I wasn’t always like this. From the time I was quite young, the magnitude of my beliefs were well rooted and firm. What the heck happened? When I think how I’ve changed I just shake my head. How did I get to this hopeless point? Was there a pivotal turning point somewhere that I’ve not yet realized or recovered?
I’m not content. I wanna be but there’s this restlessness inside. I’m searching for something. Every few days when I weigh the pros and cons and end up no closer to an answer or relief, I simply put the whole matter on the back burner and coast. I’m a good coaster. And very good at ignoring issues I’m uncomfortable dealing with. I’ve never been good with confrontation-even when I’m confronting-me. It’s painful, distracting, frustrating and causes negative feelings to surface which puts me in a funk. I don’t do well in funky town.
From junior high until I was about 40, God had a steady presence in my life. It’s not like I stopped believing after that, I just stopped going to church for several years. Just as suddenly I started attending again, but not the Reformed Church of America where I had been raised (aha, maybe that’s my problem).
This last span of time, I went to church faithfully for about 15 years, but those years were filled with conflict and angst. (Here I am, trying to be churched, contented and filled with the Holy Spirit. Why am I then so conflicted)? Well I can spot one huge issue. I got too involved-my fault. Volunteered too much, heard too much and witnessed too much, including the uglier side of organized religion-politics. Politics within the church from the movers and the shakers. During this time I worked for 4 pastors while I was Parish Visitor. Four. All had some good qualities, either with the youth, could preach a sermon which helped and made you think, had a real soft spot for the elderly or community outreach.
Both churches stated frequently, “the church is the people.” To which I say hogwash. Of course the congregation is vitally important, but unless you have a dynamic speaker who can lead a flock (and encourage new folks/families into the sanctuary on Sunday), give a meaningful message to help get people through another tough week of life, your flock is going to seek guidance elsewhere or just stop going through the motions.
Which is what happened to me. I was hurt, angry, resentful, unfulfilled and felt organized religion was out of touch. Maybe even vindictive. Overall attendance was in a tailspin. I simply stopped going. It’s awful to say but I didn’t want to miss the things that are included with a Sunday morning worship service. But I miss those very things so much. I miss saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison. Long to be among those reciting the Apostles Creed even more. I miss hymn singing (I only lip sync the songs since losing most of my hearing-can’t carry a tune to save my soul). This old-fashioned doxology fills my heart with hurt and happiness.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Since 2013 I have been in a few churches-but very few. Several funerals before I left North Muskegon. A couple years ago, Angie, a devout Christian and a coworker invited me to her church for their annual Christmas program because her 2 adorable kids were part of their large children’s group participating. I didn’t tell her I was coming (that way it was easier to chicken out and stay home). I thought I could snag a back row seat, be in and out without anyone noticing me. As it happened Angie was walking through the narthex as I waltzed in the door. (Thanks for that God). So I was included with the whole family, taking up 2 entire pews. But I didn’t go back. Knew God was nudging me but I can be very dense when it comes to subtle hints. It’s called denial. See I didn’t realize there’s a problem with me-it’s everybody else involved with church who has a problem.
More recently I saw a Facebook post from my friend Sabrina. She posted two of her four daughters were being baptized a few weeks ago. Don’t know why that post hit me so hard but I couldn’t get it out of my head. Never uttered a word to Sabrina, just looked up the address of the church and showed up for worship. This time I made it through the door unnoticed and was slinking towards an out of the way ‘Russian seat.’ (‘Rushing’ to be first out of the door afterwards). Well Sabrina rushed me like an all American linebacker before I was even seated! I sat near the family group congregating for this momentous occasion when someone plops Sabrina’s new grandson, Greyson on my lap. Darling little guy was full of smiles for this virtual stranger. Kortni and Ali’s baptism was sacred, touching and heartwarming. (Don’t know the girl’s exact ages, maybe 14 and 11). But again I didn’t go back. The minister was young and had a good message but the service was very contemporary. Just not what this old dinosaur is longing for.
So that’s been the extent of my worship participation in 6 years. Not a very good record or anything to be proud is it? If I’m searching so hard for ‘something,’ it can’t be found if I’m not even willing to look. What’s prohibiting me? My regrets, sins, old grudges which are still simmering near the surface? Probably all of the above. I don’t want to be part of the world’s Christianity decline, yet here I am-living the nightmare.
I’m what’s wrong with Christianity. I long for/expect the perfect church, the perfect preacher and a united congregation that loves/respects each other. Well none of that is feasible in the real world is it? Life is messy. We’re all sinners and preachers are just as human as the rest of us. So how can I break away from these high expectations I seem to cast the church and its inhabitants on? How (and where) can I find peace? Yes, I’m conflicted. Big time.
I need to recognize the church for what it really is. A mish-mash of assorted sinners coming together to worship God. Period. People with differing opinions, beliefs, goals and gifts. A church whose needs often are monetary. I’ve got to stop giving up on God because the pastor does not meet my stringent specifications. Period. God has hope for me and has stuck with me-warts and all. How come it’s so hard for me to do likewise with my fellow man?
Although it sounds lame, shallow and insincere, I’m church shopping. Sigh. Trying to find my own niche with God by my side rather than leaving Him at my back door. I feel like I’m just going through the motions without a home church. I’m lost and alone. I need a closer connection. So I’ve been jotting down some church addresses and times of worship. Last week was my first attempt. Not impressed, but the list of churches in Jackson is significant and I’m going to keep trying until I find what I need. It’s not been a hymn recently looping through my head but a twist on Del Shannon’s song, Keep searchin’.
I gotta keep searchin’, searchin’, find a place to stay
Searchin’, searchin’ every night and day
If I gotta keep on the run, I’ll follow the Son-wee-ooh,
Follow the Son-wee-ooh…