sundays (strike one for us…), so I attempt on some Sundays to get the two kiddos in the car to church (which is ridiculously close – 5 minutes away) or to my sister’s church (still only 15 minutes away). If I make it, regardless of how late I am, I feel triumphant. We made it. Some Sundays when I’ve worked 2 12 hour shifts in a row, I know I’m most likely not going to make it. I definitely feel the guilt. Growing up my parents had us go to Church every week. 8 am. Against all protests. I feel the guilt when I don’t make it to church and that I’m not involved in a church community. I want that to be a reality for me, but I also need to be more gentle with myself. Thank you for writing this post. You’re right. We aren’t alone. Thank you…

  10. Kreine January 24, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    I both love & hate that other parents feel the same way we do.

    The wrangling of little ones, remembering to pack distractions so they, in turn, don’t distract from the worship experience of others. The cajoling of older children who would rather spend time with friends from school than with peers they see only at church.

    The incredible amount of positive self-motivation it takes just to begin the process of getting us all physically ready to get out the door. The frustrations of dragging feet and random energy outbursts. The noisy commute.

    For all the wanting to be a part of community, it often feels like we’re quite alone.

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