Our history isn’t long, me and the church, or maybe it is longer than I think, but officially it is only a decade and a half. Long enough anyway to have ups and downs and trials along the way. My relationship with the church is longer than my marriage, and neither are without their problems.
Every now and then our family skips church for a week, which at one time I would have counted among the worst sins, in favor of family time or visiting friends. It’s usually in the midst of a chaotic schedule. It’s a reset of sorts. A short break. We always go back the next week or the next. Sometimes, if we’re traveling, the weeks add up, but we’ve never gone a month’s worth of missing on Sundays. At least not that I can recall.
Some days I want to, though. I’ve toyed with the idea of walking away from church more than once. When I’m hurt or confused or just plain tired, I wonder why on earth I’m still part of this messy relationship. (I should mention here that I am part of the mess. It’s me AND it’s you, church.) Wouldn’t I be more fulfilled by sleeping and resting on Sundays? Wouldn’t it be easier to go out for breakfast as a family instead of wrangling children out the door and into seats and off to classes for a couple of hours? Wouldn’t I feel better if we just spent the day however we wanted it instead of starting our “rest” after noon?
But here’s why I’m still choosing the church, even when I think I want to walk away.
The church is both a place and a people to me. There is the building we enter most Sunday mornings and there are the people inside other buildings who have played significant roles in our lives. There are people here, in our community, and people on the other side of the world. We are a church together and we meet in groups, inside and outside, here and there.
I keep coming back because the church is the first place I learned that love isn’t limited to the people who share your blood.The church is the first place I learned that love isn't limited to the people who share your blood. Click To Tweet
The church–its people–have loved us well through a lot of hard times. They’ve treated us better than we deserve. They still do. Before there was an “us,” there were church ladies praying for our union. They were teaching me how to cook for a crowd and slice fresh bread, how to laugh at life’s absurdities and how to weather its adversities. In the church I learned how to stretch a food budget before I needed to. I learned to make pizza dough from scratch, though I’m still terrible at it. I felt the effects of prayer and generosity and encouragement. Rarely have I walked into a gathering of the church and not felt loved and welcome. Even before I believed, they accepted me. (I know this is not everyone’s experience. Later this week, I’ll tell you about how much my beliefs have changed.)
I choose the church because sometimes I need a reminder that I’m not the only who is having a rough day. Or week. Or year. I need the communion of saints, the shared sufferings, the united declarations of hope and peace. I need a place where I can safely say, “It’s going to be okay, and even if it’s not, God remains.” I need to see in the flesh those who have struggled and survived. I need the hugs. The words of encouragement. The care and concern.
I keep coming back because when I see my daughter’s name on the prayer list, I know that she is not only being prayed for, but she is a valued member of our group. She is not just our daughter but her own unique self. She is missed when she’s absent. And our son, the rambunctious boy who doesn’t know the meaning of quiet, has a village of people who show him love and grace and patience. In the church, our children are not secondary to us. They are with us and among us. They are part of us. I don’t go to church only for my children but I’m grateful that my children get to know what it’s like to gather together weekly with people who aren’t relatives. For now, they enjoy it, and that is a good thing.
I choose the church because I need to know I’m not alone. When I feel rejected, insecure, like I don’t belong anywhere, the church reminds me that we’re all in the same boat. In the church, we belong to each other (that’s a borrowed phrase from Momastery). We belong with each other. The church, at its root, is a group of misfits. Rich and poor, young and old, from around here, not from around here, raised in the faith, new to the faith, married, single, with kids, without kids. Our humanity is our common denominator and our commitment to show up for each other holds us together.
I keep coming back to the church not because it’s perfect but because it isn’t. Sure, church is difficult sometimes. So is family. So is living with myself. But the good outweighs the bad, and the bottom line is that I need the church.
The church is my place to practice grace. And receive it. To love and be loved. To serve and be served. To grow and be challenged to grow and to help others grow.
I still choose church, even when I think I want to leave it.