Today I got a very searching and honest message from one of my readers.

I have gotten to the point I cannot go to church for emotional reasons.  I feel TOO MUCH LOVE THERE  AND FEEL I AM A STUMBLING BLOCK AND FAILURE. How do I know if it’s the devil telling me I can’t or shouldn’t do this for the benefit of the church that I love? How can I fight against him and keep going to prove I can beat this? I handle a job okay, have raised 2 kids, I feel I can’t do church.”  ~ M.

 

This was my response:

I can appreciate your struggle, M. I have often felt I was doing more harm than good to my faith community. Believe me, the Enemy is the one who tries to confuse us in such a way that we avoid growing closer to God and God’s people. Listen to what your brothers and sisters in Christ say. It sounds like they love you even when you don’t love yourself. And love is from God. God is love. At the same time, show yourself the grace that if it becomes too much some weeks, don’t force yourself. Ask for prayer and do the  best you can. Sometimes I have gone late and left early to get the substance of worship without triggering my irrational fear of harming others. I will pray for you, M.

 

M. also referred to a post I had written that she had found helpful. I’m not sure if this is the one, but it seems to relate well:

 

{originally published on April 30, 2018}

When I was a pastor I had to go to worship every week. Not only was it expected, I got paid for it. Now that my livelihood is no longer dependent on weekly worship, why do I go at all? Why invest my time and money on something many have come to see as irrelevant to modern living?

First, some context. Last Sunday morning I went to worship for the first time in a long while. I did not want to. I did not enjoy it. I do not remember anything but that I left my tithe check at home. Again.

But I was there. And being there made all the difference in the world. I praised God within the body of believers. The lungs gave me breath. The feet helped me move. The Head rekindled my thoughts.

That night I wrote a post confessing to God and others my spiritual laxity. I concluded that I had no good excuse, that I was failing to practice my faith to my own harm. The piece took me hours to write. I worked through the night. I was weary, but determined to discover in the expression what I had been doing wrong so that I could pray to make it right. And I did. As I finished the post, I felt an incredible weight lifted from my shoulders. A release. And it felt great.

This week I have received an influx of blessings. My lingering depression has lifted. I have been prolific. I have started and stayed faithful to a healthier eating plan. My troubled sleep has been quieted.  I have been stretching and walking in a pool for therapy. I set appropriate emotional boundaries in complicated relationships. My thoughts have been clearer. My prayers more authentic. My delight abundant.

So, does this mean there is a direct relationship between me going to church on Sunday and having a better week? Yes. And no.

Yes, going to worship last Sunday set me on the right track for the week. Did God reward me for planting myself in the pews? Maybe yes. Maybe no. You never know with God. But what I do know is that by going to worship, I emptied more of myself to make more room for God’s blessings.

Yet, no. There are no guarantees that each week will be a series of blessings if I will only go to church on Sunday. God doesn’t work this way. Contrary to popular opinion, life doesn’t get easier when we grow closer to Christ. It becomes more challenging. Often, much more difficult. But we discover we are not alone. The Spirit of Christ gives us the strength to get through it and the hope that there is a better life ahead.

Spiritual practices like weekly worship can be difficult. Sometimes damn difficult. Pouring out our praise to God is not for the faint of heart. It requires sacrifice. Sometimes I would rather preserve myself, presuming to protect myself from the all-consuming holy fire of the Lord. But there is no hiding from the God who has made me his child, who claims me as his own, who calls me his servant, to love and serve his creation.

This morning I woke up at 10. I didn’t want to get up. But I did. I didn’t want to go to church. But I did. I tried to pay attention in the service, but I couldn’t. I still have a long way to go. But I did take one more step. Instead of ducking out of church before the last Psalm, I remained in the sanctuary. I wanted to hide. But I didn’t.

I opened the gate of my emotional wall and someone came in with a kind smile. Another with a firm, friendly handshake. Another, a thoughtful word of encouragement. One more, an offer to meet for coffee. It was not too much. It was just right. I walked out into the bright sun and didn’t feel the need to put on shades.