Christian Grieving

I Just Can’t Do Church Anymore

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What To Do When Church is Painful

Church is hard for me. It isn’t that my faith is hard, but actually attending a church service is difficult. I just can’t do church anymore. After my son died, I tried to go, I really did. I went a few weekends and I was miserable.

The first time I attended was about a month after Adam passed. We usually sit at the second pew from the front (yes, I’m a keener) and things were going okay at first. I was welcomed by friends and given hugs and prayers. I felt welcomed and loved. The problem came when the second song started. A song by Crowder called “Come as You Are” was playing and I felt a sense of foreboding roll over me. To explain, when I am singing in church, I don’t just mouth the words, I meditate on them. I let the words sink in and speak to me.

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal

It is based on Revelation 21:4 that talks about God wiping every tear from our eyes and that there will be no more death or mourning, crying or pain.

I couldn’t get the words out. They stuck in my throat and tears began to pour. Not nice tidy tears rolling down my face, but sobbing, snotty, shoulder heaving tears. I had to sit down and try to compose myself. My husband sat beside me, putting his arm around me and praying. A friend who was sitting behind me leaned forward and put her hand on my shoulder. I felt surrounded by love, but all I wanted to do was get out of there. I did manage to stay for that service, but many weeks went by before I tried to attend again.

By the time I tried church again, I wasn’t quite as raw, but I was asking God some pretty big questions. About why, when I had prayed for my son’s salvation, he had not answered. About how he could have let this happen when I prayed protection over him. I couldn’t sit in church when I was angry at God. How could I praise him when I wasn’t sure I thought he was all that great, after all?

Over the next months and years, I went periodically. It was more to make my husband happy. I felt as though what had once given me solace and comfort was now a place of pain.

As time went on, I worked through some of my spiritual roadblocks. But one thing that remained was how empty I now found church. It seemed so shallow. It was no longer a place I went as a refuge or a place to find answers.

My church had put me on a list so I received a mailout every so often over the next year. It was a small pamphlet for each “stage” of grieving. I read it and threw it in the garbage. The pat,  explanations didn’t help, they only made me angry. How could the church pretend they knew what I was going through? How could they provide such glib responses to such deep and impactful questions? I knew they couldn’t possibly have the answers, no one can. But I was so upset that they pretended to know.

Pray and draw closer to God? How was that going to help me when I had to smell the gunpowder in my house for days? When I had to take care of the paperwork to cancel cell phones and pay off his bills? When I had to try and offer comfort to his hurting baby sister?

So, what did I do? What can you do when you just can’t face church?

First, know that I don’t have all the answers; I don’t believe that anyone has words of wisdom that will bring comfort to any grieving parent. But I can share what I found helpful in the hopes that you are able to take something from it that will help you.

No Church Does Not Equal No Faith

If you are like me, you were told that in order to be a good Christian, you must attend church regularly. I heard that, believed that and acted accordingly. I received comfort, company and compassion by attending church. There was no reason to question this belief.

But if you do a small amount of research, you will soon discover that there is no actual scriptures that talk about a requirement to go to a church building every week. Yes, there is scripture that says Christians should meet regularly. What it does not say is that we must meet at an assembly held in a physical building.

Once I realized that spending time with Christian friends and talking about my struggles was just as much “church” as sitting in a pew, I relaxed a bit. Don’t put pressure on yourself because man has made up this arbitrary requirement.

If Church Isn’t a Building, What Is It?

Biblically, church is the name or description for a group of Christians that meet to worship. Nowhere does it say that is a building or even that it must be with people in Christian Ministry. This might seem shocking, but a group of friends getting together can be church. A family of believers can be a church.

Let God Tell You When It’s Time for Church

Allow yourself time. Don’t let anyone tell you it has been too long since you attended church. If attending is too painful, give yourself a break. Continue to worship and pray in whatever way that seems the most authentic to you. For me, it is being alone with my worship music and singing along. If a song hits too close to home, I can cry, pray and reach out without feeling the need to hide or “conform.”

Continue to listen for God’s voice to know when it is time to return. You may discover he is leading you to another church building, denomination or even group of Christian friends.

Other Ideas Instead of Traditional Church

Maybe you just don’t feel right not going to church. Maybe you really want to, even though you find it painful and upsetting. If that is the case, maybe try going for the part you get the most out of and then leaving. Maybe worship music is how you best worship, then go in as the music begins and then slip out afterwards. If what you really need is to hear the message then come for that only.

Another option is to try online church services. This is where I am right now. With Covid hitting, many more churches have started having services you can access online. I find it very helpful and comforting to watch the service my parents and daughter are watching. Living in three separate towns, we all “attend” church together. When I don’t watch, I usually get a message from my mother saying she didn’t see my name pop-up as attending on the Facebook broadcast.

Whatever method you find works for you is okay; it is no reflection on your or your faith. Continue to pray and reach out and allow yourself to be healed.

5 thoughts on “I Just Can’t Do Church Anymore

  1. I can relate to you. After awhile people stop looking at you with those sad eyes and feeling like they have to say how sorry they are for you. It takes quite awhile before you are treated “normal”. Don’t give up entirely. After this Covid virus we will all be starting up again. Maybe a good time to try again. LINDA.

  2. I can really relate!! After my sons mental illness has dominated our lives, church feels very superficial. I also feel overwhelmed by people asking about him over and over and I don’t feel like I can answer honestly. I am also angry and confused about who is GOD. If I am to worship him as my Heavenly Father when at that same moment my son is suffering with an incurable illness- I am not really up to it. What kind of Father would allow the torture he and our family has gone through. I wish I could go back to my joy of going to church and my admiration of God.

    1. I’m so sorry you are going through this Amy. I could try and give you a pat answer but I know it won’t help. The best explanation or response I have ever read was in a book called “Of Mess and Moxie” by Jen Hatmaker (there is a review and a link to it under the “resources” tab.
      So often people try to tell us to just have faith, to pray, to trust God. That is a pretty difficult thing for a hurting Momma to do. Please go in peace Momma. – Carla

  3. Dear ladies,
    I hear the pain and searching in the voice of each and every one of you. If it is okay, I’d like to share my story, which starts with illness, includes the death of my mother and my sister’s mental illness. I share my story so that each of you know that you are not alone and also in the hopes that you may draw encouragement from my journey.

    For the past 12+ years I have been living with an incurrable illness stemming from a brain infection and underfunctioning immune system. The outfall the first 7 years was like torture. There were times I begged God to take me to heaven while I slept because the pain was so horrendous. Yet the next morning I would wake up still on earth. Those days I would say to myself that God didn’t want me in heaven yet so He must still have something for me to do yet on earth even though I was housebound, primarily bed bound, unable to have visitors, and living with a host of symptoms.

    During this time Joseph from the Old Testament was my hero. I would think of the hardships and unjust treatment he went through yet still trusted God. In my darkest hours I would remember his trials and derive strength to carry on, minute by agonizing minute.

    Having suffered a brain infection I was unable to do much of anything, including walking. Seizures would come upon me anytime my brain was overwhelmed, which was daily until the right medicines were found. These were not fun. In the post-seizure state of exhaustion I would pray and talk to God, and also remember Joseph. If he could endure hardship, I thought, so could I, with God’s help.

    In October 2021 my mom passed away suddenly without me being able to say good bye. It’s haunted me and made me feel guilty ever since. She rejected God when I was a little girl, yet I became a Christian in my 20s. Since then I would witness to her whenever she would allow me. Because I am a strong believer people assumed my mom was also when they heard she passed. It was painful to hear their condolences on Facebook which included phrases such as, “she’s with God now.” I don’t know if she is for sure or not. I’m hoping she is because two days before she died the Holy Spirit prompted me to pray for her to have a deathbed conversion. I will not know until I meet the Lord in heaven so for now I wait and trust. Yet I am uneasy and feel angry over not being able to say goodbye and having had to live an entire lifetime with a mother who was mentally ill. It was a very difficult and painful life. I’m not sure how to process this information other than to submit it to the LORD.

    Lastly, two weeks after my mother died my step sister’s bi-polar disorder swung into high gear in a fashion our family has never seen before and it’s still not under control. It has caused all of us significant concern and extreme distress. There’s been lots of crying, stress, and even marital distress between my dad and step-mom. It’s just been crazy. Yet my response when I ask “why?” is to go to the LORD in prayer. There’s nothing I can do to fix any of this except trust the LORD. This does not mean that I haven’t researched as much as I can on my sister’s disorder so that my parents are informed and forewarned. But I’m also praying because the Creator of the Universe is more powerful than anything here on earth. I must trust Him.

    I hope that you all receive this message with the love and support it was intended. May God bless you and comfort you right where you are. May He put people in your lives who are tremendous encouragements to you, who speak gentle words to you, who uplift you and bring joy to you.

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