“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.