I don’t know about you, but there’s a part of me that just doesn’t want to go to church tomorrow.
Perhaps you are tallying all the reasons in favor of staying home, like I am. For one, I have the house to myself—a rare occurrence!—and I want to wring every drop of solitude from this blessed event that I can. Second, I don’t think I’m in one of those “dark nights of the soul,” but I’m definitely in the season where reading Scripture doesn’t seem to “land” the way I wish it did. Not to mention, relationships are hard, and the ones at church are no exception. Finally, my sign language interpreter won’t be there this week. I will make it through the singing, since the words are projected on a screen, and even the prayers, since they’re printed in the bulletin, but once we get to the sermon, I’ll lipread the best I can, but will most likely miss most of it. All of these seem like good enough reasons to me to take a bye week.
This is not the first time I’ve been tempted to skip out, and I doubt it will be the last. Playing hooky can feel so good, amiright? But I hope that you, like me, can hear the Spirit niggling at you—go to church anyway. Go for all the gospel reasons—because Jesus is better, because we’re commanded to not give up the habit of meeting together, because corporate worship is the high point of our week. But heart of mine, also go because where else is there to go? Go, because if you don’t go tomorrow, that only increases the likelihood of skipping next week, and before you know it, you’ve just kind of … dissolved away from the body of Christ. Go, because sometimes as with earthly love (so I’ve been told), all you can do is put one foot in front of the other, with nothing but a promise to hold on to. Married couples bring to mind the vows they made before God, friends, and family. With the Lord, we remember only his promise to us (because our promises to him? laughable)—that he’ll never leave nor forsake, that our weariness and wounded hearts are only for a while, that he’s coming back to make everything right again.
So go, even when you don’t feel like it. The solitude will be here when you get back, and if it’s not, trust that the Lord will grant you alone time when you need it. Take your apathy with you to church, and sing old gospel truths to it, let it hear gospel truth from your pastor, from your fellow beggar-sinners. Break its defenses, little by little. And look, people disappoint, are careless with their words, and just sometimes flat-out don’t get it. You may not make up all in one Sunday, but like with apathy, restoration sometimes comes little by little. I get not wanting to settle into a pew when things aren’t right between you and the person two pews over … but settling in with your Netflix queue isn’t the solution (I’m speaking here of the kind of conflict that is fairly typical to most relationships, not abuse. If you are facing abuse at your church, then don’t go! Stay home! Tell somebody!).
If you’re like me and feeling kind of tucked away in the margins because of your disability, marital status (or lack thereof!), skin color, or any other marginalizing force … I feel you. Oh my, do I feel you. This is, for me, the most plausible reason to stay behind, and the hardest to put aside. But here’s what’s bringing light to my distress today: Jesus is the Man of Sorrows. In her book, Same Lake, Different Boat, Stephanie Hubach (2006) writes in regards to disability, but I think this passage could apply to anyone feeling marginalized:
I have often wondered if one particular way in which Jesus was a “man of sorrows” was in the grief he experienced when the call “follow me” fell on inattentive ears. Who better understood the truth and urgency of the gospel he proclaimed than Christ himself? And yet, “He was despised and rejected by men …” (Isa. 53:3a). Families and individuals touched by disability who begin to understand and embrace the pathway of discipleship experience great sorrow when others will not come along on the journey. Beginning to find their lives by losing them, they want others to know the richness of the experience, but the call often echoes back to them unanswered. (p. 143)
The people around you may not always understand, but Jesus does. He is with you, he is for you, he weeps with you, intercedes for you, and will come back soon to make it all right again.
This is my conviction for this week, but I can recall a few Sundays over the years—all on one hand—where I really did not want to go to church, went anyway, and regretted it. In retrospect, I recognize the call to stay home was perhaps not my own, but the Spirit’s. The few times I have disobeyed this call, relationships were further hurt, not healed. When the Spirit calls, you obey him, OK, not some hack blogger. Also, as someone who has regularly volunteered in the church nursery, let me add a vigorous head-nod to what I’m sure the church nursery staff at your church already tell you—don’t come if you or your child are sick. And again, “go to church anyway” does not apply in instances of abuse. Get out, get help, and get into a healthy church.
But if you are feeling “meh,” sorry for yourself, lonely, or a little disgruntled … go to church anyway. It may not feel like it’s doing anything or helping your heart, but God is always up to more than we can see. Every time you go, you’re sowing, investing in your soul and in the people around you. Sow in tears. Reap in joy. That’s how the promise goes (Psalm 126:5-6).