One Sunday late last month, I did something I never do. I sent my husband and sons to church without me.
We normally go as a four-person family unit, and every third Sunday, the boys and I make the trek alone as my husband works. But it’s something we do as a family, because while faith is personal, family time is always a priority for us. Especially on weekends.
The problem with faith being personal but prioritizing family time is that sometimes they rub together in all the wrong ways.
During my awkward middle school years, my parents changed churches. An introvert with undiagnosed anxiety and previously mentioned awkward going on like whoa, I didn’t really like change. Sitting in service felt easy enough, but I didn’t feel comfortable attending Sunday School with kids I didn’t know very well.
This ended in a fairly dramatic stomping and shouting match in the church’s parking lot.
I lost. I went to Sunday School.
Sometimes going to church feels too hard. For a million reasons. For no reason. For unknown but deeply felt reasons.
Sometimes it’s hard to just get up. It’s hard to get the kids fed and dressed and out the door all while knowing your active parenting is required as you sit in pews where they’re expected to be quiet, to sit still, to listen to things that are somewhat above their understanding and definitely above their life experience—things that feel above your understanding and life experience as well. In those early days, trying to nurse while sitting in the back of the sanctuary, exhaustion sitting heavy on shoulders and eyelids, made attending with small babies feel impossible.
While I mostly wanted just one day during the week to sleep in, to lounge about, I still made sure we went regularly. I craved the community, even if community looks different in my introverted ways than it does to some of my extroverted counterparts. I needed the quiet space, the holy feeling of silence in that moment we join together in silent prayer. I always prayed, continue to pray that I might carry that feeling throughout the week when life weighs me down, when things feel like they’re too much. Often times I lose the feeling before we’re out of the parking lot, but I work toward it.
I lost that precious, needed feeling in early November.
The fallout from a year of difficulty, of loss, of grief and grieving and mourning, of deep, unending sadness left me feeling completely lost and alone. I wasn’t alone, but the dark shroud of depression makes it difficult to see things and people clearly. In fact, depression makes it even harder to see, feel, or hear the invisible presence of God.
Seemingly alone in my hour of darkness, I felt hurt and angry. I felt betrayed by a God who was supposed to be with me in all things.
And so, as things began to improve, as the darkness began to show signs of light on the horizon, I still felt angry with God.
I still do.
But that morning when I sent the boys off to church with my husband and went for a run in blissful silence, I felt more alone than even earlier in the month. Perhaps I felt that way because I could once again see people who cared, who wanted to be present with me in my hardest of times. Or maybe it’s because that morning, I chose the loneliness. I sent them off, knowing my husband wanted to be present. I said “no” to God, even though I knew he stayed with me at home, step by step on my run.
I decided not to send them off alone again and relief flooded my soul when my family pulled back into the garage later that morning.
Since then, I struggle to show up at church each Sunday, but I do. It’s hard right now. Not in the same pre-teen, introverted angst of that Sunday School debacle. But in a deep, hurting, shame-filled, head-bowed, fighting to see myself as God sees me kind of way. I feel God with me—sitting next to me on that pew, sitting with me in my own great sadness—and I pray for the feeling to return.
I go and I sit—sometimes between my sons, sometimes next to my husband. I sit with them, prioritizing my family and listening to God even when I’d much rather stay at home and ignore the weight on my soul. I deal with the rub between personal faith and family because I want to be with them; I am rewarded simply by showing up.
Our Pastor held a Winter Service of Solace this past Wednesday. For those grieving. For those hurting. For those struggling to find joy in the midst of a season splashed with shiny messages of happiness and glee. For those carrying an extra burden of sadness during the Christmas season.
Well, that’s me. So I went.
I went even though BigBrother’s illness that kept him at home for two days started to worsen. I went even though I had to go alone, without my husband by my side. I went even though it was cold and I was tired, having been up with sick boys. I went even though I wanted to curl up under blankets, their weight keeping me grounded.
I went and sat alone in a pew. I sat alone with my fear, my anxiety, my depression on one side of me, my God on the other.
I participated. I asked for God to help us, to help me. I asked for God to hear our cries, my cries. I asked for God to hear us, to come to us; to hear me, to come to me. I asked for God to bring us peace, to bring me peace.
I sang hymns I knew and songs I didn’t.
I lit candles for my grandmothers. For my daughter. For my family. For me.
I prayed thanks for those who have covered me in love and light during this difficult time. I prayed for encouragement and empowerment.
I blinked back tears and felt a deep tug of knowledge—of His presence, of being loved.
This season, this 2014, took me down pretty low, knocked the wind right out of me. As I found myself staring upward, flat on my back, I wondered what the journey back up and out might look like, might feel like. I worried the climb might be too hard, might be too much given everything else.
And then others reached down, hands extended, to help pull me up, pull me out. I used whatever remained of my own strength too. And in all of that, I saw the ways in which God held me, even intervened necessary.
My faith journey feels different already. I’m slow, proceeding with that fear and caution that tends to throw up my walls, but I am proceeding. Even in December. Even in this darkness. Even in this worst year, which might be one of my strongest.
For the light is beginning to shine again.