I grew up going to church three times a week. The habit is still entrenched in me to arrive when the doors open. It helps that I love my church. But there are times when coming even once a week is a struggle.
On Sunday mornings, I’m often running later than planned, no matter how much time I have to get ready. Usually, my hair or makeup or outfit doesn’t turn out right, and my skin is doing something annoying. I get in the car frustrated and distracted.
Though I can’t imagine missing a Sunday unless I’m traveling, being in church can actually bring out the worst in me. There are always beautiful women who seem effortlessly put together. There are plenty of couples, many younger than me, who make my singleness stand out. There are people I don’t know even though I’ve been at the church longer than most of the congregants. While I don’t enjoy small talk, I enjoy seeing familiar friends, and I’m encouraged by the sense of community. But I get exhausted from the social interaction.
Sometimes my critical, perfectionist side starts clattering, especially when I’m already off-kilter. I think, Why does everyone sit on the end of the row and make people climb over them? Can’t they sit still for one hour? Enough with the PDA already! I get annoyed at mistakes in the bulletin and weaknesses in the sermon.
The battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil comes right into the sanctuary with me.
It’s important to be honest about these struggles. They remind me that attending and participating in worship services is a spiritual discipline. Like all worthwhile practices, it’s often not easy, and it can stir up resistance from my false self or sin nature. That’s humbling. And it reaffirms that I desperately need God’s grace. But regardless of how I feel, I believe I was created to worship God, and believers are commanded not to give up meeting together for mutual encouragement (Hebrews 10:25). The purpose of gathering is not to make me happy and comfortable.
Yet I also find that even when I’m crabby or dissatisfied, being at church helps realign me. At some point in the service, God grabs my attention. God invites me to step back from my tangled thoughts. Hearing the Word reminds me that I have a small part in a great story; I belong to a community and a purpose that both transcends and transforms the details of my life.
Acknowledging my challenges also reminds me to be compassionate toward others who are fighting battles I may not see. Many in the same room have overcome much greater barriers than I have to worship God together.
As a volunteer, I often get to church early or stay late, but there are many who put in more hours or have crazier schedules. Families with young children have a much harder time wrangling everyone into place on time. Some people deal with unsupportive or even hostile family members who don’t understand their commitment to the church. There are unmarried, divorced, and widowed people who feel like they don’t quite fit or dread sitting alone. People facing infertility or loss may feel their ache acutely in the bustle of the congregation.
Some are hiding extreme pain; some wrestle with a sense of shame; some have physical or psychological issues that make it hard to be in large groups, sit or stand through a service, or even get out of bed in the morning. Many are physically, emotionally, or spiritually exhausted.
We all need to lift our eyes and realize we are not alone, then reach out to remind others that they belong too.
The amazing thing about the church is that we all come with different personalities, circumstances, moods, baggage, and desires, and we all experience the service differently. But when God’s people gather to worship, God meets each of us where we are and ministers to each in a unique way. However dysfunctional we may all be, and whether I’m excited to be there or not, I know I’m right where I belong.