It’s been a long winter. My church is facing many challenges and many changes. It’s interesting that the word ‘changes’ is inside the word ‘challenges’. We’ve had three funerals in the last few months, and there’s a load of sickness, bereaved people and uncertainty about the future. And yes, there are people in my church who have been hurt recently, who feel discounted and forgotten as plans are discussed about a different future. It’s no good me, us, saying that they aren’t – because it’s how they feel. And it’s no good the church saying it’s not our fault – we are all a part of the problem. In the last few days I’ve heard about 5, FIVE people who have said they may not come to church again. Two are dissatisfied and complaining, two have been infected by those complaints but don’t really have any of their own, and one is overwhelmed with a feeling of neglect. And there are others….
Why am I writing this? Because I caught myself thinking, just yesterday, once again, ‘Maybe I’ll step back from church for a bit.’
That’s what I do. That’s what I do when I feel isolated – I isolate myself even more. I think it’s called cutting off your nose to spite your face. I wonder if that’s what these complainers are doing, too. For an introvert like me, it’s a constant temptation to run away from people, to react to hurt by hurting myself even more. I was planning on stepping away from church just a few weeks ago and I had this email from a good friend who knows me well:
Wow, this friend knows me really really well. It pulled me up short, it held a mirror to my face and suddenly I wasn’t lost but more than that, I wasn’t alone. I printed it off, and it’s kept in my purse and I hope that when I feel like running away and slamming the door I will remember to bring it out and read it. And see the wisdom and obey it. And realise that I’m not alone.
If you’re a bit a-social, you will know the temptation to isolate. If you find it hard to walk into a crowded room, or a church full of people, or if stepping outside your front door requires you to give yourself a stern talking-to, then you and me are cut from the same cloth. And here’s the news – most people have this experience at some time, often we live with it our whole lives, but there is another way to live. This last couple of days have been a bit grim – I have a stinking cold, it’s raining, and I’m sick of being alone (27 years and counting) . Poor me! But, you know, I can’t say that any more, I can never say that again – there is no room in my life for ‘Poor me’ because I am rich, I am amazingly wonderfully rich and I have a future of joy and delight, and I have someone I can turn to not just ‘today’ but right now. So I can no longer say ‘Poor me’. I have lost that right, and that need. OK, it’s raining, I’m coughing, I’m alone, my old dog is dying (get the violins out) but you know what? Life is good. The love I know is real. The isolation I feel is physically true but emotionally it’s a lie.
When I was about 4, way back in history, I ran away from home and my mother became convinced that I’d wandered off to some nearby cliffs (we lived in Scarborough) so the police were called. Annoyingly, I don’t have any memories of my Mum, or of these times, except for a very very clear memory of waking up under a garden bench, and seeing the house filled with policemen and women, and thinking ‘Cripes! I’m in for it now!’
Do I still run away and hide in the garden, falling asleep in my childish misery? Well, it’s a choice I could make and it’s still my first instinct, but I prefer not to. I know I need my church. I need the loving, annoying, wise and stupid, silly and sensible, young and old people who make up our family. Hey – talking about church – we had a fabulous sermon this week about the word of God, centred around Psalm 118:89-96 and the message was that this Word is alive, it’s aMaZingly wonderfully miraculously alive, it will transform life, it will speak to the heart. Listen, listen, listen… listen to what I read just this week,;
Hebrews 10:24& 25 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
So, we’re told not just to keep on meeting together but to do it more and more as time goes on. We are to spur each other on, encourage each other. And you know what? We can’t encourage each other if we’re all holed up in caves, or putting as much distance as we can between ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ. And you know something else? We’re not the only ones to do these stupid things – ‘as some are in the habit of doing’ – in the early days of the church people were just as daft as I am now, and God has told us what to do – continue meeting, continue encouraging.
How do we get that message out to people who have been hurt by the church? How do we show them love and acceptance? I’m going to start tonight by praying for them, by holding them up to God in love. I would quite like to ask Him to smite them mightily and tell them they’re a right load of old moaners and groaners and to start supporting our hard working and prayerful leadership team and to bloody well GROW UP! but I’ll be nice, I’ll ask Him instead to let them feel His love, and ours. To know they are not alone.